I was born and raised in the Adelaide Hills in the township of Lobethal, the first of five children. I attended Lutheran primary schools at Springhead and Lobethal, and then became a day student at Concordia College, different from the normal boarder (1967-71).
Then came seven years of study for the ministry at Luther Seminary. We started with a class of 22, but over the years with people deferring or leaving, only 6 of the originals finished together. Others joined along the way, until 15 graduated in 1978. I had good years at ‘Sem’, with lecturers who helped us to engage the Word and apply it into life. The years living in Graebner Hall were formative and enjoyable, full of students studying theology or attending nearby universities, again being exposed to a variety of characters and life.
Seven years studying theology is some time, but formation for ministry takes time and experiences. Being all male created its own culture, and when young women from Lutheran Teachers College joined the campus, it was quite a jolt, and many relationships developed, including when I met Jenni Luhrs in 1976 studying to become a deaconess.
Besides study, the one squash court on campus was very busy, a sport I lost a fair bit of sweat playing. There was also the beginnings of the Adelaide Lutheran Football club, which I played for, and we even won a couple of A grade premierships. Every few years the students used to organize a ‘Sem’ tour, with a concert presented at each town we visited. We travelled both within South Australia, and did an interstate tour to Queensland. There is nothing like the experience of creating a nightly concert, and being billeted out to local congregation people.
On graduation, I was assigned to the Miles parish in western Queensland, and Jenni and I travelled there, recently married at the beginning of 1979. This was a four-point parish, and I would often travel over 300 kms for 3 Sunday services, driving about 40,000 kms a year. It was a far-flung ministry for a first parish. Two of our children, Rebecca and Benjamin, were born during this time.
In 1984 we moved to Beenleigh, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. A three-point parish, they all existed within 5 kms, having separate 100 year histories, and by the beginning of 1990 I had combined them into 1 congregation, Bethesda Beenleigh. We also enjoyed the music from a Smenge pipe organ, and Jenni created a music ministry there. Kristin was also born there.
Later followed ministry at Glen Waverley, Victoria from mid-1990, a major shift from hot, humid Queensland. These were good years of ministry in a suburban context. Jenni continued to offer colour and creativity, with several large banners and flower arrangements for times of the church year. Here I also combined the congregations of Glen Waverley and Nunawading to be one congregation in structure.
At the end of 2003 I received the Call to become the District Hospital Chaplain, following Pastor Geoff Schirmer. From 2004 we lived at Kensington in inner Melbourne, allowing easy access to the many hospitals (15+). These were very significant years of ministry, bringing together the years of pastoral formation and experience.
This all began with my vicar father, Pastor David Larsen in Toowoomba (1977), where visiting in hospitals and the home were a significant part of ministry. My interest in hospitals continued over the years, being the visiting Lutheran chaplain in my Glen Waverley years at Monash Medical Centre. During my ministry I have had several pastoral supervisors for my development: Rev Drew Lelean, Sister Eveline Crotty, Father Peter Maher and Rev Jan Reeve. Right from the start, I learnt that personal relationships are foundational for effective ministry.
Over the years I also took on various roles in the Victorian District and churchwide LCA. This helped to develop leadership, understanding different Districts, and what might be offered to resource ministry in congregational and facility contexts. There were also opportunities to take on churchwide roles to coordinate Continuing Education and Pastoral Supervision, now more necessary than ever to maintain a sustainable ministry in challenging times.
Basically, I enjoy the encounter with another person, whether they are in a hospital bed or engaged in ministry. To be fully open to another, for the other to trust and be vulnerable, to share and reflect, is a privilege, a place for the Word incarnate to bring life and grace. And it is deeply satisfying, years later, for another to say to me, “Remember when you visited me…”
It is interesting to consider the word “retirement,” while I like to use the words “reduction” or “redirection.” I intend to take three months break, and then consider what I might offer next. I want to continue offering pastoral supervision, this support to people in ministry. But I also want to catch up on interests and hobbies which have reduced over the last years. I love reading all sorts of books, woodwork, gardening including creating a good vegetable garden, plenty of walks on the beach near our home, music and just contemplating with a cuppa.
Over the years, one verse from Scripture has spoken to me and others in many contexts, especially in the hospital: “(Nothing) in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 39). The incarnate God, in Jesus Christ, in and through us, has been my experience of ministry.
Pastor Gordon Wegener