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Interview: President Michael Semmler of the Lutheran Church of Australia

September 28, 2012 No Comment

President Michael Semmler of the Lutheran Church of Australia has been in Canada over the past few weeks for the triennial convention of the International Lutheran Council as well as for a week of meetings between the Lutheran Church of Australia’s (LCA) College of Presidents and Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC) Council of Presidents. During that time, President Semmler was kind enough to consent to an interview, conducted by Mathew Block, giving us some background on the church down under, the relationship between LCA and LCC, and potential areas where the two churches might be able to partner together in the future.

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President Michael Semmler

MB: The Lutheran Church of Australia has a relationship with world Lutheranism in which it sits as an associate member of both the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council. How did that come about?

MS: In 1966, two former Lutheran synods of Australia came together. Both severed all relationships with all overseas churches. When we got together, we decided that we would go one after another to check out what relationships were appropriate. At that particular time, some people were not keen to go into the Lutheran World Federation totally and the International Lutheran Council was certainly on the horizon for us, and so the synod decided that we could be associates of both and test the waters for a while.

But in the meantime what really happened was Lutheran Church–Canada came into the equation. And that’s why I’m here.

MB: The meeting currently taking place between LCC and LCA in B.C. is not the first of its kind, of course. A number of years ago LCC’s Council of Presidents visited Australia for a series of meetings, did they not?

MS: The Council of Presidents in Canada has changed significantly since then. Australia’s College of Presidents has also changed. For many of the participants, this is their first encounter between the two churches. Not all of our presidents are able to be here, unfortunately, but there are four others beside myself present for the meetings.

MB: Why are these types of meetings so important for maintaining the relationship between the two churches?

MS: Both of our church bodies are still relatively new, and we’re still establishing our own identities—we’re still feeling our way. We’re also in separate hemispheres, so the amount of interaction is not that great—although there have been, for many years, exchanges of seminary lecturers that have gone on. Dr. Ed Kettner is a notable one who’s come to Australia. And we’ve had several, like Dr. John Kleinig, who’ve come to Canada.

In my case, I was the first parish exchange in the mid-1990s in Regina, Saskatchewan at Mount Olive Lutheran Church. There’ve been three or four parish exchanges since then. That for me built the relationship in a big way. We’re hoping to continue with it because, wherever you are in the Lutheran world, you need friends.

MB: In what kind of ways might LCC and LCA work together in the future?

MS: We’re looking at Cambodia. Both churches are working in Cambodia, as are a number of other churches. It seems that time is short and the world is small, if I may say so, and it would make sense to pool our resources when possible.

Time is short and the world is small, and it would make sense to pool our resources when possible.

Another area we’d love to share more with is with material resources. In the English-speaking world, it’s really only the United States of America that produces material. We used to in Australia but we haven’t for some time because the actual market for us was a niche market, too small to be economic. We probably should look whether we can do things together because we do have similar needs. We are British Commonwealth countries, and that background is there. We have large countries, we have small populations, and our churches are roughly the same size. There are a lot of things we have in common.

We in Australia have quite a strong ministry to our indigenous people—perhaps more so than Lutheran Church–Canada. But LCC has its own strengths: you go out to remote areas with the Lutheran Association of Ministries and Pilots endeavor, which we could learn from. You have a strong prison ministry, which we could learn from, as well as a deaf ministry. We have a deaf ministry, but not to the degree that LCC has. There are many things which are similar, but each church has done something a little more than the other.

MB: Are there any things which LCC members should keep in prayer for their Australian brothers and sisters?

MS: That’s a good question to ask. There are many things. We are going through a time again when the ordination of both genders is a question still in the background. That has not been settled. But we are approaching it by looking at hermeneutics—how we are listening to Scripture.

On that subject, I think what we should be doing is that, when our respective commissions on theology produce papers, we should share them, even in draft form, so that the other can react. Sometimes when you’re producing a theological paper, you don’t see the obvious. For someone outside to look at that, understanding roughly where we are, would be very useful. We haven’t quite gotten to do that in the past, but we should; it would be very useful.

You have good friends down in Australia.

MB: Any final words for members of LCC?

MS: Yes, to simply tell them “you have good friends down in Australia.” I know we’re upside down and the blood rushes to our heads, but you’d be welcome down there. In fact, we do have a Canadian vicar down there right this moment. We’ve had several pastors in their early retirement come and serve for six months. We love the Canadians in Australia. You have good friends in Australia and New Zealand, so let’s make the most of it.

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