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2015 Fritzsche Oration - Ties to ‘silver years’ hold strong
4 September 2015

Memories and connections to warm, distant places drew almost 90 people to the fourth annual Fritzsche Oration, held at Australian Lutheran College in Adelaide on a wet and cold August evening.

In his welcoming remarks, Principal James Winderlich asked audience members to indicate how many had served in Papua New Guinea, and how many had accompanied or visited those who served or had been born into serving families—drawing a significant majority of the audience to their feet.

This year’s Fritzsche Oration, titled The silver years—Australian Lutheran involvement in PNG mission, covered the period from 1968 to 1987. Rev Dr Greg Lockwood outlined in great detail many of the connections and the changes which occurred on Lutheran mission fields during this period, using much of his own public and private correspondence and photographs to illustrate.

Dr Lockwood used the term ‘silver years’ to distinguish the two decades in which he served from the earlier ‘golden’ period of Lutheran Mission New Guinea (LMNG) that began immediately following the end of World War II. Those years of expansion, largely funded by American Lutherans, saw the rebuilding of older missions and construction of numerous schools, hospitals and support services overseen by LMNG.

Former staff and new staff returned to New Guinea and people streamed into the church: ‘From a base of 60,000 baptised Christians in 1940, membership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of New Guinea stood at 163,222 at its formation in 1956’, Dr Lockwood said.

While much of the funding came from the United States, many of the LMNG staff were Australians, including LMNG president Rev Rufus Pech. In January 1969 there were so many pastors, teachers, nurses and support staff who needed transport from Australia that the Mission Board chartered a DC-3 to fly them in.

Dr Lockwood’s own service in Papua New Guinea began in 1971, although service for his wife Christine (nee Mackenzie) had already begun two years earlier. As a married couple, the Lockwoods were soon moved into roles that were less mission-centred and more training-focused. Their ‘silver years’ reflected the changing political landscape, as Papua New Guinea transitioned from a colonial government to self-government (1973) and independence from Australia on 16 September, 1975.

The Lockwoods—and many other LMNG staff also—were tasked to progressively train local staff to replace them. This trend continued as people moved from institution to institution, training local people as pastors, evangelists, teachers, nurses and church administrators. For the growing Lockwood family, the trail led from Balob Teachers College in Lae, to Kitip Teacher Training School in the Western Highlands, and finally Ogelbeng Seminary at Mount Hagen.

While the numbers of expatriate mission staff were decreasing under this system, connections between the different Lutheran churches working within Papua New Guinea remained strong. It was a place of cross-pollination where different paths and ideas intersected. Many of those connections have remained strong through the years since.

In 1986 Ogelbeng Seminary celebrated its 25th anniversary, as the [now] Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea celebrated its centenary. Greg and Christine Lockwood remained for just one more year, returning to parish ministry in Australia in 1988. LCA Mission International notes that since Lutheran mission began in Papua New Guinea in 1886, more than 800 Australians have served there.

The Fritzsche Oration is jointly sponsored by Lutheran Archives and the Australian Lutheran Institute for Theology and Ethics. It is named for Pastor Gotthard Daniel Fritzsche, who established at Lobethal, South Australia, in the early 1840s the first Lutheran training college for pastors and teachers.

Article written by Rosie Schefe
First published in The Lutheran, September 2015