Pastor to lead a new flock
MATT ANKER WILL SOON WIND UP 12 YEARS AS LEADER OF THE SHEPPARTON LUTHERAN CONGREGATION
There are few who have made more of a significant impact on the Shepparton community in such a short space of time as Matt Anker.
But in just less than 12 years since he arrived, the Lutheran pastor has transformed his congregation and his church’s facilities.
‘‘When we first arrived, the church was very typical of a small rural Lutheran church which was fairly homogenous in terms of the people who were attending — and they were all from similar backgrounds,’’ Pastor Anker said.
‘‘Whereas now, 80 per cent of our members are of African descent.’’
Pastor Anker said he stepped into the role in 2007 when the church had been without a pastor for some time.
‘‘Some of the first Congolese arrivals (to Shepparton) were Lutheran so they sought the church out, but by the time I got here, they’d sort of drifted away a little bit,’’ he said.
After connecting with the community, Pastor Anker said it ‘‘snowballed’’ from there and the congregation quickly built a membership of predominantly African people.
‘‘It was completely unexpected,’’ he said.
‘‘The majority of (the membership) have come through a refugee experience.
‘‘They’ve enriched our lives in unexpected ways and brought with them a new depth of faith as they share what they’ve been through; the importance of faith in sustaining them has also been contagious.
‘‘It’s certainly brought new perspectives on life and what’s important and it’s transformed our place in the community.’’
Referring to the congregation as ‘‘essentially a big family’’, it will be a bittersweet time for Pastor Anker next month when he conducts his final service at St Paul’s Lutheran Church.
‘‘I’m at peace with the decision; I think it’s the right time, but at the same time my heart breaks to be leaving,’’ he said.
Given his extensive experience managing relationships with international communities, Pastor Anker said he was recently approached by the Lutheran Church of Australia to take up a new position heading up the church’s international missions department, assisting the Bishop in Adelaide.
‘‘(I’ll be) primarily responsible for relationships with international church partners — travelling and meeting with leaders throughout South-East Asia, nurturing those relationships and figuring out ways we can support a lot of young and growing churches,’’ he said.
‘‘Then also looking for ways we can learn from them and be blessed by their insights.’’
Beginning his transition in August, Pastor Anker said he had racked up 34 flights in just three months.
‘‘Life will settle down a little bit once I get to Adelaide, but it does involve a lot of travel,’’ he said.
For Pastor Anker, it seemed like the right time to take on the new position.
‘‘I think that it’s an appropriate time for the congregation here to have a new voice and someone who sees things with a fresh set of eyes and who can serve them in new ways,’’ he said.
Pastor Anker will be replaced by Pastor Matthias Prenzler from Queensland, who will arrive in the new year with his wife and three children.
Pastor Anker will pass on his legacy, namely an incredibly large church and adjoining African community centre, built in 2014 — one of Pastor Anker’s biggest achievements alongside the relationships he has forged.
‘‘The building of the new church and African House was something that we worked hard towards,’’ he said.
‘‘But probably more than that, is just the relationships with people and the unexpected blessings that have come from being privileged to share in people’s lives.’’
Pastor Anker said he had been fortunate to be allowed into his congregation’s lives during moments of incredible elation and times of complete and utter despair.
‘‘(I’ve been involved) at good times — like family reunions and being involved in immigration applications from start to finish and seeing people come back together again — to times of great tragedy and hardships,’’ he said.
‘‘All of those things have just enriched our lives in unexpected ways.’’
He hoped that after his departure the Shepparton community would not lose sight of its core values.
‘‘Continue to welcome newcomers, embrace them and receive from them,’’ he said.
● Matt Anker will conduct his final service on December 2 at 11 am at St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Poplar Ave, Shepparton. The event will involve a celebratory farewell that will no doubt have an African-inspired element.