Pas­tor to lead a new flock

MATT ANKER WILL SOON WIND UP 12 YEARS AS LEADER OF THE SHEPPARTON LUTHERAN CON­GRE­GA­TION

Shepparton News - - NEWS - By Tara Whitsed

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.

Pic­ture: Rod­ney Braith­waite

Re­flect­ing: Lutheran pri­est and Africa House founder Matt Anker is leav­ing Shepparton af­ter 12 years.

His­tory: Lutheran pri­est Matt Anker with con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers Jean Pierre Ka­bangu, Peter Maw­ith and Thon Thon at the old church, ahead of the new build.

Spe­cial oc­ca­sion: Lutheran Bishop of Vic­to­ria and Tas­ma­nia Greg Pi­etsch, St Paul’s Pas­tor Matt Anker and then GV African Com­mu­nity pres­i­dent Charles Ogun­tade at the open­ing of the new church in 2014.

Me­mories: Lutheran pri­est Matt Anker re­flects on his past 12 years in Shepparton.

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