A History

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Launceston

Reminiscences of the Early Years

The Lutheran Church in Launceston developed by word of mouth. There was no church building, no manse and no pastor. Ministry  to the influx of migrants following World War 2 was conducted from Victoria, first by Pr W.H. Paech.  Gertrud Apostolovic came into contact with the church via Mr T Marckovic whose son Stephan needed baptising. The baptism was held in the old Launceston Library, as were other early services.

Amy Buttery arrived in 1952 and had to contact her former pastor in Hopetoun, Victoria, to find out where Lutheran services were being held. The first divine service was conducted in St. Andrew’s Sunday School hall. Pr Paech visited Tasmania on a regular basis and gained support for the new spiritual venture by contacting folk in their homes. Most of the visiting was done on foot, because cars and buses were not readily available at the time.

The congregation was formed on 17 November, 1949.

In the early fifties, services were conducted once a month, in German and English. There were only five members then. Some of the early attenders were Mrs A Woodman, Mrs Bartley, Mr H Trey and his mother, and A Buttery. Some services were held in private homes such as Mrs Ida Begrovs’ in George Town. In time, services were moved to more ecclesiastical sites. Firstly, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, then the side chapel at St John’s Anglican Church, circa 1954. Pr A.W. Wundersitz continued the work, serving all of Tasmania’s Lutheran preaching places until he left due to his wife’s ill-health.

Ten years after the Launceston congregation was formed, Pastor R Thiele arrived as the first Lutheran minister for Northern Tasmania. He stayed with  Mr and Mrs Trey and continued to live in the Trey home with his new wife. While single, members helped with his domestic responsibilities so that he could be free to do his work.

In time, a church residence was built for the new pastor, R Kempe, in Braeside Street, Prospect. Mr T Baulis built this fine home in 1965/1966. It was later sold so that new lodgings could be established closer to town.

The Treys were instrumental in establishing a church plant at our present site. The congregation obtained the workshop/garage next to their home and Mr T Baulis converted it into a centre for worship. The pit was filled with concrete, and Pr Thiele told us recently that C Wohlgenuth, a George Town builder, constructed the pews, alter, pulpit, font and other furniture. Mr H Vocke made the cross above the altar. Pastor L Griege, who preceded Pastor Thiele, constructed the candlesticks himself. He also purchased a reed organ for 48 pounds. The floor remained as uncovered cement for some time, which caused the room to be quite cold.

The congregation purchased the land adjacent to the garage and this later became the site of the existing church.

Services in Launceston were held every second Sunday to enable Pr Thiele to serve George Town, Devonport, Burnie, Gowry Park and Poatina. John Lunstroo remembers his first service i the present hall. Pr Thiele had contacted him when he discovered him worshipping in the Presbyterian Church, since John did not know about the availability of the Lutheran services. Pr Thiele not only preached the sermon, but would also play the organ and collect the offering during the services.

In 1963 an active Ladies Guild was formed and the youth met in the Trey home, which later became the manse. The cottage next to the garage was purchased and dreams of owning the whole corner of the block were nearing fruition. In the early sixties, a Sunday School was formed to cater for the growing congregation. Mrs A Woodman was the first Sunday School teacher.Baptisms were administered in the garage/church, just as they were in the little St John’s chapel. Weddings took place in the converted workshop.. One such wedding was Walter and Gerda Winkler’s in 1963. Gerda arrived from Germany with her mother Mrs Marie Peters only two weeks before the wedding.  and Walter arranged with her that he would tap her with his foot when she needed to say ‘yes’ or ‘I do’. As things transpired however, Pr Thiele conducted the service in German, much to their surprise!

In due course, new members took up ministries with the church and assisted the pastor in the Lord’s work. Mr L Herbig and J Lunstroo became elders, as did W Winkler. They would travel with Pr Thiele to Devonport and Burnie.

The present hall did great service for the church. The Latvian and Estonian communities used the church, but with growth in numbers, a newer and larger facility was needed.The architect for the new church was Mr V Ziersch of Melbourne the new building was opened in 1972, during Pr John Schultz’s ministry. During Pr Schultz’s ministry, he organised a drop-in place for the neighbourhood. It attracted a few bikies. Some of them attended services seated at the rear of the church where they thought they could get away with a smoke until the pastor stopped them. Later, one of them left Launceston for Adelaide to study for the Lutheran ministry. During Pr Schultz’s  ministry also, Fred Veerhuis chose to enter the ministry as a mature-aged student, having converted from Roman Catholicism earlier. He spent two years in the congregation (1972, 1973) teaching at Prospect High School.

Visitors sometimes seemed to outnumber the small congregation, but the regular members contained many who had been members of Bethlehem since the beginning. Mrs A Woodman played the organ with faithful and dependable service. In the sixties, the regular members comprised John and Flo Lunstroo, Rosalie Bartley and children Barry, Dawn and Anne, Mr and Mrs Gerhard Bohn who married in the garage/church, The Crawford family, the Zelcs family, Mrs Trey, Dick and Amy Buttery and children John, Graham, Robert and Anne. Jordan and Gertrud Apostolovic, Walter and Gerda Winkler, Mrs Walker, Valentina Kulla and children Helmi and Helgi and Leon and Anne Herbig.

In 1965 the name of the congregation was changed from ‘St John’s’ to ‘Bethlehem’.

In the late seventies, during Pastor R Voight’s ministry, the northern parish was divided to form the Burnie and Launceston parishes.

Compiled by Pastor Wayne Muschamp from the reminiscences of Gertrud Apostolovic, Amy Buttery, Leon Herbig and John Lunstroo. Further information was obtained from the 40th anniversary history compiled by David J Burger and the 35th anniversary bulletin written by Dr J Thiel. Pastors R Thiele and L Burger assisted with written and verbal material. Mrs R Boerth assisted with the verification of some of the detail.