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Looking back with thanksgiving

In 1921, five small Lutheran synods joined to form the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia (UELCA). At the time they were advised by the president of the Iowa Synod in the USA to form a seminary to cement the union. The new amalgamation of Lutherans made this a financial possibility.

The following year, the UELCA Seminary Committee purchased the current North Adelaide campus for a sum of ₤13,500. It was ₤4,500 more than the Synod had previously approved. While the property was a little larger and grander than was originally envisaged, they went ahead with the purchase, despite not having enough money in the bank to cover the deposit. It is thought that their motivations for doing so included:

The post war situation in Papua New Guinea which meant that Australia needed to provide missionaries.

  • The need for Australian Lutherans to train their ministers locally.
  • The growing number of secondary students at Immanuel College in Point Pass meant a larger premises was required.
  • The deposit was eventually sourced, and the purchase endorsed by the Synod. The Committee then launched an immediate church-wide appeal through The Lutheran Herald to cover the expense.

Following renovations of what is now known as Hebart Hall, Immanuel College and Immanuel Seminary opened in February 1923 and remained co-located on site until March 1942, when the building was temporarily commandeered by the Australian Air Force.

Immanuel Seminary continued to operate from the original campus after WWII, until 1966 when the Lutheran Church of Australia came into being and Immanuel and Concordia Seminary’s united to form Luther Seminary. More buildings were added to the campus at the time and there were even plans for a major building project that would see the grand old building demolished, but only phase 1 of the project was ever completed. In 1986 the South Australian government gave the 1882 building a heritage listing.

Over the years, Luther Seminary became Luther Campus, with both the Seminary, Lutheran Teachers College, and the Lutheran School of Theology occupying the site. In 2000 the LCA set up a task force to consider a new name for Luther Seminary as the church wanted a name that would indicate the full scope of the Seminary’s task as the tertiary institution of the LCA. A proposal was put forward at the General Synod in October 2003 and Australian Lutheran College (ALC) came into being from 1 January 2004.

While the College is thankful for the foresight of those who purchased the property in 1922, it is no secret that ALC has struggled with the cost of maintaining the campus, particularly over the past decade. (The property is owned by the LCANZ, leased by ALC for a ‘peppercorn’ rent, but maintained using ALC funds.)

A lot has also happened in the world of education over the past 100 years and with the greater majority of ALC students now studying online rather than on campus, the suitability of the site is once again being questioned. Aside from the cost involved in maintaining the property, the building does not support efficient work practices and maintenance is inhibited by its heritage listing. A number of the buildings, once associated with tertiary boarding, also sit unused for much of the time. Recent and anticipated future decreased financial support from the LCANZ means valued funds are needing to be allocated to maintain inefficient and/or unused facilities.

So while we celebrate and give thanks for the good things God has done through this property and the training that has taken place here over the past 100 years, and understand the deep connections many have to the property, the question must also be asked, ‘Is maintaining this costly campus which now exceeds the needs of the College, the best use of limited resources?’ What does the future hold for ALC? God will show us.