Adelaide won’t stay as Australia’s Lutheran ‘Vatican’

Australian Lutheran College, North Adelaide

For a hundred years, under a variety of names, the stately Australian Lutheran College campus in North Adelaide has been the place for Lutherans to go to become a minister, or to train as a teachers. But now with “distributed learning” Lutherans no longer need to flock to SA.

The change comes at a cost, with lecturers in the theological seminary reduced to half time. Some are believed to be looking for new jobs, possibly overseas. The College principal, Pastor James Winderlich, has announced his resignation to return to church ministry.

The ALC 2023 appeal letter lists the college’s challenges: “declining student numbers, reduced funding from the LCANZ (2022 funding equalled that received from the LCA in 2011), changes to permanent staffing levels and growing financial pressures.” The letter says ” (for example, “it costs around $400,000 annually to operate from our aging North Adelaide campus.)”

In the centenary year for the campus, the college appears to be considering a move. “In 2023, ALC is still operating from the same expansive site, despite much of it being once again underutilised. Just 10 of the 58 students currently enrolled in ALC’s higher education program attend classes on campus while the remaindernof the student body attends classes online.” Saints Alive the college magazine reports. The 58 students represent “a signifucant decline in recent years.”

The college has “entered into discussions with the LCA regarding relocating to fit-for-purpose premises that are cheaper to maintain.” This may be a reference to co-locating to Brooklyn Park in Western Adelaide where the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology occupies an old Catholic High School Campus originally purchased to house the headquarters of the erstwhile Adelaide College of Divinity which linked Anglican, Catholic and Uniting colleges. This might involve the “resource-sharing arrangements with two other University of Divinity colleges based in Adelaide,” the college has initiated. These are United College at Brooklyn Park, and the Anglicans St Barnabas College which has left that campus and returned to North Adelaide.

The ALC library’s 94,000 books could join the Adelade Theological Library at Brooklyn Park.

Winderlich tells the LCA “Laudio” podcast “that the college was impacted by Covid and “Then there’s aging membership of the Christian churches and the Lutheran church, particularly here in Australia, which means that the availability of people to serve as church workers is also becoming severely limited.” He adds “And also it sounds crass and we talk about brand loyalty, but the values around being connected with the Lutheran church has dramatically changed. People are prepared now to move between denominations depending on what their needs are at that time.”  

Steven Pietsch, a former ALC lecturer now at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis USA, outlined the long battle over womnes ordination on the Lutheran Issues etc podcast. “This debate has been going on now for 30 years. I was ordained in the late 1980s in the Lutheran Church of Australia, and that’s about the time when the whole thing started to be discussed and debated. And the whole thing has been debated now at General Convention of Synod for the LCA five times and voted down five times, and yet it keeps coming up again and again because of the fact that the vote required on a doctrinal change in the Lutheran Church of Australia has to have a two thirds majority. And the ordination of women resolutions that have been voted on have failed to gain a two thirds majority, although they have gained a simple majority…  
” I don’t think it’s inaccurate to say that the church is in general numerical terms probably divided down the middle here.”
A proposal to have two ordination standards, for and against women’s ordination, possibly with two synods, allowing local churches to choose passed at the general synod earlier this year. It will be presented for approval possibly in 2025.


  1. The decline in entrance numbers to the seminary is a symptom of the ongoing debate of women’s ordination. Young and even older men who hold to the current teaching of the LCA have and are unwilling to start training at ALC because they do not know weather they will have a position to go into if they graduate.
    ALC has been mismanaged for years and some seminary students have left because of this mismanagement.
    Furthermore, at the 2013 LCA national synod a motion was passed approving further engagement of builders for a full archer street redevelopment. This plan would have more than funded continued education opportunities at the current ALC site. The previous (and first bishop) put his focus into pushing for women’s ordination and never returned to synod with any updates on the north terrace development.

    The joining the Lutheran seminary with the college of divinity also further diminished the quality of training at the seminary.

  2. After attending the Barossa Festival in 2018 and doing the tour of Lutheran Barossa the issue appears that like other denominations that have left the gospel behind, Lutheranism in Australia has become a cultural rather than spiritual identity. Examples include the inability to amalgamate churches without those long gone from the area returning to oppose reform based on familial ties to a particular parish. Ministers responsible for 2,3 and even four parishes which are unfixable as congregants pass on and a failure to live up to the original name in German as the Evangelisch Lutheran Church. Don’t let women’s ordination be one the red herring. Declining enrolments in the college reflect the decline in gospel priorities.

Comments are closed.