The National Lutheran Principal Conference (NLPC) is a biennial event hosted by Lutheran Principals Australia (LPA). The Conference promotes spiritual and professional growth among principals and other leaders who serve in the Lutheran network of schools. Whilst providing a forum for useful sharing and discussion in areas of professional and theological interest, there has always been a focus on social and collegial networking with the view to enhancing leadership connections across the borders of this nation.
It was with a high sense of anticipation that 120 delegates, who included principals, deputies, senior leadership staff and regional leaders, gathered after a four-year Covid induced gap. It was also 18 years since this significant national conference was last held in South Australia – a state that has much Lutheran heritage.
Craig Fielke, LPA Chair and Principal of Cornerstone College in the Adelaide Hills, enthusiastically welcomed the gathered delegates to the official opening celebration and worship held at the historic St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Hahndorf – “To be together again after such a long time is just so exciting and exhilarating. Thanks for having the courage to attend”.
SA Bishop, David Altus presented his usual thoughtful and insightful address at the worship service, while National Bishop Paul Smith reminded delegates that while Lutheran schools were once schools for members’ children only, they are now thankfully open to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Indeed, it was his attendance at St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane that introduced him to the jewels to be found in the Christian faith, as Lutherans understand it.
Local historian John Wittwer presented an intriguing view of the past, reminding delegates that Captain Dirk Hahn has never sailed to southern waters before he took his ship, The Zebra, out into the unknown seas with 199 immigrants on board arriving at Holdfast Bay on 28th December 1838. And so the story of Lutheran congregations and schooling began in SA.
Over the next three days delegates explored the past, the present and the future. Of particular interest was the day tour to the Barossa Valley where, at Langmeil Church (after a delicious morning tea of traditional kuchen), local historian Everard Leske reminded delegates about the core tenets of those early pioneers, namely presenting meaningful worship true to the Word, developing education particularly for the young and a focus on mission not only in the local community but further afield in Hermannsburg and later Papua New Guinea.
The walking tour through the Langmeil cemetery where so many of the gravestones present a living and vital history was a highlight for many delegates who had never been there before.
Faith Lutheran College, located in Tanunda, hosted a splendid lunch which was also attended by 25 past Lutheran principals. History was made on this occasion, as it was the first time that LPA had recognised this group with an invitation to attend a session of the conference. Association Coordinator Brian Eckermann expressed the groups delight and sincere thanks for being included in the program.
They stayed on to hear one of Australia’s leading futurists and trend forecaster, Michael McQueen, who presented a timely yet provocative view on what the future might hold. Little did we know then about the impact of the war in Ukraine! His insights on recent changes, particularly the unforeseen impact of the global pandemic, gave delegates much to ponder on.
To brighten the day a visit to Faith Senior College was well received as many from interstate had not ever seen the Brenton Langbein Theatre, nor experienced the Faith College Wine Education Centre. Eyes were opened and taste buds exhilarated.
Conferences are always a time for self-reflection and the sharing of personal journeys. Ruth Butler, former leader, and principal of Lutheran schools across Queensland, shared her principalship journey covering each of the five schools she held leadership positions in. It was a ‘diamond’ presentation with some brilliant yet unexpected reflections emerging. Her heartfelt presentation was something of an emotional ride for all in the room with so many common threads. We heard of her eager anticipation, her joys, her challenges, her vulnerabilities and how her trust and faith in the Lord saw her through, even when she didn’t know it. When she thought she was at her peak all the walls came tumbling down and it was the most difficult journey of all. The importance of long service leave and sabbaticals were indeed a significant part of her story – without this time-out for spiritual, emotional, and physical restoration, Ruth may not have been able to continue in her leadership positions. Every person in the room related to her story and were so thankful for her bravery to share her personal journey in such a courageous manner.
Keynote speaker, Dr Tom Nehmy, an experienced clinical psychologist, led a session providing some practical ideas not only about overcoming challenges and discovering emotional wellbeing for ourselves, but also assisting staff to enhance their own wellbeing and mental health, particularly as they navigate through the impact of the global pandemic. Tom presented The Wellbeing Wheel, highlighting that ‘wellbeing’ is more important than trying to feel happy 24/7, which is not normal, and challenged delegates to treat their wellbeing like a project.
Delegates were blessed with the presence of Rev Stephen Schultz (Assistant Bishop for Mission), who was the designated conference chaplain. His clear understanding of the relationship between church and schools, and his caring and practical approach was appreciated by all. Many commented on his meaningful series of devotional thoughts, being relatable to real life issues and situations.
In feedback about the Conference one delegate commented –
“During the last 2 years I’ve just been going term by term, week by week, day by day. You have no idea what the days of reflection and information have meant to me. Just to be with my colleagues again and receive their support was the boost I needed. Yes indeed ‘we are in this together’.”
May God give us the emotional strength and physical boost to get through what has been the most challenging time in my 20 years of service to the Lutheran School movement.
I express sincere thanks to the LPA Board for the courage to proceed against the odds and the NLPC Planning Committee for the work undertaken to provide such a memorable and meaningful conference. I am revived for hopefully the next few weeks… and months to come.
Photos, clockwise from left: Conference delegates gathering outside St Paul’s Lutheran Church for the Conference Welcome; Bishop Paul Smith, Rev Stephen Shultz and Bishop David Altus in prayer; LPA Chair, Craig Fielke, addressing the congregation for the official conference welcome at St Pauls Lutheran Church in Hahndorf; Delegates enjoying wine and cheese at Faith Lutheran College Wine Education Centre (L-R) Mignon Weckert, Michelle Williams, John Proeve, Terri Taylor. Images supplied.
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