On the weekend of 26–28 April the revived ‘Western Muster’ was held for the second time in as many years in Charleville, a nine-hour drive west of Brisbane.
‘The Muster is a cross-denominational gathering of Christians scattered throughout Outback Queensland for the purposes of mutual encouragement, Bible teaching and prayer’, said Holy Trinity Lutheran Church’s Pastor Mark Hampel, who was a driving force behind the Muster. After receiving the go-head from the Combined Churches based in Toowoomba, who oversee ecumenical activity in the region, he sent out invitations to all and sundry.
Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Uniting, Anglicans and Baptists were represented at this year’s Muster. Invited guest Dr Noel Due, a Lutheran pastor, brought a teaching on the gospel of the Holy Spirit. ‘We heard that the Holy Spirit is another counsellor, just like Jesus’, Pastor Hampel said. ‘In our time and place we don’t miss out on Jesus’ presence with us as, through the Spirit, the ministry of Jesus continues among us, and in us (John 14-16).’
‘Noel helped us to see what many of us already knew, that as, the institutionalised churches with their formal structures and pastor-centric models are retreating and fading from the scene. It seems that God is preparing for a new way of ministry that embraces all Christians across the denominations, and works with local leaders in small groups that God raises up’, Pastor Hampel continues. ‘It is a work of the kingdom, rather than of the “officially organised” churches.’
Pastor Hampel describes the feeling at the Muster that as the Scriptures were opened to those present, people opened up too. ‘A warmth and unity pervaded the place; people bared their deep thoughts and concerns, and we prayed together’, he shared. ‘People soaked up the Word and hungered for others to know the beautiful life Jesus comes to bring.’
A steering committee was elected from those present, across the denominations, to work towards the 2020 Western Muster. ‘There is a great desire for this to continue’, Pastor Hampel says. ‘Our role as Lutherans is to bring to others that clear and pure gospel teaching God has blessed us with, in fresh, simple but profound ways, without putting our badge on it – just letting it speak for itself. This is a unity around Christ and his Word, not an organised church body such as the LCA.’
Between now and the next Western Muster, set tentatively for late April 2020, the various attendees expressed the desire to keep in touch so that they could pray and support each other.
‘Our prayer is that God will draw others from around the bush into small groups scattered all around the Outback, regardless of denominational affiliation, to feed on his Word and grow in faith in intimate home groups’, Pastor Hampel says. ‘These are places where neighbours gather with their friends around wonderful teaching and the fellowship that engenders. This is about friendships. These groups will be invited to gather together again as a larger group in the 2020 Muster at Charleville.’
‘God did something wonderful among us at the Muster’, he continues. ‘And we pray that this movement in the Spirit and truth of his Word will spread, helping to fill the void replaced by the shrinking footprint and decreasing resourcing of the organised church.’
Pastor Hampel asks that members of the Lutheran Church of Australia Queensland District hold the future of Outback ecumenism and forthcoming Musters in their prayers.