Growing congregation in front of the church

The heart of the mission

The church building of course was the heart of the mission. While the historic Church stands quietly now in the heart of the historic precinct, the new heart has moved with the growing town of Ntaria and is located outside the Mission compound; if you sit quietly enough you can still hear the echo of Arrarnta ancestors raising their voices to God.

A church was one of the first buildings that Schulze, Schwarz and Kempe built after selecting the location for the mission, building ones to hold their livestock and a house to live in.  The church was dedicated on the 12th November 1880.  Unfortunately, there appear to be no surviving images of that first church and sadly when Carl Strehlow arrived in September 12, 1884, he found the modest Church building had collapsed after heavy rains during the period of abandonment.  He therefore set about building a second more robust Bethlehem Church using local stone and lime mortar which was completed in December 1887 and dedicated on Christmas Day.

While that church still stands today in the heart of the historic precinct, it eventually became too small to house the growing population as did the mission precinct itself.  The new (3rd) Bethlehem church was built just outside the historic precinct and was dedicated on September 25th, 1966. The modern church has the steeple bell tower that Strehlow was unable to achieve on his church given the building materials to hand. 

The Church within the historic precinct has seen many celebrations, wedding, baptisms, confirmations and ordinations.  It has also witnessed its share of sadness in the many funerals held within it.  This tradition of celebration continues today in the new church in Ntaria.  Still, sometimes the old church is awakened by the sound of voices raised in song for example in 2014 the Soweto Choir was invited to sing in the ‘old church’ in the Hermannsburg Historical Precinct. The old church walls were once again blessed with harmonies of praise.1

Western Arrarnta people today credit their rich culture with the survival of their language.  It is still used in everyday life with the ability to convey all the pain, heartbreaks and joys that life brings.  In church, the Lutheran missionaries understood from the start how language is important in establishing the connection with their faith. You can get a small understanding of this when listening to Western Arrarnta people raising their voices to the heavens.   Take a seat in the church and soak in the experience …In this song Genise, Damien and Nicholas Williams “Etwalkur’ inthurra ungkwanganga (Nearer, My God, to Thee)” 

[You can buy this track with others on a CD from CAAMA or download 5 track EP disc with 8-page booklet that includes all lyrics in Western Aranda and English. Available for download on iTunes and Google Play] 2

  • Finke River Mission Stories December 2014
  • Etwalkur’ inthurra ungkwanganga / Nearer, My God, to Thee - THE WILLIAMS FAMILY - Official. Performed in Western Aranda, this video was created as a part of the Therrka Endangered Languages Project. Courtesy of the Williams family and CAAMA Music.