53-57 Plymouth Road
Croydon Hills Victoria 3136
Phone 03 9725 3768


The history of our congregation

The Outer Eastern Lutheran Church (OELC) is a Congregation of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

OELC was formed in August 1999 as a combination of two former congregations – The Open Door Lutheran Fellowship, Croydon, and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lilydale. The preaching place at Yarra Junction also came into OELC at the same time, as a ministry of the former Immanuel Congregation.

Our two worship centres are still known as ‘Open Door’ (Luther College Chapel Croydon) and ‘Immanuel’ (11 North Road Lilydale).

During 2004 there was an extensive review of the congregation's ministry which led to a restructure of the two team pastor's responsibilities. We now have two pastors who fulfil the positions of Pastor - Ministry Director and Pastor - Director of Worship and Pastoral Care. The Pastor - Ministry Director has a half time equivalent call to serve The Good Shepherd Lutheran Primary School.

A History of the Open Door Lutheran Fellowship


Although Lutheran services were first held in Melbourne from the late 1840's - and a Lutheran congregation was established at Doncaster (Waldau) in 1856 - it took almost a century before any further congregations were established in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Over the years services were held for varying periods of time in a number of eastern suburbs, largely for groups of Lutheran families living there. The pastors of inner city congregations usually took responsibility for these services.

Both world wars and the Church's perception of itself as an ethnic organisation significantly hindered the growth of Lutheran churches in Victoria. It wasn't until after World War Two, that both former Lutheran synods (ELCA, UELCA) began to look to these rapidly growing suburbs to establish new permanent congregations.

The eastward movement of a Lutheran presence is indicated by the dates congregations were established:



St Paul's, Box Hill (ELCA)



Good Shepherd, Ringwood (established by Box Hill)



St Paul's, Nunawading (UELCA)



Our Redeemer, Glen Waverley, (established by Box Hill)



Immanuel, Lilydale (established by Ringwood)



Our Saviour, Knox (established by Ringwood)



Open Door, Croydon (established by Ringwood)

A number of factors combined to inspire the formation of a Lutheran congregation at Croydon:

  • The Victorian District of the Lutheran Church of Australia was keen to see the establishment of a congregation east of Ringwood. It saw the gap between Lilydale and Ringwood being filled by an expanding population. By the end of the 1970's, the District perceived that the time was ripe for the formation of a new congregation and a Croydon church could similarly be established with firm support from Ringwood.
  • The anomalous position of students boarding at Luther College was also a factor in the formation of the Croydon church. During the early years, Luther College boarders joined Ringwood congregation for Sunday services. Ringwood congregation grew so rapidly that a second service had to be introduced to enable boarders to continue attending the church. From 1973, boarders attended the second service at Ringwood once a month and another congregation once a month. On alternate Sundays, a service was held at the College. It soon became apparent that to integrate boarders fully into the life of a congregation they would need to attend one congregation regularly. This need, along with the needs of new families moving to Croydon because of Luther College, strengthened the case for establishing a congregation at Croydon.
  • Coinciding with discussions about establishing a congregation at Croydon were deliberations over the need to call a second Chaplain at least on a part-time basis, to meet the spiritual needs of the Luther College community as it expanded from 350 to 500 students. The initiative for a joined chaplaincy with Ringwood (or a new Croydon congregation) and the College was mooted.

In short, God's people recognised that geographically the nucleus for a new congregation existed at Croydon, particularly with Luther College as a major attracting force situated on the edge of development in the North Croydon and North Ringwood areas; the spiritual needs of the Luther College boarders would be better served by a congregation at Croydon and buildings to commence services already existed.

Open Door Lutheran Fellowship: A Decade of Developments

  • Pastor Kevin Zwar was called to establish a congregation at Croydon in November 1981, and was installed at Ringwood on 31 January 1982.
  • On 21 February 1982 the Croydon congregation was established as a preaching place of the Ringwood parish. The first service was held on this date at 9:30 am by Pastor Kevin Zwar who preached on the third part of the Apostle's Creed. Pastor Geoff Schirmer led the Liturgy.
  • On 30 January 1983 Croydon became a separate congregation.
  • Late in 1983 it became apparent that the growth occuring at Luther College would necessitate the services of two full-time chaplains. The growth of the new Croydon congregation also required the service of a full-time pastor. Both the College and the Croydon congregation called Pastor Zwar to full-time service. He accepted the call to work full-time as a chaplain at the College.
  • On 5 August 1984 the new Luther College Chapel was officially opened and dedicated.
  • On 9 September 1984 Pastor Zwar held his final service as pastor of ODLF.
  • In August 1984, while Pastor Zwar was on long service leave, Pastor Pukallus accepted the role of chaplain at Luther College (60%) and pastor of the Croydon Congregation (ODLF) (40%) for one term. From 1985 he served the Croydon congregation for 70% of his time and the College 30%. In late 1987 Pastor Pukallus accepted a call to Redeemer, Rochdale, Queensland.
  • In December 1987 Pastor Cecil Schmalkuche ( a pastor on study leave) was appointed as an interim pastor at Croydon, but within weeks was called to the Footscray congregation.
  • Pastor Mike Fulwood, a graduate pastor, was appointed to Croydon by the District at the end of 1988. In March 1988 the Croydon congregation officially called Pastor Mike Fulwood to service.
  • The Croydon congregation hosted the District Convention in 1989.
  • On 1 January 1992, the Ringwood congregation handed over to the Croydon congregation the prime responsibility for the management of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Primary School. The school was adopted as a major mission focus.
  • In November 1992 Croydon congregation's church offices were opened on the Good Shepherd Lutheran Primary School premises.

    Pastors of the Open Door Lutheran Fellowship, Croydon

    Athol Pukallus (1984 - 1987)

    The change to a 70% congregation and 30% College time allotment allowed Pastor Athol Pukallus to lead the congregation in a vigorous outreach ministry, especially among people associated with the College. Evening praise services were launched to provide a greater range of worship opportunities. Music and fellowship were highlights of congregational activities. Youth work was actively encouraged with both senior and junior groups. The newly completed Luther College Chapel became a significant focus for the work of the Croydon congregation.

    Mike Fulwood (1988 - 1993)

    The calling of Pastor Mike Fulwood to full time ministry in the congregation meant a change to a broader focus in the congregation's mission. At the same time the congregation re-evaluated its core activities. The Schreiber seminar on small group ministry led to the revitalising of small groups and a re-emphasis on caring for people. A vision retreat in early 1991 initiated the focus on the Good Shepherd Primary School, and this ministry was progressively developed as the primary school was transferred to the Croydon congregation from the Ringwood congregation. Pastor Fulwood accepted a call to Tuggeranong, ACT at the end of 1993.

    John Henderson (1994 - 2001)

    Pastor John Henderson was called from Dalby, Queensland and arrived at Croydon in March 1994. After seven years as Senior Pastor, he accepted the position of General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia.

     A History of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lilydale

    Immanuel Lutheran Church Lilydale began as a satellite congregation of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Ringwood with the Pastoral care being administered by Pastor Sam Simpfendorfer. It was first established as a congregation in 1972 with a membership of 96 and with Pastor Peter Mickan as our first Pastor. Services were held in the Anglican Church in Casella Street and continued there for seven years.

    In 1979 the log cabin church was built on the 1.4 hectare site, with predominantly volunteer labour. It was an activity that welded the small congregation into a tight knit and caring group, and that characteristic helped Immanuel weather the changes of the years.

    Pastor Neville Lienert was called and came as Pastor in 1982 and with his wife Pam and three children quickly became a focal point of the church family. Membership grew to 270 and services were being held in Yarra Junction and Warburton to cater for out-post members.

    But times were changing and in October 1992 Pastor Neville accepted a call to South Australia. Pastor Paul Semmler was called in 1992 to lead a now smaller congregation. The membership also began to change, although a strong group of the original members remained. A cyclic movement is the norm in most organisations and it was always the prayer and hope at Immanuel that we would return to its former strength. Other factors, however, began to make a significant impact. Pastor Semmler accepted a call to Queensland and left at the beginning of 1999. He was not able to be replaced with a full time Pastor, and the concept of a part-time Pastor was not considered possible.

    The members of Immanuel remained strongly attached to their spiritual home, and tried to resolve the issue by seeking to form a partnership with another congregation. The result of this was a positive approach from Open Door in Croydon. This eventually resulted in a suggestion from the District that we actually form a new congregation, which took place in August 1999.

    Pastors of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lilydale

    Peter Mickan (1972-1982)

    Neville Lienert (1982–1992)

    Paul Semmler (1992–1998)

Pastors of the Outer Eastern Lutheran Church

Phillip Haar (2000 - 2004)

Pastor Phillip Haar was called as a seminary graduate and was installed as Associate Pastor in January 2000.

Mark Greenthaner (2002 - )

Pastor Mark Greenthaner was called from College Pastor of Luther College to become Senior Pastor of the Outer Eastern Lutheran Church, and was installed in February 2002. Pastor Mark is currently School Pastor working within our school, Good Shepherd Lutheran Primary School.

Tim Stringer (2006 - )

Pastor Tim Stringer was called as a seminary graduate and was installed as Pastor - Director of Worship and Pastoral Care in January 2006. As a result of a ministry team restructure in 2009 Pastor Tim is now Congregational Pastor.

Lay Worker

Christie Lange (2009 - 2012)

Christie Lange commenced work at OELC in August 2009 as the Family and Care Lay Worker.



Important Connections