Being in the course of unpacking and setting up a new residence this last week in temperatures that are 3-4 degrees celsius hotter than average for this time of year (it is the antipodean summer, American friends), and being on holiday, I have re-discovered the perfect aperitif to enjoy in the early summer evenings: white port on ice. Normally, when I am "on duty" I abstain from alcoholic beverages as one never knows when an emergency call may come, but being technically in between parishes for a few weeks I can enjoy the odd glass of wine at meal times without a qualm - and Australia is a wine drinkers paradise where quality wine can be had for a very reasonable price. Which brings me to my real subject, Lutherans and wine.
The average Australian Lutheran is the only type of Pietist I know who enjoys a drink, and since last week's Gospel was our Lord's first miracle of turning water into wine, and not just vin ordinaire but really good stuff that drank like it had been laid down in the cellar for a decade or so, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this phenomenon.
"Scratch the skin of an Australian Lutheran and you'll find a Baptist underneath" is a humourous aphorism that I have heard from time to time (no offence intended to my regular commentator, Matthias, who happens to be attending a Baptist congregation at the moment!). But if Australian Lutherans are sometimes confused about the difference between Lutheranism and Evangelical Pietism, one subject where that confusion doesn't apply is their understanding that wine is a gift from God to be enjoyed with thanksgiving and a clear conscience - provided drunkeness is avoided, that is!
This is something that not only our Australian evengelical friends have difficulty understanding, but even our fellow Lutherans in the US whose churches were founded by Scandinavian Pietists, who were as strict about abstinence as any Methodist (ironically, John Wesley actually urged his working-class converts to enjoy an ale rather than the demon Gin, and Australia's only surviving family-owned brewery, Cooper's, was founded by a Methodist lay-preacher, but that's another story).
(Pic: Barossa Valley, South Australia, in early spring, with grape vines recently pruned.)
One story I heard at seminary concerned the visiting mid-western American theologian who taught a Bible study to a local Lutheran Ladies Fellowship and was thanked with the gift of a bottle of Barossa Port (i.e. wine fortified with brandy spirit from the Barossa Valley, one and a half hours drive north of Adelaide). He found this so extraordinary that he did not open the bottle but took it back to the States along with the card because "the folks back home just won't believe this"...and the story goes that they didn't!
American Lutheran friends might be surprised to learn that Lutheran pastors and their parishioners were at the forefront of establishing vineyards in Australia, particularly in South Australia, where Lutherans settled in greatest numbers, and where the Mediterranean climate was particularly suited to the grape. Of course, communion wine was a necessity they were seeking to supply, but these viticultural pioneers also laid the foundations for the South Australian wine industry (Anglicans such as the Penfolds were also involved in this endeavour), which is world renowned not only for quality wines at all price-points of the market, but also for innovation, and which is still dominated by Lutheran families (indeed, the Schrapel family of Bethany Wines make a luscious white port from primarily the frontignac grape). (Pic: The Schrapel family's Bethany Vineyard in the Barossa Valley in high summer. Note the Mediterranean-type vegetation and terrain, along with the grape vines nestled in the bowl-like shelter of the rising hills behind - perfect terroir for wine grapes.)
To be continued...