Finishing our Master’s Programme

Hans-Christoph Lange, Petrus Johannes (PJ) Hanekom and I, Tristan Krüger, finished our theological studies at Stellenbosch University last year, 2023. We had to study the subjects Old and New Testament, Systematic Theology, Church History and Ecclesiology, Missiology and Practical Theology. Before we could become vicars in the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELCSA), we needed to complete the First Church Theological Examination. This took place during the three months after our Masters year at the Stellenbosch Theology Faculty. In this examination, the bishops of the UELCSA would see what we had learned in the past five years of studies and whether we were adequately prepared to work as vicars in Lutheran congregations.

The Three Month Examination Period

On 2 November 2023, we were each tasked with writing a thesis about a Lu- theran systematic theological topic. Hans’s topic was concerned with Lutheran theology and pedagogy, PJ’s with synodical discussions on the topic of homo- sexuality in the NELCSA, and mine was about Luther’s theology of the cross as an important theological framework in which to understand salvation through Christ today.

After finishing the thesis in eight weeks, we needed to write a sermon in four weeks in January 2024. We each received sermon texts from a certain Sunday of the church year, on which we wrote an exegesis, meditation and sermon.
In the beginning of February, we then had three weeks to finish preparing for the oral examination that was to take place on 23 February. in my view, this was the most nerve-wrecking time of our entire five years of study. We met with the bishops at the Andrew Murray Wellington Centre for Spirituality on the 22 Feb- ruary to get to know them a little and to be informed about the way in which the oral examination would proceed on the next day.

We were examined in five sessions, on five subjects: Old and New Testament, Church History, Liturgics, Catechetics and Lutheran Theology. Each of us had an individual session in which we were asked questions by one theologian or bishop, mainly. The one lecturer who had come from the Stellenbosch Theology Faculty to see how we were examined, Dr Marnus Havenga, said to me after the first session on Old and New Testament: “This is intense!”. And it was intense! We needed to know details about topics such as Paul’s theology, monasticism, theological pedagogy and more. At the end of the day of examination, we were tired but also relieved that there were some sessions that went rather well. On the next day, 24 February, we completed the final session, Lutheran Theology, in which our mentor Felix Meylahn asked us questions, which was a fitting ending, in my view, because Felix was the one who had guided us throughout our theological studies and had taught us well.

An hour after the final session on the 24th, we were given marks and feedback for each subject. In the end, we all passed the examination and were given the green light to begin our vicarship in the different congregations that we had been assigned to. We celebrated by enjoying an evening meal together at Val du Charron.

The next phase

Hans, PJ and I are now entering the next phase of our journey as pastors. Hans is at St Martini Congregation in Cape Town and PJ is probably going to New Germany near Durban. I am now in the Nordrand Gemeinde in Johannesburg and am preparing liturgies and sermons for the coming Sundays. I can already recognise the immense value of having a good theological foundation on which to build one’s ministry. Hans, PJ and I know that we still have much to learn theologically and practically but we are grateful to be able to say we have successfully completed the First Theological Exams of the church.

Tristan Krüger