Brunswick Baptist Church - The first 50 years
by Rev Dr Marita Munro
The establishment of Victoria’s Brunswick Church occurred some 20 years after the first land sales in the area (1839-1840). Most land was bought by speculators or investors who did not come to live there. The name ‘Brunswick’ was in honour of the royal wedding that had occurred back ‘home’ in England (Brunswick being the name of the royal house of the bride, Princess Caroline). Victoria and Albert Streets were named around the same time. Thomas Wilkinson, who bought much of the land, was active in local affairs and purchased land for the Wesleyan Church on Sydney Road. He also built shops and was chair of the local Council.
From the 1840s the settlement started to grow and the Retreat Inn, Brunswick’s oldest hotel, provided a popular stopping place for travelers en route to the gold fields in Ballarat and Bendigo. The quickest way was through Brunswick and a camp was set up opposite the Methodist Church where people could rest and organize themselves for the journey. Clay was discovered in Brunswick in 1849 and from this discovery sprang Brunswick’s quarrying industry for bricks and bluestones for houses and roads. By 1865 most of the population was involved in brickmaking and bluestone ‘dressing’. The Methodists opened a school in 1849. Combined with a Presbyterian one, it became Brunswick’s Central State School in 1877. Catholics began their own school. The Mechanics’ Institute opened in 1868 and functioned as a library.
Brunswick Baptist Church unofficially began in 1859 when two men, George Burton and John Wallis, then worshipping in the Sydney Road Methodist Church, discovered they were both Baptists and decided to meet in Burton’s home in Albert Street west. They sought help from Rev Isaac New from Albert Street Baptist Church. F. J. Wilkin writes: ‘with the expansion of Melbourne, the Albert Street Church became eager for the extension of the denomination, and fostered several new causes’. Edward G Lewis (Albert Street deacon) preached for 18 months at meetings held in the Brunswick Court House and agreed to provide oversight of the fledgling congregation. In 1861 a chapel with seating for 70 was built at 491 Sydney Road on land purchased by Burton. The total cost of land and building was £250. Rev Isaac New laid the foundation stone on 16 April 1861 and three sermons were preached on the day of the church’s opening on 23 June 1961. Loans were sought from private individuals and the debt paid off by the end of 1862. Baptisms had to be postponed until the construction of a baptistery. In 1862 meetings were held in his home to consider formation of a Baptist church and a resolution was unanimously adopted:
We therefore solemnly and in the fear of God, agree to unite in the fellowship of a Christian church, each church as to its faith and order to be formed on the same basis as the Albert St Baptist Church, Melbourne … and to be an open Baptist Church.
The church was officially formed at a Communion service on 11 May 1862 when Lewis preached on the text: ‘This do in remembrance of me’. Not everybody was happy about the idea of an open communion church and some declined the invitation to attend. At their first meeting nearly three weeks later, members agreed to hold a Wednesday evening service and that the committee would oversee operations until deacons were appointed. It was a struggle to find deacons. Brunswick’s first deacons, Brothers Grant and Alford, were elected for a twelve-month term in 1863 with Grant becoming treasurer. Lewis accepted the pastorate of the church. The pastor conducted four baptisms in the evening of 31 May 1863. Over time many baptisms would take place in the evening, including during the cold winter months. At least one member of the Independent Church was welcomed into the church’s membership without baptism (1863) but a decision was soon taken (Sept 1863) following discussion that only those baptized by immersion were eligible for membership. It was a narrowly won vote leading a few (including the Curks) to leave the church.
In 1864 the Constitutional and Doctrinal Basis of the church was unanimously declared. Of the 15 Rules on admission to membership, governance and discipline, the following reflected standard Baptist practice and were regularly acted upon by the church membership: those not previously made a public profession of their faith shall be received only on profession of their faith through ‘resurrection in water’ (Rule 2); exclusion of members by a vote of the majority if evidence of their ‘walking disorderly’ or ‘holding sentiments contrary to the principles of the church’ (Rule 6); any member who reports the private affairs of the church publically will be suspended from fellowship for a month (Rule 15).
Ill health and the pressure of combining secular and church work eventually forced Lewis to resign, much to the congregation’s regret. Lewis and ministers of the fledgling Victorian Baptist Association recommended a former Episcopal minister from Geelong, Rev Herbert Guinness, recently baptized, as an interim pastor, but the church did not agree. Instead, in July 1864, they invited Rev John W. Bentley, Pastor of Kyneton, to conduct services with a view to being invited to the pastorate. The invitation was for six months for not less than two pounds per week. When the church wanted to extend his term by another six months, Bentley wrote a thoughtful and strongly-worded reply challenging the church’s thinking: they were too cautious; lacked faith in God for the future; had plenty of time to consider his suitability for the pastorate; had enough finance to make a permanent appointment; a short time arrangement would not instill confidence in the church’s members and attendees nor was it fair to expect him to uproot for only another six-month appointment; Brunswick was not an easy place in which to work; and if a permanent arrangement did not prove successful, with proper notice and with two thirds of the vote, he would resign from the position. Brunswick appointed Bentley as its permanent pastor and he served for a decade (1865-1875).
Membership growth was slow during the first decade of the church’s life. When Bentley gave notice in 1867 of a motion re the propriety of making future membership dependent on applicants being immersed, some worshippers left. In 1867 there were 29 members including a number admitted to membership by believers’ baptism.
Finances and Buildings
Offering plates were placed at the entrance to the chapel and a communion offering was received for the poor. A Sustentation Fund was established from weekly offerings and by private subscription. After covering the expenses of the church, the rest of the income went to the pastor. Tensions arose early over matters of property and finance. In 1861 a question was raised about Mr Hammond’s claim to have registered the bill of sale for the chapel. It was finally obtained from him. Brother Hammond was also upset that a singing class had been held in the chapel and he resigned from the role of secretary of the committee. A new committee secretary (Wallis) was appointed and books and papers relating to the chapel requested from Hammond. Deacons Wallis and Grant resigned over financial matters early in 1865. Brother Makepeace observed that Grant’s resignation was contrary to the spirit and that efforts at reconciliation should be made. Grant considered that his honesty as a treasurer was being doubted. The church denied the report as ‘untruthful, malicious and wicked’. Brothers Wallis Sr and Jr were appointed as Treasurer temporarily in 1867.
The church was frequently beset with financial struggles. The pastor did not receive more than £100 a year from 1867 until 1873. In 1869 Brunswick paid the Baptist Association at a rate of a penny per week member (1869). This had doubled by 1901. Fund raising activities included a Baptist Bazaar selling ladies’ handicrafts for chapel restoration (£ 93). Left over items were ‘considered a sacred deposit consecrated for the purpose for which they were donated’. (1869). There was insufficient money to support the Association (1873). Funds continue to deteriorate; Bentley had not received more than £100 a year since 1867 and he resigned in March 1876. Yet there were plans for a new chapel. In 1870 Brothers Frith and Wallis each offered £100 if the church could raise £400 for each gift. Chapel alterations undertaken in 1872 included an enclosed porch, a door covered with green baize, a pulpit with a platform, sunlights (skylights?) and the boarding of the vestry.
Celebration, Music and Worship
Church anniversaries and Tea Meetings soon became high points of Brunswick’s calendar. The church ladies looked after the catering. Anniversary preachers, Revs Slade (Geelong) and James Taylor (Collins St) proved very popular in 1865. 200 tickets and 50 posters were printed for the Anniversary Tea Meeting. Hymns were originally sung unaccompanied, aided by a tuning fork, before a harmonium was obtained. A Watch Night service was held on New Year’s Eve 1869.
Church members took seriously matters of disunity and discipline. Those found to be acting inconsistently with Christian character were temporarily suspended from the Lord’s Table. A special church meeting was held in November 1862 in response to an unhappy exchange – witnessed by Pastor Lewis – between two church members. It had distressed him greatly and he feared that the ‘peace and purity of the church were at risk if such unseemly behaviour went unnoticed’. Apparently Mr Wallis had called Mrs Curk (?) ‘a false hearer’ and ‘a snake in the grass’ after she had enquired after the health of his wife. The exchange was thoroughly investigated and it was found that Mrs Curk was entirely innocent of the matter. Brother Wallis was ‘affectionately admonished’. A few months later, an angry discussion was witnessed between Mr Curk and Mr Wallis over the subject of believers’ baptism. Brother Curk was accused of not showing sufficient respect for the ordinance of baptism. Church minutes recorded: ‘The church’s peace had again been disturbed by Brother Wallis’.
In 1876 Brunswick called Pastor W. R. Hiddlestone, a young man from South Melbourne who led a small group of singers. Known as the ‘singing evangelist’, his six-year ministry would see a time of rapid growth in the church. Hiddlestone used a vehicle known as a ‘Gospel Chariot’ for open-air work. The 1876 Annual Report to the Association recorded 85 members and the formation of a church building committee with the pastor as treasurer. Deacon Wallis reported from the Baptist Association that ‘a remarkably good feeling existed towards Brunswick’. In 9 November 1876 Association Chair, Rev P. Bailhache, laid the Foundation Stone of the new building. A Tea Meeting was held in the local Mechanics Hall and funds were raised. There was ‘a buzz in the air’ and members’ meetings were well-attended. It was agreed to borrow £200 from the Brunswick Bank at 8 percent per annum to finance the cost of building the new church. Members were asked to donate one pound each to make seats for the church. Hiddlestone commenced a fund-raising tour.
An innovator, he proposed that deacons transact the business of the church and that the secretary bring a report to the members every three months at a quarterly tea meeting. Treasurer Burton, Secretary Wallis and Brother John Jenkin served on the diaconate for many years to come. An envelope system was introduced, two more deacons added to cope with church growth and a finance committee established (1878). Steps were taken to increase the pastor’s salary (1879) yet financial struggles continued to beset the church. Hiddlestone warned about ‘disorderly walking and behaviour’. 150 Copies of the Church Rules were distributed, and members were urged to be punctual in their attendance at Sunday worship, particularly the Lord’s Supper. Deacons and pastor expressed concern about members ‘misconducting themselves through attending mesmeric seances’. There were processes to deal with members experiencing problems with alcohol. Repeated intoxication was regarded as a sin rather than an illness. The church’s response was for an erring brother to be visited regularly and ‘members requested to watch kindly over our fellow brother’. If behavior did not improve, membership would be suspended, and the erring brother would need to withdraw from the Lord’s Table for three months. Membership could be cancelled if no change in behavior was evident.
The suburb of Brunswick experienced modernization during the late nineteenth century with the railway line coming in 1884, and the first cable tram in 1887. In 1888 Brunswick was proclaimed a town with a population of 14,792. In addition to brickworks, by 1891 there were nail and rope factories, two banks, three schools, two newspapers, five railway stations, a Mechanics Institute (1868) providing books for a fee and three fire brigades.
This growth phase was also reflected in the church. Membership rose to an all-time high of 238 in 1881 and there were 250 Sunday School scholars. Wilkin writes that when the congregation outgrew the buildings, evening services were transferred to the Mechanics’ Institute, ‘where crowds gathered and a gracious revival ensued’. Decisions were made to purchase more land in 1880 and 1882 (from Brother J Burton) and build the church school before the sanctuary. 1882 marked the 20th anniversary of the church and the conclusion of Hiddlestone’s ministry. Tragically his young daughter had drowned in a bath a year earlier, and he decided to accept an appointment as Home Mission Evangelist, despite Brunswick’s efforts to retain him.
50 posters and 400 tickets were printed for Brunswick’s 20th Anniversary Tea Meeting and Public Meeting chaired by Melbourne’s Mayor. Ladies and friends of the church served 400 guests including visitors from other suburban churches. The Secretary’s report made affectionate reference to former Pastor Hiddlestone. The choir rendered anthems under the excellent leadership of Brother Benson who went on to serve the church in this capacity (and as organist) for many years.
An Unhappy Episode
Rev J. H. Shalberg, from Hobart accepted the offer of the Brunswick pastorate in April 1882. His ministry however, was short-lived (1882-1884) and marked an unhappy episode in the church’s history. Despite a promising beginning, in which he was described as having ‘stirling qualities of mind and heart … working calmly amongst us with a steady and well-directed purpose’, Shalberg had resigned within two years and been replaced by Rev Edward Isaac (23 July 1884). It was a unanimous decision and the members sang the words of the hymn: ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’ very heartily after a very trying period. The falling out between Shalberg and the church was widely reported in the colony’s papers. What had transpired?
Church meeting minutes record some disturbing events. Apparently simmering tension had eventually erupted between Shalberg and some of the deacons, leading to Deacon Frith calling for the pastor’s resignation and accusing him of defamation. Shalberg was accused of bringing a charge against Brother George Burton from the church platform before the congregation on Sunday 24 Feb 1884, claiming that Burton had not contributed financially to the church for some months. Burton had refuted the charge and had Frith declare to the church members that he (Burton) had contributed over £37 and the family, over £57. A motion of sympathy for Burton was carried overwhelmingly for the false charge laid against him. Shalberg resigned on 9 March 1884 and Brother Burton requested that Brunswick give him a letter of introduction to other churches as he was taking a trip to England. He was not present at the next church meeting (26 March) and refused to pass on the Minute Book to the Secretary so that a full account of the special church meeting could be recorded. His resignation was accepted 61 in favour, 23 against. Events were widely reported in the local papers and offer a more sympathetic interpretation of Shalberg’s role in events.
When the officers of the Victorian Baptist Association read these newspaper reports about Shalberg’s resignation, they considered censuring Brunswick and asked for an explanation. The church’s initial response was deemed unsatisfactory and the Brunswick Deacons wrote again, explaining that the Association’s view was based on inaccurate press reports and regretting the ‘disturbance brought about by circumstances of the most agravating (sic) character viz. the ill timed remarks of our late pastor’ (made from the platform). This time the Association Executive was satisfied and unanimously agreed that no further action was needed.
Pastor Isaac from Johnson Street, Fitzroy, and one of C.H. Spurgeon’s evangelists, ‘cheerfully accepted’ the Brunswick invitation to the pastorate, ‘trusting that a higher wisdom than ours has guided the step’. Initially ‘a twelve month engagement’, it extended to almost a decade (1884-1894). Division and decline had been the Shalberg legacy and it was noted:
The task undertaken by this young and inexperienced, but devoted, servant of Christ was first of all to re-unite in the bonds of fellowship and Christian love, ‘a house divided against itself’.
Numerical decline was steadily reversed, and the church experienced a sustained phase of growth. Local newspapers reported glowingly on developments.
Church noticeboards were erected in 1886 and a decision taken in 1888 to enlarge the church buildings by 4.5 meters plus a gallery.A building committee was established and a loan of £1,000 sought from the recently established Victorian Baptist Fund (VBF). Mr Thorn, an architect, offered his services free of charge. A building fund was established and fund raising activities held such as Magic Lantern entertainment in1889. Building renovations proceeded well. Under the refurbishment, seats were to be varnished not French polished. The front picket fence was painted. Pastor Isaac wanted the front of the gallery to be iron not wood. A new carpet for the platform and coconut matting for aisles were purchased. The vestry’s gas burners were repaired and the church’s venetian blinds painted and varnished. A new cabinet organ replaced a faulty pipe organ. There were plans to reopen the church in October 1889. The building committee celebrated the completion of its work with ‘a very happy evening at the Jenkins home on 29 December 1889 enjoying the good things provided’.
In 1885 the church increased Isaac’s stipend to £234 pa and extended his term by twelve months. In 1892 at his request, they increased his stipend to five pound a week but there were indications of growing need among the poor of the church and Isaac agreed to accept a reduction in his stipend if financial depression worsened.
Upon Isaac’s arrival in 1884, there were 108 members and 150 scholars. Growth came through both transfer and conversions. Throughout the 1880s there were transfers from Collingwood Tabernacle (Sackville Street), George St., Albert St. Collins St., West Melbourne, Nth Carlton, Sandhurst, South Melbourne, Collingwood Chapel, South Australia, Tasmania and the United Kingdom.
During the late nineteenth century, people were moving to suburbs further north of Brunswick like Coburg where a Baptist cause was established in 1896. Some found the distance to Brunswick too far to travel. Bad weather made it difficult for members who lived in Preston to attend during the winter months; others cited illness, domestic duties and ‘lack of interest in the work’ as reasons for non-attendance. In 1891 The South Melbourne and St Kilda churches sought closer fellowship with Brunswick. Exchange visits were envisaged and invitations to attend prayer and praise meetings were issued.
By 1891 Brunswick had 273 members and 438 Sunday School scholars. Special church meetings were held on Christmas Day and 28 Dec 1884 to deal with new members, appointment of visitors and baptisms. The church was crowded for an evening service when six young women from the Sunday School class were baptized. Many spoke positively of the impact of Pastor Isaac’s preaching on their lives. A gifted and sought-after speaker, Isaac spoke at the 1893 Geelong (Keswick) Convention and was invited to be the preacher at Auckland Baptist Tabernacle for 3 months in 1891. He believed that the change of air across the Tasman would do his health good but was prepared to resign if Brunswick wanted this. After a long discussion at a special meeting, the church granted Isaac’s request but asked him to arrange for preachers to fill the pulpit in his absence.
Evangelism and Overseas Mission
Evangelistic campaigns were a regular feature of Brunswick’s mission. Short open-air meetings were held opposite the church before Sunday evening services with addresses, singing and prayer occasionally aided by the Brass Band. The Tract Society circulated tracts in1887. Visiting evangelists included Rev Henry Varley who preached to a crowded congregation on a Tuesday evening in 1888 and a number professed a decision. Rev McNeil was invited to conduct evangelistic service for a fortnight ‘to try and break up the fallow ground’ in May 1889. Women evangelists also had an important role. Isaac was in communication with Mrs Emilia Baeyertz in Aug 1885 and a number of women were converted through the preaching of Mrs Hanson (Hamson?) in 1890. By the late 1890s, annual missions lasting from one week to ten days with a visiting missioner were a regular feature of the church’s evangelistic program. Seven professed conversion under the ministry of Preacher Robertson and Singer Stevens in 1898. ‘The work was carried on with earnestness, the congregations were very good considering the inclement weather on some evenings’.
In 1899 the Baptist Union developed its own scheme for special evangelistic effort. Brunswick took part in the Simultaneous Mission arrangements chaired by Rev Samuel Pearce Carey (1902) – ‘the greatest mission known’! It was an adventurous campaign encompassing suburbs from Brighton to Williamstown, and involving home and cottage prayer meetings every Tuesday night for 7 weeks. In Brunswick ‘the great campaign against sin and the Devil’ ran for ten days in April. It was an ecumenical venture. With the exception of the Anglican, Christian Disciples and Brethren, all the Protestant Churches took an active part. Sixteen meetings were held in a ‘monster tent’ on Sydney Road. This time the missioner was an American, Mr D C Davidson MA. Nearly 2,000 people attended. ‘God’s smile was on the work’. There was only one wet night and ‘some were brought from darkness to light finding Christ as their saviour’ with some remaining until midnight. A large choir, led by Brunswick’s organist and choirmaster, C. H. Benson, sang special hymns. 240 professed conversion. Many Sunday school scholars made confessions of faith. 86 adults and children were anxious to attend Brunswick. Foreign mission also also grew in prominence. In 1898 College Principal Whitley wrote to the churches about meetings of the Victorian Baptist Foreign Mission and seeking contributions to the Indian mission funds. Brunswick established its missionary auxiliary to the Mymensingh Mission a year later.
In 1887, following a long debate over the use of fermented or unfermented wine, the church decided to use unfermented wine, ‘this being in accordance with Scripture’. The cost of purchasing individual communion cups (£ 3/2/6) as recommended by the Board of Public Health was deemed prohibitive in 1904 and the church retained use of the common cup but the ‘deacons were supplied with a serviette each to wipe the cup after each communicant.’ Health issues extended to the introduction of ten ventilators inside the church. Sankey’s hymnbooks were bought for use in the evening service in 1885 and a new organ purchased via subscription for £120 in 1889. During the 1890s there was debate over the use of Sankey’s Hymns with Benson wanting the Baptist Hymn Book to be used more in the evening worship. Others were quite vocal in their preference for Sankeys ‘and the good they had received from singing them’. 60 copies of Sankeys were later purchased in 1901.
Membership and Discipline
Deacons and members were often exercised about the ethics of dancing and theatre going. Some members were rebuked and disciplined for attending dances. One such report involved a Miss Godding who had taken part in a public dance. ‘She admitted the fact but she was in no way sorry for the action she had taken’. Acting Secretary, Jesse Burton, was instructed to write to her for an explanation:
As our church is entirely opposed to dancing on scriptural grounds, I am instructed to write and ask if you still intend to follow the same line of action … I trust a reply will be forthcoming at your earliest convenience, so that the Church may decide what course of action to pursue.
No reply was forthcoming and Miss Godding’s name was removed from the membership roll in December 1890. In 1905 when it became known that choir members were dancing, an ultimatum was issued: ‘if any member of the choir persist in dancing and theatre going, they be privately and individually warned to cease such conduct or leave the choir’. Choirmaster Benson tendered his resignation in protest but it was not accepted. In future, every person joining the choir had to provide the pastor and deacons with satisfactory evidence of their conversion. A debate over the young men of the church and the Sunday School using the school hall for a gymnasium once a week was narrowly won in their favour on the basis that the gym was hard work, not entertainment. But Deacon J. Burton submitted his resignation because ‘foreign elements were being introduced into the school’. He later withdrew it but did not resile from his forthright views. (1905)
Changes in the Pastorate
Isaac resigned from Brunswick at the end of 1893 to take up the pastorate at West Melbourne following the death of its pastor. In his letter of resignation, he gave thanks for the spirit of harmony that he and Brunswick had experienced over nine years: ‘I cannot find words to express the pain that this severance of long established ties costs me … I am deeply sensible of the way in which you have sought to encourage me’. He went on to express the hope that Brunswick would find a far more worthy pastor than he had been and to say how much joy his wife had found serving the Sunday School over the years.
But to find a new pastor was a challenge given Brunswick’s previous unhappy experience with Shalberg and the economic depression of the 1890s. The VBF would not grant a loan to the church unless the Union’s Executive Committee was satisfied with the credentials of the new pastor and had the church’s agreement in writing. Rev John Carson was appointed with the Union’s blessing. In his acceptance letter, Carson spoke warmly of the ‘pleasant intercourse’ and union experienced at Brunswick and promising to ‘gladly give all (his) heart and strength to fulfil the ministry of the Gospel among (them)’. After two years, he resigned to return to his homeland of Scotland before later commencing a ten-year pastorate at Clifton Hill. In 1897 Brunswick called Rev David J. Graham from Goulbourn, NSW, another Spurgeon College pastor. He wrote in his acceptance of the call: ‘I hunger and thirst for the privilege of spending this short life in saying to the greatest possible number. “Believe the Lamb of God”.’
Doctrinal Issues and Membership
During the late nineteenth century, Brunswick was often preoccupied with issues of membership and doctrine. In 1890 Deacon J. Burton brought notice of a motion to a church meeting that in the opinion of the church, ‘women shall not be allowed to interduce (sic) any debatable subject or take part in any discussion which shall tend to create division in the church’. The motion was later held over because the Brother was ill. The church had strict rules when it came to membership transfers and communion attendance. When the Albert Street pastor wrote requesting a transfer of a Brunswick member, the request was not granted because the Church Secretary had not written the letter! One Brunswick man, not well enough to be baptized, could not be accepted into membership. A request for transfer of a member from Hindmarsh Church of Christ was not granted: transfers only applied to for Baptist churches. Members were busily occupied processing names for baptism and membership, appointing visitors and reporting on visits to absentee members. Some said they were present at the Lord’s Table, but forgot to put in their tickets as a record of their attendance. Two sisters mixed up their tickets. There were many discussions about when and how often to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism and Membership
Baptism remained a very important part of any testimony. Prospective candidates were often said to be very ‘clear about baptism’. Testimonies could be quite vivid at times: ‘one brother was ‘induced (sic) to attend the church, and hearing the Gospel, became troubled in soul, the Word of God was referred to through Brother Biggs. The light came, and baptism was made clear.
One woman was ‘resting on the blood of Christ’. Among new church members were those from Methodist, Anglican and Salvation Army backgrounds. Some doctrines proved divisive. In 1900, when Miss Lily Drew was visited for membership, it was reported that she did not satisfactorily answer the question about eternal punishment and eternal happiness. Long discussion ensued at church meetings (with a good many taking part). Pastor Graham ‘entered very earnestly into the subject’ quoting several passages of scripture. In 1901 Bye Laws were introduced for admission to church membership and prospective members were required to give assent to questions about conversion, believers’ baptism by immersion, the Lord’s Supper as a perpetual obligation, all with scriptural proof. The controversial area was the fourth question: Do you believe that the doctrines of scripture regarding the future of the saved, is eternal happiness, and (that) the future of the unsaved is eternal punishment according to the scriptures? It remained a sticking point for some.
After the boom times of the 1880s, Victoria experienced a severe economic depression which had an impact upon the church. There was evidence that finances were deteriorating. Commonwealth Bank receipts had to be sold to best advantage in 1894. The Church agreed to borrow £500-£700 on mortgaging part of the church property originally purchased from Mr George Burton. In 1894 the Brunswick church property was valued at £ 3,650. Loans were taken out from the VBF in 1895. When the Association’s Home Mission Sub Committee requested Brunswick send a male and female representative to a fund raising meeting for Home Mission and Church Extension, meeting at Collins Street in 1893, Brunswick was not able to send representatives owing to its depressed state: ‘Financially our church has greatly suffered’. Union plans for a twentieth century fund elicited a negative response in 1899: Brunswick was doing all it could to reduce its debt. The church developed a dual offering system for home and overseas mission in 1899. Special collections were also taken up for destitute families of pastors who had died (1898) and widows and orphans of the Boer War (1899). The church’s women were assiduous in their fund-raising efforts. In 1892 the Ladies Sewing Society erected a copper room, stall and stable at a cost of over £21. The women worked hard for the Building Fund through the sale of their works, raising over £55 in 1900, the year that the church debt was cleared! More land was purchased north of the church in 1900 and funds established in 1901 for church renovation and extension of the Sunday school. Lamplight lectures on themes such as ‘Lights and Experiences in the Holy Land’, Mr Graham’s lecture on Ireland in 1900 and Armadale’s Rev A N Marshall’s presentation on ‘Our Lady of the Snows’ in 1901 provided interest and raised money. By 1900 coffee suppers had begun replacing the traditional tea meetings.
Brunswick celebrated the completion of its Sunday school buildings in 1908. Local papers reported the laying of the memorial stone by Senior Deacon J. Jenkin. Guest preachers included Revs Watson, Goble and Norwood. Methodist pastor, the Rev Anthony, preached in the morning and Rev H Jeffs at night. 500 tickets were printed for the tea meeting and Benson’s assistance sought for the provision of music – three choruses and two solos from Sunday school scholars. A prayer meeting was held to dedicate the buildings. But there were still struggles to pay the pastor’s stipend and regular appeals to help the victims of national disasters.
Brunswick was active in its opposition to the liquor trade, and in particular, Sunday trading. In 1900 Mrs Scholes and Mrs Warner were appointed as delegates to the WCTU conference. The church followed reports of the Local Option Body and Temperance Council with interest. In 1906, it unanimously passed a resolution urging its local politicians to support the Premier’s New Licensing Act with the Alliance Amendments appended ‘in order to secure better benefits morally for the community generally.’
Pastor Graham served Brunswick for over 13 years (1897-1910). His resignation was received with great reluctance. He asked the church to release him, stating that if he didn’t go, he would have a breakdown in health. The demands of church life and ministry were considerable. Apart from two services on Sunday and Sunday School, there was a Monday evening prayer meeting, Wednesday evening meeting for prayer, praise, testimony and address, Men’s Bible Class, Christian Endeavour and church sporting clubs. The church recorded its deep appreciation for Graham’s ministry of pastoral care and preaching:
He has been most assiduous in his labour amongst the poor and needy bringing comfort and consolation to many weary and grief-stricken hearts thereby fulfilling the injunction of the Apostle James 1:27 … Further that his pulpit utterances on Sunday and midweek evening addresses have been seasons of spiritual uplifting, feeding the church of God and especially on Sunday evenings preaching the Gospel of the grace of God in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit in order to bring men and women into the Kingdom of God, and that his preaching power is not on the wane but increasing.
Graham received a purse of sovereigns and his wife a piece of plate (silver). Soon afterwards, Treasurer Jessie Burton also resigned. Burton’s farewell was a grand affair! He was presented with a gold watch and Albert, enlarged photos of the diaconate and his Sunday school class of 24 men. Mrs Burton received a tea and coffee service with an oak tray. The resignations of Graham and Burton marked the end of an era.
A New Era?
Brunswick was without a pastor for nearly six months and severe criticism was levelled at the deacons during this period. The call to Rev Frank W. Norwood of Canterbury was unanimous. Secretary George Sampson stated: [We are] ‘confident that our choice has been guided by God’; ‘we could not get a better man’. Norwood accepted the call to Brunswick ‘because in its population of 32,000, he saw an enlarged field of service’. Norwood’s starting stipend was to be not less than £260 per annum, paid monthly and he was entitled to all envelopes’ contents. In a later effort to retain his services, the church resolved to increase his stipend to £312 p.a. in compensation for the loss of income (£25 p.a.) for his role as secretary of the Australian Baptist College.
Norwood brought big changes. A decision was taken to rescind the controversial membership Bye-laws. Applicants were to be accepted if they agreed with the Church Rules (1911). The church grew. Church meetings were well-attended in response to the pastor’s appeal. There were changes to baptismal practices with water being heated and separate dressing booths created for male and female candidates (1911). Norwood asked for Monday nights at home and pastoral responsibilities were delegated. Nine stewards were appointed and a three-month instruction class introduced for young people seeking church membership. New copies of the Hymnal were ordered. Mrs Philp was appointed at 10/- a week to visit the families of Sunday School scholars who did not attend church, a move warmly endorsed by the deacons. The pastor proposed that the church support a missionary of its own in India (male or female) at a cost of £100 p.a. Brunswick recommended Brother H. G. Dwyer for the ministry. He was ordained on 22 Dec 1909 and appointed to Rainbow in rural Victoria. Delegate to Baptist Assembly meetings, Mrs Haworth, provided the church with regular, comprehensive and positive reports.
In May 1912, Brunswick celebrated its Jubilee with great fanfare. A special edition of the church’s monthly chronicle, The Olive Leaf, was issued to mark the occasion. A full nine-day program was arranged, incorporating the Union’s half-yearly assembly and including three services both Sundays. Preachers included past and present pastors and the Union President, Rev D. J. Eddy. The church chartered a train for its King’s birthday picnic at Mentone. The program was packed: a tea meeting and public meeting on the theme, ‘Call to Advance’, prayer meetings, a ladies’ meeting, addressed by Dr Mary Booth, an ordination service addressed by Rev Holdsworth (at which four were ordained) and Union sermon delivered by Collins Street’s Rev F C Spurr featured. Norwood outlined the financial, social and spiritual purposes of the meetings: to pay off the Sunday school buildings, encourage the fellowship of believers, ‘ the best fellowship in the world’, and find spiritual inspiration in retelling the church’s history, listening to its preaching and music.
In 1912 Brunswick had 210 members and 532 Sunday School scholars. To cope with the numbers and plan for expansion, Norwood proposed selling the existing church land and erecting a new church and school largely free of debt. He had seen a piece of land advertised for sale, situated a few hundred meters north of the existing church, almost opposite the Court House on Sydney Road. A deposit was paid and it was held for six months free of interest. At a church meeting in January 1913, the pastor proposed that the Brunswick Trustees be asked to sanction the sale of land on which church and school were now erected and the new block be purchased and developed for church use. The proposal was accepted by an overwhelming majority and a building committee established.
A syndicate of men connected with the denomination raised half the purchase price (£1270) and lent the money interest free for 6 months. Trustee Wallis reported that the Bank of Australasia would lend the balance of £1140 on the deeds of the new land at 6 percent interest. It was agreed to borrow the money and secure the land. In Oct 1913 the balance of the purchase money was borrowed in the name of Norwood from the Bank for 12 months at 6 percent. The syndicate extended its loan until Oct 1914. An agreement was made between the church and the syndicate giving the church the option of taking over the land at any time during the term at the same price as they paid for it. The church agreed to pay the interest on the bank loan.
Not all however, were in agreement. In March 1913 Norwood informed the church that he did not think the proposal to rebuild the church should go ahead if the church or diaconate was divided. He had received a call from North Adelaide and was waiting to see how his proposal would be taken up. After full discussions, it was agreed to demolish existing church buildings and use the material in the construction of new buildings. The rest was to be sold and the proceeds used toward the new buildings. Church secretary, Mr G H Sampson, did not support the rebuilding proposal, concerned that it would involve debt. He resigned after 19 years’ service and Deacon Biggs was elected secretary. An assistant secretary was also appointed. Norwood resigned in September 1913 to accept the call to North Adelaide.. Under his ministry, the church had increased its net membership by 50. A Special Minute expressed: Deep appreciation of the splendid work he (had) accomplished in the cause of Christ during his three year’s ministry at Brunswick … Our only regret is that our beloved pastor cannot see his way clear to remain with us and to carry on the work which seems so full of promise.
Under Norwood, concentrated attention was given to the work of the Sunday School and graded classes were adopted with beneficial results. An institute formed to hold scholars over the age of 15 was very successful with large numbers converted, baptized and joining the church. The sale of the existing church site was almost completed when World War One was declared. A record drought made the financial situation more parlous. The proposed property sale and building developments eventually fell through.
By the end of its first 50 years, Brunswick had become established as an important church of the denomination attested to by healthy membership numbers and a burgeoning Sunday school. Much time, money and energy had been expended in the buying and selling of land, the building and maintenance of properties large enough to accommodate its people. Some of its ministers had served for a decade or more before retiring for reasons of health or to pursue other ministries. One or two had begun promisingly enough only to disappoint. There had been significant financial challenges, examples of benevolence and sacrificial giving. Some deacons had served for many years. Women had supported the work of the church with untiring efforts. Baptist identity was significant. Mission and evangelism had provided an important focus and proved effective. Preaching, believers’ baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church membership and discipline were highly prized. As the suburb faced change and modernization, so too did the church. It struggled with social changes. Increased leisure opportunities and attractions proved challenging and divisive at times. The advent of World War One and its aftermath would bring its own set of challenges for church and society alike.