A brief 20th & 21st Century History of the Christian Brethren Assembly
that meets at Waitara Gospel Chapel
(as at March 2020)
Prior to 1910
The first building - 1910
A new building - 1964
Growing local cooperation
2000 to present day
The Challenge in 2016
The Challenge in 2020
Since 1910 there has been a worshiping congregation on the current site of Waitara Gospel Chapel, located at 30 Edgeworth David Avenue, Waitara.
Of course in those days, that stretch of roadway was known as Junction Road, and it was a Mr Francis Kemp who purchased a block of land there on which to build a small Gospel Hall as a worship place for a group (or an "Assembly") of Christians who followed the Open Christian Brethren traditions and beliefs. Mr Kemp was the then manager of the Missionary Tidings office in Sydney which helps Brethren missionaries when overseas or at home on furlough. The land subsequently was inherited by his only surviving daughter, known by most as Miss Kemp, who was a very active member of the assembly for many years.
The first meeting of the 'embryo' Assembly was in fact in 1908 in the home of a Mr Blake living in Lindfield and who attended the active Willoughby Assembly. The Brethren movement was growing in Sydney, and throughout Australia, and it became evident that there were a significant number of families in the current assemblies in Sydney who lived in the suburbs surrounding Waitara. It therefore made sense to plant a new Assembly in that area. The first building they had was a weatherboard structure completed in 1910.
From amongst those who wanted to gather for worship in Waitara Gospel Hall, four elders were recognised – according to the guidelines listed in the New Testament - to lead and shepherd the group. They were Mr F. Kemp, Mr J. Morton, Mr Trevitt, and Mr Hutchinson.
The number who gathered grew steadily each year, but exact numbers are difficult to ascertain in that period, because early Brethren leaders were loath to put weight on "head counts" - preferring rather to be concerned about the quality and strength of each person's faith.
Soon three services were being conducted each Sunday – the Lord's Supper, Sunday School for children, and an evening Gospel Meeting. The congregation also began Open Air meetings in Hornsby at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening before the Gospel Meeting and eventually they also began another on Friday evenings on the corner of Coronation Street - carefully positioned so as not to interfere with the other open air meetings held by the Salvation Army Band and a local Baptist Church! Apparently there were lots of people walking around the streets on a Friday evening in the early part of last century. (? Late night shopping).
Also, early in that period, a group from the Waitara Assembly started an Open Air Sunday School on a vacant block of land in Wahroonga. This led to a small building being erected for the school to use each Sunday, and in which another Gospel Meeting was held once a month. This was known as Wahroonga Gospel Hall but was later demolished to make way for the F3 freeway. Miss Kemp was very active in this Sunday School ministry and also in writing to missionaries and looking after them when back in Australia on furlough. She also helped in later years in the Tidings office.
Contact with local families was also fostered by visiting houses in the area around the Hall on Sunday afternoons and via a Ladies meeting on Tuesdays for Prayer and Bible Study and via a Thursday evening Prayer and Bible Study meeting.
The original wooden Hall was lit by gas-lamps. There was no street lighting in the area in those early days. Those who walked from Wahroonga, or came via train to Waitara station, came to the Hall via bush tracks through mainly vacant land, and had to carry hurricane lanterns in winter when attending the evening meetings. They came from Turramurra, Wahroonga, Hornsby, Beecroft, Pennant Hills, Thornleigh and Normanhurst - as well as the local people in Waitara itself. Several families lived just around the corner in Orara Street.
After the Second World War, as life got back to a more normal state, Sunday School outreach programs were begun in the Asquith area and in the West Pennant Hills region by some young men from the Assembly. The Asquith one was run on the back verandah of someone's house and those involved were George Turner, Alex Walker, Milton Abbott, Victor Akehurst and Len Akehurst. Both Sunday Schools led to the start of new 'daughter' assemblies in those suburbs. A hall, now known as West Pennant Hills Community Church, was completed in 1952. Asquith Assembly started in the Asquith Scouts Hall in 1955 and then land was purchased in Wall Street. A new Chapel building was erected by Mr Frank Grimson with the help of voluntary labour in 1956/57.
A Sunday School was also started in Turramurra in the garage of Mr Adams. Those involved were Mr Chiselle, Tom Charlton, Olive Litman, and Claude Fox.
Meanwhile the Waitara Assembly was growing steadily in number. In 1962 another ‘daughter’ assembly was planted in St Ives by a number of families who lived closer to that locality. It was known as the Kuringai Chapel but was later renamed the St Ives Community Church when it merged with the Belrose assembly in 1998.
The original wooden hall at Waitara had remained unmodified, except for the front foyer which was enlarged slightly in 1935 and turned to the east instead of facing the road. A new brick building, to seat about 180 and to better house the group and its activities, was started in 1964. It was built, in their spare time, mainly with the labour and skills of men in the congregation - under the direction of one of them, a retired builder, Mr Bains. He and the team first built a brick meeting hall with a high ceiling and good-sized kitchen, connected to the back of the original wooden hall. When this was finished, the assembly moved its meetings into this structure whilst a bigger hall was built in brick and steel - completely surrounding the old hall. To reduce costs, much of the wood from the old structure was used in the new hall - for the speakers' platform, windows, and balcony etc. Once the new structure was finished and weatherproof, what remained of the old hall was dismantled and carried out through the (new) front door - piece by piece! The Chapel now virtually filled the block of land except for a narrow concrete path around three sides for access to the back and sides.
The whole project was done with donated monies from the congregation (past and present) and was accomplished debt free. By this stage, as Miss Kemp had died, and ownership and care of the property had been placed in the hands of a group of trustees - men who attended the assembly. Subsequently, as these died, it was decided to place the trusteeship with the Stewards Foundation of Christian Brethren who act on behalf of many Assemblies and Assembly properties throughout Australia.
The new Chapel was declared officially open and dedicated on 5 March 1966, although one young couple were married there on Thursday evening, 16 December 1965, with only temporary carpet and seating. The fixed pews, parquetry floor and main-aisle carpet were installed just in time for the next wedding in January 1966!
The new larger worship area and the rear hall and kitchen allowed for much bigger gatherings and the congregation grew steadily to fill the space. Young families in the area joined the Assembly and their children formed the basis of a thriving Sunday School outreach ministry and teenage Youth Group activities for many years. Sunday School Annual Anniversaries which involved children and their parents were so large that for some years other members of the congregation were asked to stay home from these events because of lack of room!
Around that era the young Christians from evangelical Sydney churches of various denominations held regular combined meetings – and many were in the Waitara Gospel Chapel because of its size and its close proximity to good rail and road transport. Parking for cars did not seem to be a problem in those days - which is fortunate, because the Chapel has none on site - only that which can be found in the nearby streets. (A situation which would not be allowed under current building codes.)
One assembly member, Mr Norman Deck, a dentist and accomplished amateur photographer, went in 1914 to serve the Lord in the Solomon Islands as a dentist missionary. He was one of the first missionaries with the South Seas Evangelical Mission (SSEM) which is now part of Pioneer Ministries. His subsequent photographs over many years were often exhibited in Sydney galleries. Mr Deck moved to the new St Ives assembly when it started in 1962. Other members of the Waitara assembly also became missionaries to China, Nepal and India - for the latter, Mr Brewster, George Turner and Don Stanton come to mind, and Brenton Paix joined Missionary Aviation Fellowship as a pilot, spending many years with his wife Ailsa and young family in PNG – flying and teaching locals about aircraft maintenance. Assembly members supported these missionaries strongly for many years with prayer and finance. Others were keenly involved in the newly built (1959) Emmaus Bible School (then in Ray Road, Epping) and in the growing Brethren Christian Camp work at places like Toukley and Mount Victoria. In that early period some fine young workers for the Lord were trained at Emmaus and nurtured in the fellowship of assemblies like Waitara. They include Don Fleming (a missionary and Bible translator in Tibet), George & Rita Galieh (gospel musicians and evangelists), Bill Newman (Bill Newman Crusades), and Mal Garvin (the founder of, and a previous National Director of, Fusion Australia) who attended the Waitara assembly as a teenager and has maintained close links ever since. At the time of writing all these are no longer 'young' but are till active in service for God.
By 1983, when the assembly held a celebration to mark 75 years of operation in Edgeworth David Avenue, the number of worshippers and those in Sunday School and the Youth Group were slowly diminishing. Australian society was becoming more secular perhaps, and certainly families seemed to have less time together in the week and wanted Sunday for things other than spending time at a church. As an alternative, an after-school children's activity called Friday Club had been started around 1980 and proved very popular and fruitful with local children for over eight years. After some years' lapse it was revived at the start of 1996, on a bi-weekly basis, as Kids Club to fit in with mums and dads doing their Thursday late-night shopping. Unfortunately this ministry too had to cease at the end of 2001 when key adult leaders became unavailable.
But overall, numbers still continued to decline. Young people in the assembly who married could often not afford to live in the local area and instead bought houses in the newer suburbs of Sydney. Furthermore churches of various denominations, some of a strong evangelical, Bible believing persuasion like the Waitara assembly, had come to the Hornsby area and for various reasons some families left to join these new congregations.
There was however growing cooperation amongst the local churches, perhaps initially fostered by the cooperation and fellowship experienced during the big Sydney Crusades facilitated by the Billy Graham Organisation – starting with the one in 1959 which had a profound effect on the Christian church in Australia. This spirit of cooperation and unity in the faith perhaps made the Assembly less insular and devotedly "Brethren". It began to participate in meetings of the Hornsby Ministers Fraternal and helped initiate the HADCEA organisation (Hornsby and Asquith Christian Education Association) which provides full time Christian Studies teachers in the two Asquith High Schools. It subsequently supported those in nearby local churches who created NCEA (Normanhurst Christian Education Association) to fulfil a similar function in the Normanhurst and Hornsby High Schools.
By this time Waitara Assembly had no missionaries overseas (though it still strongly supported many from other Australian Assemblies) and such local "missionary" work caught its imagination. Similarly it maintained strong links with Fusion Australia, even after this youth and community organisation grew and moved its head office away from Hornsby. Members of the assembly still support the local and interstate work of Fusion and some of its unpaid staff. In the late 1980s, the small remaining teenage Youth Group ministry suffered a major setback when leaders Gary and Joanne Akehurst moved with their two young children to take on a leadership role with the growing Queensland Mailbox Bible Club based in Brisbane. The Youth Group ceased meeting soon after this when no more leaders could be found, but the Assembly was very glad to be able to continue supporting the work of Gary at the QMBC.
Whatever the size of its congregation at a given time, the Waitara Assembly has always been keen to support some of its number giving much time and effort to other Brethren para-assembly and evangelical activities throughout Sydney. At various times it has had people involved with Stewards Foundation, Emmaus Bible School (now a Bible College in Waterloo Road, Macquarie Park, NSW), Australian Missionary Tidings, Elouera Gardens Christian Retirement Village at Cherrybrook, Pacific Hills Christian School, CYC Camp Sites, Lutanda Children's Services, Outreach Book Service, the NSW Assemblies Evangelistic Mission, NSW Home Workers' Fund (now replaced by the Ministry Support Fund), Christian Literature Outreach to Prisons (CLO) and the Sydney Festival Male Voice Choir.
The resident population in the area around Waitara Gospel Chapel has grown considerably over all the years of its existence and there remains a constant challenge to try to minister effectively to the needs of the local people and to take the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to them. New methods and strategies need to be tried without changing the core Christian message.
As we are now in the early years of the 21st century this is particularly obvious. The current site of the Chapel is included on the northern edge of the huge Orara Street High Density housing development approved by Hornsby Shire Council in accordance with targets set by the NSW State Government. Hundreds of units in high-rise apartment blocks have been built already and many more will be in the next two or three years. When finished the new housing in this neighbourhood will have over 2000 extra people living here from a wide range of nationalities and language groups.
In a very real sense, a "mission field" has come to the Waitara region. How will the 30 or so adults currently worshipping in the Chapel respond? They have already determined to stay in the area rather than move elsewhere - and, one day soon, their current Chapel might be demolished and a new worship and ministry facility might be created in conjunction with a high-rise block of units. They may even get some dedicated car parking spaces!
The physical aspects of this sort of change of 'home' are a challenge in themselves for a church congregation, but even more so is the challenge of how, throughout the process and beyond, to greet, meet, befriend and help the new families. We imagine most of the adult residents will travel to the city for 5 or 6 long days of work each week, and when home will withdraw to a 'secure' environment in their units in restricted access buildings with video surveillance of all visitors. Their children may be "latch-key kids". What will life in the high-rise Waitara be like? What will be the spiritual needs of the residents? How can we help them get help, strength and peace from God, and come into a personal relationship with Him?
Truly, only God knows the answers to such questions and so we wait on Him, praying, and seeking to serve Him faithfully day by day. Meanwhile our arms and hearts are open to welcome seekers of truth and those who are already Christians, and any who may like to join us in meeting the current challenges!
From 23 March 2020 our church building is closed by Order of the NSW Government, until the COVID-19 virus pandemic is brought under control. Our leadership team is working on alternative mechanisms to facilitate corporate worship and teaching via the Internet and phones, etc. And we are hoping we can help our neighbours to cope with these very unusual, once in a lifetime, circumstances. No matter what, we want to share God's love and the Gospel of Peace and Hope that the Lord Jesus Christ brought to all mankind on that first Easter over 2000 years ago.
...... to be continued....