No. 207 - The former Uniting Church at Devonport - "Wherever two or three are gathered..."

Although the Wesleyan-Methodists had been active in the Mersey region from the 1850’s, it was not until the 1880’s that a church was built at Formby (West Devonport). In the early years services were held in private houses and at the “Protestant Hall” which opened in 1887. When the Baptists acquired the hall, the Wesleyans set out to build a church of their own. In February 1888, a committee approved plans for a Sunday school church to be built on land donated by Robert Stewart and Basil Archer.

The building of the church did not get off to a good start. On 13 April 1889, the church’s architect, Mr Thomas Kimpton, was knocked down and killed by a railway truck being shunted along the line at the Victoria Ferry near the wharf at Formby. He had been inspecting the building site before returning to his home at Torquay via the ferry and being ‘hard of hearing’, had not heard the approaching railway truck.

Despite Kimpton’s death, the foundation stone for the church was laid the following month on May 24, 1889. The ceremony was reported in the North West Post, which noted that:

“Although at present it was intended to erect only a schoolroom, it was the intention in the future to build a church in connection with it… the stone, which is of bluestone, is inscribed as follows: Foundation stone of the Wesleyan Sunday School, laid by Basil Archer, Esq, 24th May, 1889”.

A description of Thomas Kimpton’s church were set out in the same report:

“It is to be of brick, with a concrete foundation and slated roof with a tile ridge. The outside measurement is 40ft x 24ft, with 16ft walls, and from floor to ceiling the height is 22ft. On the west side there will be three windows, and two on the east. The front will be tuck pointed and the inside plastered, showing a stone imitation until it reaches the dado, which is made of blackwood…The additions which have been allowed for are two classrooms, each 12 x 14ft”.

The Sunday school and church was completed in record time and was opened in October 1889 with a morning, afternoon and evening service. At the evening service “numbers were unable to gain admittance, the crush being so great”.

What was intended as a Sunday school and a temporary place of worship ended up serving as a permanent church for more than 40 years. By the 1920’s it was obvious that the replacement of the old church could no longer be delayed.

“For some years the building in which church service have been held has proved inadequate. On practically every important occasion, and frequently at ordinary Sunday evening services, the accommodation was too small for the numbers wishing to attend”.

In 1932 the church that had been planned in 1889 was finally realised. The foundation stone for the new building was laid on 27 June 1931. The timing of the building of the church was a matter of some debate as the Great Depression had started to bite. However, the new church was overwhelmingly viewed as a positive development:

“The action of the trustees in deciding to proceed with the work at a time when the economic depression was so much in evidence was the subject of much favourable comment. In the first place it was a sign of healthy optimism, of a bright faith in the future of the church and the town of Devonport… [and providing] employment for a number of men who would otherwise have been idle”.

The new church was considerably larger than the original building with seating for 350 radiating around the pulpit. It was Gothic in design and built of brick with cement pressed windows and had a tower and spire reaching a height of 66ft. Three large windows each with leaded glass cost £200, which was equivalent to a years’ wages in 1932.

The move from the old church to the new was a necessary but sad occasion. Reverend Holden addressed this at the opening service. He suggested that:

“They must not underestimate the value of a building in the worship of God. There was a psychological influence upon the people in their surroundings when the act of worship is considered. He had preached in many buildings of different kinds, and some could not be described as suitable places of worship. They were not dependent, however, upon a building in order to worship God. A way back in the Mallee district of Victoria he had conducted service in the open air alongside the Malleee scrub. One of the worshipers expressed envy of the better conditions for worship enjoyed by the people of the cities, and he…had answered, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Reverend Holden continued:

“Would some of them ever forget the old church just vacated, where they had come with heavy hearts and felt the burden rolled away…Personally he liked to go into the little church where he had worshipped as a boy, and which bought back happy memories of childhood… This beautiful house will begin to become a sacred place. You have built it for your children, and many a weary heart will come to God, and many a suppliant would seek forgiveness…. At the same time he reminded them that the building was not all, and he repeated the words of the text… “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Reverend Holden’s words from 1932 still resonate in 2018. Due to declining congregation numbers and escalating costs, the Devonport Uniting Church congregation made a difficult decision to sell the church. The last service was held in July 2018. No doubt the congregation of the Devonport Uniting church will find that in time, their new house too “will become a sacred space”.


The future of the building:

Television chef, Ben Milbourne, has new plans to turn the former Uniting Church property in Devonport, into a “food and media hub” with studio, cafe and cooking school. Link to article in The Advocate HERE


The Uniting Church Steps in a Journey

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The original Methodist church and Sunday school - Demolished in 1958 - Original source unknown

Sources:

The Tasmanian, Saturday 23 February, 1889
North West Post Saturday 25 May 1889, page 2
North West Post Tuesday 16 April 1889, page 3
The Examiner Saturday 25 May 1889, page 2
The Colonist Saturday 19 October 1889, page 20
The Tasmanian Saturday 19 October 1889
North West Post Thursday 17 October 1889, page 3
North West Post Thursday 30 October 1890, page 3
North West Post  Thursday 13 October 1892, page 4
The Advocate  Monday 14 March 1932, page 2
The Advocate, January 15, 2018

Stansall, M. E. J. and Methodist Church of Australasia.  Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 / [by M.E.J. Stansall ... et al]  Methodist Church of Australasia Launceston, Tas  1975

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