The first record of Methodist interest north of the harbour comes briefly in October 1842 when services were held at 6:30 pm on North Shore also referred to as St Leonards.
In 1848 the population of the North Shore (St Leonards) was officially 412 and the York Street Methodist Church resolved to place North Shore on its preaching plan "if Bro. Pickering can find a suitable place".
Methodist services began on the North Shore in 1851 at 6:30 pm - Bro. Walsh established a class meeting at 4 pm on Sundays. Class moneys for the first quarter were 5/8 (57c). There was evidently little interest as the services were discontinued in September of that year.
In late 1855 it was decided that North Shore should be established on a regular basis and there are records of collections in 1857 and 1858
One of the most devoted pioneers of Methodism in the whole North Sydney (St Leonards) circuit was W.H. McKeown (pictured in the right column). His interest is manifest at Lane Cove (now Pymble), South Colah (now Normanhurst) and North Shore. In 1859 he was recognised as an accredited Local Preacher after many years as a Class Leader.
In 1858-59, Sydney Directory lists 125 prominent residents and business people living at North Shore (St Leonards), but Methodism was still struggling. In June 1859 no suitable place was available for meetings and services were again discontinued. On 1 Jul the Quarterly meeting formed a committee to find a site and they bought a cottage for £500 ($1000), £350 ($700) of which was in hand. The location of this cottage and what happened to it is unknown. But services commenced there in September 1859 at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm each Sunday.
On 29 Dec 1863, James Milson deeded a gift of land for a chapel and school on condition that the church bell be rung every Sunday!
The foundation stone of the old Walker Street Methodist Church was laid on 17 August 1864 and it was completed the following year and officially opened on 18 May. It was designed for no more than 200 people. It was located on the corner of Walker, Blue and Junction Streets. [Junction Street is roughly the current Pacific Highway but it terminated at Walker Street.]
It was not until 1866 that St Leonards appeared in the "list of stations" (indicating where ministers were to be stationed). Until then it had been part of the York Street circuit. The area of responsibility was from Milsons Point to Pittwater, on foot, horseback or buggy!
In 1883 the church was expanded to cater for an extra 150 people and a Hall was built in "steep little Hill Street" not far from the church.
On 21 November 1886, the Holtermann Street Methodist Church was opened on land given by David Berry in what is now known as Crows Nest. This was a venture in faith as the building cost £745 ($1490) and there was less than £20 ($40) in hand!
Manly became a separate circuit in 1887, Willoughby-Gordon in 1888, and Mosman in 1899
In 1902 the name of the circuit was changed from St Leonards to North Sydney, reflecting changes in the area.
1913 saw two major building projects. The need had long been felt for a building that would bring Church and Sunday School into closer touch. Negotiations were made with the Masonic Lodge and its Hall was sold to the Methodist Church in September. The new property was known as Central Hall
In the meantime the Circuit purchased land at Bellevue Street, Cammeray for £240 ($480), and a church building was opened in 1914.
But it is primarily people who are the church. We have mentioned McKeown and Milson, but other names in this history include Forsyth, Simpson, Bridekirk, Nancarrow, Cleland, Abercrombie, Small, Winn, Arey, Davis, Foster, Hughes, Lane, Macourt, Roberts, Clarke, Sanday, Devitt, Harpur, Needham, Lee and Broadhouse.
The North Sydney Methodist Young Peoples Club (NSMYPC) was formed in 1918 and operated until 1929. Its end was the result of the young people getting older, marrying, beginning a family and moving from North Sydney - a familiar pattern in this area to this day.
Crows Nest became a separate circuit in 1922.
In 1929 came winds of change - the first mention of resumption of the Walker Street land for the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Compensation of £8000 ($16000) was negosiated and the search for a new site began. It appeared that the chief area of work for the church lay south of McLaren Street, and it was finally decided to demolish the front half of Central Hall and build the church there. Messrs Girvan were the successful tenderers at £3900 ($7800) but with further modifications the final figure was £4300 ($8600). The last service in the old Walker Street church took place on 28 June 1931 and the new church opened on 4 July.
However this was also the beginning of the Great Depression and times began to prove hard for the church. Both finances and numbers began to decline. In 1932 there was much talk of amalgamations of various permutations and combinations involving churches at Walker Street, Bellevue Street (Cammeray), Crows Nest (Holtermann Street), Bay Road (Waverton) and Mosman. None of these proved acceptable.
In 1955 North Sydney was forced to accept assistance from the Home Mission Department. Church activities continued Bible Study, Men's Brotherhood, Young Peoples Fellowship, Order of Knights and Methodist Girls Comradeship, the last replaced by the Rays (for school age girls) in 1955. There was active interest in the wider affairs of the Church Social Services Department, Childrens Homes, British and Foreign Bible Society, Home and Overseas Mission work and the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross. In 1964 North Sydney had the highest per capita giving in the District of 59/6 ($5.95) - the NSW average was 21/- ($2.10).
Nevertheless, it was becoming obvious that even with Home Mission Department grants, North Sydney could not carry on alone, and in 1959 it was proposed that the (State) Young Peoples Department should establish a Bible College in the Central Hall for preparing young people for active Christian work. Though this was not mfor preparing Ministers, 19 went on from the college to theological college, four into the Deaconess Order and one to Overseas Missions. This brought a welcome influx of young people into the church including many from other nationalities.
But times change and in 1965 the NSW Conference decided to end the joint work of the Bible College, YPD and the Circuit, and to amalgamate North Sydney and Crows Nest circuits.
Some statistics from the previous 95 years: the initial circuit of St Leonards/North Shore had become 12 circuits with 23 ministry agents, 134 local preachers, 5427 church members, 48 Sunday Schools, 769 Sunday School teachers, 4577 scholars and 6796 worshippers at 50 churches.
A Century of Service: Walker Street Methodist Church North Sydney 1865-1965 - available as a pdf file for viewing on line or downloading