Crows Nest Uniting Church

125th anniversary • 21 July 2013

Jeremiah 29:5-7,10-14
1 Corinthians 12:4-13
John 15:1-17

There were three contributions to the sermon:

Lorna Bassett:
The Shirley Road Story 1888 – 2013 – 125 years

The idea of a celebration came to me when I picked up a tea towel printed for the 1988 centenary celebrations of the church, I had been a member of the congregation for a number of years prior to 1988. Looking at the dates on the tea towel I realized that 2013 was the 125th anniversary of those dour Scotsmen meeting on the verandah of Crows Nest Cottage, the former residence of Edward Wollstonecraft. Incidentally 2013 is the 230th anniversary of the birth of Edward Wollstonecraft.

I button holed Lin and Peter as they arrived at church one Sunday morning back at the beginning of the year and asked them if they were aware that this year was the 125
th anniversary, I figured that a celebration was warranted, perhaps from a selfish point of view as I felt it highly unlikely that I would be around to celebrate the 150th.

From that discussion at the front of the Church we have arrived here today to celebrate 125 years of worship and community.

The Crows Nest area has a fascinating history of white settlement dating back to the early 1800’s when Edward Wollstonecraft obtained a grant of land here on the Lower North Shore. However, we must go back well before white settlement and acknowledge the traditional owners of the land – the Cammeraygal Clan. They met here, men and women, young and old; to discuss community issues, for them the area was known as a ‘sit down’ place – a meeting place. Trails radiated out in all directions from this very point here, these ‘roads’ as we call them were well used by the aboriginal people. How appropriate then is it that we should be meeting here today on this spot as a community.

In 1888 the North St Leonard’s Presbyterian Church was established in a hall located on Willoughby Road, between Ernst and Burlington Streets. This austere building served until 1905 at which time the population of the area was increasing and subsequently the congregation. This meant a larger church building was required. Dr Hay (later Sir John) and Lady Hay had donated this site here, which included Crows Nest Cottage, to the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales for construction of an appropriate building.

The foundation stone of this building we are worshipping in today was laid Sir Harry Rawson (Governor of NSW) in May 1905 and the building was completed in record time, namely September 1905.

Crows Nest Presbyterian Church or North St Leonard’s as it was known in those early days was referred to as the ‘Mother of Churches’ in that it was instrumental in establishing places of worship, at Neutral Bay, Greenwich, Gore Hill, Hornsby and Chatswood to name but a few.

In 1914 a parish hall was constructed on the opposite side of Shirley Road. The church was to receive £500 from the Hay Estate. As the Estate was asset rich but cash poor, land was substituted in lieu of the cash payment, together with funds raised by the congregation this enabled construction of the hall. This building served as a Sunday School hall, a place where social and youth events, including dances, were held. During the Second World War the lower level was converted to an Emergency and Community Centre for use particularly as an air raid shelter whilst the upper level was used for polling on election days.

Speaking of the Wars, a number of men and women from the congregation served King and Country during those turbulent years 1914 – 1918 and 1939 – 1945. At the back of the Church you will see a magnificent Book of Remembrance commemorating those who served during the Second World War. Mr George Greethead, a member of the congregation produced this book. Do take a moment or two to have a look at it.

During the Great War the Rev Alex Clark accompanied the Australian Expeditionary Forces to England, serving approximately 12 months at Salisbury Plains before returning to duty here at Crows Nest.

The vote for church union took place in 1973 and in 1977 the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian congregations in this area celebrated this union by meeting at the Crows Nest intersection and marching down the Pacific Highway to the Dendy Picture Theatre which was located where today’s Moss Furniture shop is situated. A dedication service was held in the picture theatre.

In 1993 the Holterman Street congregation merged with Shirley Road to form one worship community.

Community has always formed a central element of this church. In 1888 an active Sunday School was formed. It’s reported that in good weather attendance exceeded 200 children. A women’s guild and other women’s fellowships have been established over the years and during the course of the Second World War women from the church regularly helped out at the Haymarket Community Centre which served as a meeting place for service personnel.

As mentioned earlier North St Leonard’s was in the forefront of establishing churches in a number of other suburbs on the North Shore. Crows Nest provided lay supply until such times as the newly established congregation could arrange for their own spiritual leader. For many years both the Minister and Lay Members of the Church took Scripture classes at nearby schools.

A private Pre-School facility was established in the church hall, we think during the late 1960’s to cater for the children of the area. This facility was taken over by the Church in 1972. Birthday gifts were prepared and presented, each month, to those living in aged care facilities. In 2010 a very successful fund raising afternoon tea was held in support of the Breast Cancer Network of Australia. For many years stalls have been set up on election days with funds raised going to support the church together with its outreach programme.

At our centenary celebrations we were privileged to have clergy attend celebratory services from other local denominations. Father Quinn from Lavender Bay Catholic Church being one. He commented that up until this point in time it would not have been possible for him to have attended such a service.

It has been a fascinating journey collecting and putting all this information together and I hope that you will find it equally so when you read the publication which mentions many more important people and events in the life of this church. Regrettably it has been impossible to mention each and everyone who has contributed in some way or other to make this a vibrant community.

Bruce Roy
The Whole People of God

I research my family tree.
I started with my immediate family
and then expanded it from there.
A few years ago I put it on the web
and I now have 3rd and 13th cousins popping up
not only in Australia and NZ
but in the UK, Ireland, Jamaica,
South Africa, and Canada.
Now a family tree that lists
who begat who begat who
is of some interest,
but I can assure you that
as you gather the names
you start looking for stories,
you start wondering
what it was like to live when they did.

I experienced a sort of reverse of this process.
My youngest granddaughter
recently rang me from Brisbane
while dad was driving her and her brothers to school.
She had a project to do
that morning
- you'd be forgiven for thinking that she is a teenager,
but no, she is almost 8 and learning bad habits already.
She wanted to know how I listened to music
when I was a boy.
When I said, "Over the radio",
she said "Yes, granddad, but how did you listen
when the radio was not playing music."

OK, she is struggling to understand
how you could go through life
not having an iPod or some other portable device
that you could turn on at any time
to play your favourite music.'
Me, I was struggling to understand
what it must be like to be her
and not to have experienced life
without constant electronic distraction.

So when it comes to
our congregation's celebration of 125 years,
I have been drawn into the stories.
And I am very conscious that since 1977
this is a Uniting Church
and part of our heritage is that of
the Holtermann Street Methodist Church.
Twenty years and six weeks ago
these two congregations united on this site.
Holtermann Street was the repository of the heritage
of the whole North Sydney Methodist Circuit
when North Sydney was known as St Leonards
and up around here was North St Leonards.
That is now part of the story of this congregation.
David Berry who gave the land in Willoughby Road
to the Presbyterians in 1888
had two years earlier given land in Holtermann Street
to the Methodists - in 1886.
The Methodists had started having services
in what is now North Sydney in 1866
and an independent circuit was established in 1870
- 143 years ago.
If you go to the corner of
the Pacific Highway and Walker Street
you will find on the North Sydney Station side
a small monument erected to note that
this was the site of the Walker Street Methodist Church
before the construction of the Harbour Bridge
forced a move eventually to McLaren Street -
where the Uniting Church's Georgian House is today
[It has since been pointed out that the church
moved further up Walker Street
and that Georgian House was a former motel!]

In 1965 the North Sydney circuit was merged
with the Holtermann Street congregation
at Holtermann Street.

Ministering at Holtermann Street in 1930-33
was the Rev Stuart Udy - Chris's grandfather.
One of the two ministers of the North Sydney circuit
in the early 1960s
(before the merger with Holtermann Street)
was another Udy - Gloster Udy, Chris's uncle.
Gloster's fellow minister was the Rev. Bern Stevens
who was later a member of this parish for some years
and lived near Waverton Station.
See, it's like doing your family tree -
once you go beyond the data
you start to build connections and
grasp a bit of the vision of the people
who worked for these congregations
from the very early days of this community.

Now, in order to honour my family heritage
I don't feel bound to replicate their life style.
In my first ten years we had no phone or car
and there is nothing to be gained by saying that
if it was good enough then it must be good for us today!
[Mind you, I would like a phone
that can detect calls from India
about telephone accounts or
Windows computer problems -
when in fact I have a Mac!]
And as we read and reflect on our 125 year old
and 143 year old
and indeed 2000 year old
- let's make that two or three thousand years - heritage,
there is little point in replicating the way
our forebears did it.
But we can pick up on the vision
and live it out in our day as befits our time and place.
Two of my favourite sayings are:
"Do not follow in the footsteps of the people of old -
seek what they sought."

"Take from the altar of the past the fire,
not the ashes."

Today's celebration comes just as
the Church Council is looking at our mission
and I cannot think of a better way
to celebrate our heritage
than putting together celebration of the past
and mission into the future.

Rev. Chris Udy:
Always on the Way

History isn’t really about the past.
It’s always written in the present,
and it’s written for the future.
It’s a story, constructed with stories,
each one chosen and arranged
to develop a theme and make a point.
It’s political, and relational –
it’s prepared for an audience
and intended to influence
a set of values,
and an identity,
and a vision of the world.
So the Bible is no more neutral
about Abraham and Jesus
than the election ads we’re about to have
plastered across our screens
for as long as it takes for our politicians
to fight an election.
Most of the Bible we now read
was written
during two momentous periods of change.
The first was about 600 years
before the life of Jesus,
when a group of leaders and scholars
who had been living in Babylon,
exiled from Jerusalem and Judea,
returned with a fierce determination
to re-build the Temple, and Jerusalem, and Judea
according to vision of the Holy City,
and the holy people of God
that they’d hung on to,
desperately and hopefully
while they were in exile.
They believed that the exile
and the fall of Jerusalem
was a punishment from God
because their leaders and the people
had been weak and disobedient,
and they were determined to rebuild –
not only with stone and bricks and mortar,
but with meanings, and ideas,
and rituals, and rules,
and the stories that they needed
to underpin them.
So that’s when the history books were written –
Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles –
and that’s also when the books of the Law
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy –
were edited and re-arranged,
adapting ancient stories
to the needs of a new age.
Then, 700 years later,
when a second exile was looking increasingly likely,
and Jerusalem and the Temple
were under threat from within and beyond,
another explosion of writing began –
first in letters by people like Paul,
then in collections of stories and sayings
that were intended to encourage, and guide
new communities of Christians
as they grew in places far away from the Temple
and with Jesus as the presence of God for them -
their focus for worship.
Each of the gospels we’ve kept in the Bible
were written for a specific community,
at a particular time,
and facing issues and challenges
peculiar to them –
and that’s why, when we read them,
we need to be aware of the ‘atmospherics’ –
the griefs and hopes that were in the air,
and formed the climate
in which these books were written.
Lorna and Bruce have given us
a gift of significant value.
They’ve drawn together and packaged up
a clear and proud and energetic history,
written, not so much for those
who feature in its pages,
but for us,
who are living though
another momentous and turbulent time of change.
The chapters of this congregation’s history
capture images of Federation, and war;
depression, and war again –
and they detail the courage, and loyalty,
and creativity, and love,
that its members brought to the challenges of their days –
but this history also carries meanings, and ideas,
a sense of identity,
and a vision for the future.
No-one can see what tomorrow will bring.
All we can do is look at the past and the present
and project what we see there
into the future.
When we do that,
we choose what we want to hold on to;
we choose who we will be;
we choose the ideas and meanings
we will emphasise and energise
and give flesh and blood and time to.
So what will we leave for those who are yet to come?
What stories will they add
from today and from the days that we have left
to the histories they’ll write
for their friends and children?
And what will be the Gospel –
the good news of the presence of God –
that they find in the way
we worship and witness and serve?