By Helena Adeloju
Berwick’s first church, St Andrew’s Uniting Church (then known as the Presbyterian Church) has celebrated 160 years of unbroken worship in the area.
On Sunday 7 May, St Andrew’s Uniting Church minister Rev Wendy Snook welcomed 140 current and past members to a celebration of thanksgiving for more than one-and-a-half centuries of continuous Christian presence in Berwick.
“We are grateful to the effort, perseverance, courage and faith of these early pioneers who established the church in Berwick,” Rev Snook said.
She gave a special welcome to descendants of the early pioneer people of the church. Those early pioneers lived side by side with the Bunerong people – the first people to live in the Berwick area – and courageously kept the church going through challenging and difficult times.
In her address, Rev Wendy Snook gave a short history of the church, its people and its significance, harking back to the time when the Indigenous people were friendly toward the first settlers and showed them how to find food when they were starving.
It was also the time when difficulties arose after the settlers’ sheep became easier prey than the kangaroos, as well as many other memories from times gone by.
The celebrations included two morning church services, followed by a celebratory luncheon where memories were shared and past acquaintances renewed.
Rev Snook thanked everyone for joining in the celebrations of the milestone.
A short history of St Andrew’s Uniting Church
Rev Alexander Duff from Northern Ireland conducted the first Presbyterian Church service in 1857 in a wattle-and-daub hut owned by Mr Abraham Gardiner on the present site of ’Braeside’ on Clyde Road. It was a time when the rough dirt roads were made wide for the bullock drays, so they could cart the red gum logs from this area all the way to Melbourne where they were made into blocks for the roads and pylons for the wharves.
A small wooden church building was erected in 1861 when Rev Duff was granted land for the purpose of the Presbyterian Church. The cost of the wooden building was £340.
At that time, the Anglicans also needed a place to hold church services and were invited to jointly use the building with the Presbyterians. This shared arrangement continued for nearly 30 years.
The present historic church building was built in 1884 in the Gothic style at the enormous cost of £997 or $1994 today. Some 50,000 handmade bricks were used in its construction and the high roof was covered with slate tiles imported from Wales and Spain.
The roof was replaced in 2007 with similar slate tiles, purple tiles from Wales and black tiles from Spain. The wooden ceiling was beautifully crafted using hand tools by expert British tradesmen of the era, William Grieve, Chas Pharo and Wm Grieve.
The small congregation that planned and arranged for the church to be built went into enormous debt at the time and struggled to pay it off over many years.
The name ‘St Andrew’s’ was officially adopted on the 80th anniversary of the church in 1937.
In 1977, the congregation voted to join with the Methodists and Congregationalists to be part of the Uniting Church in Australia.