A short history of Marrickville Church of Christ

05 May 2021

By Dennis Nutt

The beginning of the cause at Marrickville goes back to the first Sunday in July, 1889, when eleven men and eight women, members of the Enmore Church, residing in Marrickville, decided to set up the Lord’s Table in their own district.

This decision was arrived at after consultation with the Enmore deacons, who approved the contemplated action. Membership was not severed by this step, these members merely being absent from the Enmore morning meetings. Their offerings were forwarded to the Enmore Treasurer.

Meetings were held continuously for four and a half years in the home of James Hunter, “Normanhurst,” View Street, Marrickville. A block of home units now stands on that site.

On Tuesday, April 11, 1893, a meeting was held “for the purpose of organising a Church of Christ on Scriptural lines, and for the purpose of appointing Office-bearers.” Charles Watt, evangelist of the Enmore Church, presided, eighteen members being present. Five deacons were appointed: Alexander Robertson, Robert Miller, George Dingle, Thomas Hunter, and James Hunter who was appointed church secretary, a position he held for four years.

The first building (pictured below) is described as “Our schoolroom to be used for worship until the church is able to erect a more commodious and substantial building,” and was opened for worship on January 21, 1894. The land costing £233 was purchased by the Enmore Church in January, 1891, but was handed over to Marrickville as soon as the Church was formed, only £87 of the cost still owing. The building, weatherboard on brick foundations, cost £130.

 The need of an evangelist was felt by the new Church, and very soon W.T. Clapham was engaged, commencing in November, 1894. Marrickville contributed £3 a month to the Evangelistic Committee (of Conference) by whom he was engaged. He laboured in Marrickville for 2.5 years, being succeeded by Thomas Hawkins, who was engaged for the Gospel services only. Hawkins’s ministry was a brief one, being only three months, after which the Church was without an Evangelist for nearly three years, the work being carried out by local members, assisted by other Churches. The membership for some time had been declining and the need for a full-time minister in the field was urgent.

Unfortunately, there was a division of opinion on the question of a paid ministry. The Church Officers were divided on the question. Matters became so acute that several members severed their connection with the Church and started meetings in a local hall. After this an Evangelist was not engaged for more than twelve months, John Chapple commencing his ministry in October, 1899.

A baptistry, two ante-rooms and the building widened by 8 feet 6 inches (2.8 metres) the entire length added greatly to the comfort of the building. These additions, costing £97, were carried out in 1898.

The church had its ups and downs, and in 1900 there was not much progress manifested, for the records tell us that in November, 1900, the church agreed to the following resolution: “That in the interest of the Church, and having regard to the welfare of the cause, we deem it expedient and desirable to seek union with the church meeting at Enmore, believing that such union would prove beneficial, inasmuch as it would give strength and stability to the cause at Marrickville.

The Enmore Church approved the request, also deciding to help to the extent of £1 a week. Enmore now had the oversight of Petersham and Marrickville Churches. The Enmore, Petersham, Marrickville Officers met together as a United Officers’ Meeting to discuss church work, although each Church dealt with its purely local affairs individually. The association with Enmore did much to stabilise the work and put it on a good footing. Under the leadership of able and consecrated men the church entered the new period of pleasing progress. The union with Enmore was dissolved in September, 1907.

The church managed for seven and a half years without an organ, for the minutes disclose that in June, 1901, the United Officers recommended to the Church “that in order to brighten the services and assist the singing on the Lord’s day evening, and also for the use of the School, an organ be purchased.” The Church approved the recommendation.

A tent mission on Marrickville Road in March 1906, with Thos. Haggar as Missioner, put new life into the work, 46 members being added. Two years later Haggar returned with the tent, and this time twenty-six made decisions for Christ. In 1922 Joseph Whelan held a tent mission on a site near the railway station, with the result that fifty souls were added to the church. Another pre-eminently successful mission was conducted by T.H. Scambler in the chapel in 1937, when 42 decisions for Christ were recorded. The church called E.C. Hinrichsen and V.B. Morris to conduct a tent mission in McNeilly Park in 1946, resulting in 23 decisions. Dr. Ernest Watson, Director Baptist Home Missions, conducted a Mission to Marrickville in 1963, with fourteen added to the church. Other missions in the intervening years have been held, including Teaching Missions, which gave spiritual uplift to the church.

The various men engaged as Evangelists did not stay for long terms until A.C. Crisp took up the ministry in 1921 and remained until 1934. During his ministry he studied Medicine at the University of Sydney, passing his final examination in 1932. On his resignation the church benefitted from an interim ministry by the renowned Andrew McKenzie Meldrum. During his short stay attendances at the Gospel service reached 250. In the Golden Jubilee historical review of 1943, it was noted that the following ministers carried out especially fruitful ministries: Chas. Watts, C.C.S. Rush, A.J. Fisher, A.C. Crisp and D. Wakeley. We would add to these, H.C. Bischoff, A. McRoberts, Roy Dixon. Particular mention needs to be made of P.E. Thomas, who came into membership at Marrickville in 1908. Answering the call to train for the ministry in 1914 involved his travelling to the U.S.A. to fulfil this task. After various ministries he returned to his home church at Marrickville in 1940 and completed sixteen years of successful and faithful service. He further assisted in an interim ministry in 1961. Among others who went into full-time service are Diana Catts, missionary in New Guinea for over twenty years, Ross Rugendyke, Frank Beale and Dennis Nutt.

Over a period of thirty-six years (1935–1971) there was growth and liveliness in the Church. An active and generous church was held in high regard in its community and in the fellowship of Churches of Christ in New South Wales. Marrickville repaid the Enmore favour by assisting in the work at Tempe for more than twenty years, providing at various times speakers, presidents, Sunday School teachers, a Sunday School superintendent, and three deacons to meet with the Tempe board.

The present, soon to be demolished (pictured below), brick building was opened for worship in January 1912, just eighteen years after the first building was erected. Charles Watt was mainly responsible for awakening interest in the members for a new building. The total cost of the structure was £944, and at the opening there was a debt of £650. It took nineteen years for this debt to be discharged, the event being observed in 1930 as one of thanksgiving, and at the public meeting a copy of the mortgage was burned as a gesture that the church was free of debt.

In 1940 drastic alterations were made to the building. The seating was reversed, the present entrance porch erected, and an elevated baptistery built over the platform.

The adjoining property, No. 387 Illawarra Road, was purchased in 1946 for £835 for possible future expansion, and after a period of tenancy was used temporarily as a manse, and is currently used as an Education Centre and minister’s study. A new manse of larger proportion was purchased in 1961 at 32 Grove Street, for £6,200.

In 1958 the original weatherboard church was practically demolished and the church hall was reconstructed at a cost of £3,422 with G.E. Knight in charge of working bees extending over a period of almost 12 months.

To improve the spiritual atmosphere of our services, a new Lowry electronic organ was purchased in 1965 at a cost of $1,950.

During the lifetime of the church the world has passed through the most momentous period of its whole history. We have seen changes wrought that have staggered us. No longer are we an isolated nation, but one of a large group of peoples thrown together by rapid transport and instant communication into such a relationship with one another that what affects one affects all. The world has become our concern. In its history Marrickville Church of Christ has sent its men to three wars: World Wars 1 and 2 and Vietnam. In the first two its sustained losses.

The two world wars have left ugly and indelible scars and thrown wide open the doors of suspicion and hate. In the consequent and subsequent rush to arm themselves, nations employed their keenest brains in scientific research, discovery and invention. Out of this has come, almost overnight, and avalanche of knowledge in so many different fields, that old tried standards and theories have been jettisoned to make place for the new, leaving many people with nothing but confusion.

Never before has anything like this been recorded on such a vast scale. The change that has occurred has been so overwhelming that now it is difficult to reconcile “what now is” with “what once was.” We speak and think glibly of two worlds, yesterday and today; one antiquated and out of date, and the other modern and up to the minute. According to viewpoint, a person is either a “square” or a “modern”, with no in between; for seemingly there is little common to both worlds.

That the change which has been wrought has been beneficial generally, no one will want to deny. Let us note, however, that gains are not always only positive, there can be negative aspects. The solving of one problem often creates another, and sometimes the filling of a certain need reveals a bigger one. It is a moot point in places whether gain exceeds loss, or loss exceeds gain. The advent of the motor car brought benefit and pleasure in its wake, but it finds us bewildered and shocked, and seemingly impotent, in the face of the appalling nightmare of the ever-increasing toll of the road.

Post-World War II Marrickville experience the influx of migrants from Europe: first the Italians and then the Greeks. There were also many migrants from Egypt. While the Church did not attract new European migrants it did, during the ministry of Roy Dixon, find a way into the Coptic community. It was unfortunate that when the Enmore Church declined to be almost defunct Dixon decided to move there and establish a Church for All Nations which proved to be unsuccessful. A wrong choice to succeed him meant that the Copts went with him to Enmore and Marrickville began to decline.

Many who had been coming distances found a home in churches they had passed to come to Marrickville. The older generation passed to their eternal reward and the Church was sustained by student ministers until Peter Dixon took up the ministry full-time in 1993. The Vietnam War had brought many boat people to Marrickville, so Dixon set up the church for an alternate for of ministry, which worked well for a time. But the area changed again, becoming more upwardly mobile and the form of ministry became out-dated.

When Dixon departed to take up a ministry in the Northern Territory in 2015, a faithful band of believers persevered with the aid of visiting speakers. Unfortunately Marrickville, a church which had given so much help to Churches of Christ over more than a century, did not receive the help it needed, and a dedicated multi-cultural congregation was closed. A Thanksgiving service was held

Assoc. Prof. Dennis Nutt is archivist and historian for Churches of Christ in NSW