Photo: North Turramurra Church of Christ has merged with Northside Church as its second campus, now known as Northside Turramurra.
By Josh Gibbon
As you step across the threshold of the old North Turramurra church building, a juxtaposition of time greets you. The scent of fresh carpet and paint fills your nostrils, vivid, playful murals jump off the walls, and beautifully designed signs lead you through the building.
Simultaneously, you notice the old sand-coloured brick walls and the sanctuary’s impressive wood-panelled ceiling matched with glowing-blue stainless glass. You can almost hear the auditorium singing proudly of its 56-year history and feel the halls beam happily in their new clothes.
This is the physical evidence of renewal for the community that calls this building home, as Northside Church in Crows Nest has merged with North Turramurra Church of Christ and adopted it as its second campus, now called Northside Turramurra.
Tina Phillips, a 20-year member and minister at North Turramurra COC, has seen this community through thick and thin. When their two ministers left in 2017, Tina continued to support a limping church as attendance dwindled to 20 members with one elder.
“There was a big period of grief. It was like it got torn down to its bare bones,” Tina shared. “The church was trying to get a new minister, but that wasn’t going to happen. We were at the point where … do we shut the church down? Or do we think outside the box?
“One of the things that God had said to me in that time of ‘do I stay or do I go’ is that he wants me to be better, not bitter. He said you need to see this through so that you walk out of this better.”
As they held on, the community decided to invite a long-term friend, Andrew Ranucci, to consult and guide them through the season. Having just finished leading Coast Community Church, Andrew was well placed to support this congregation when they called in January 2018.
North Turramurra held a special place for Andrew, as this was the church where he came to Christ and was baptised. So, when he returned to lead them many years later, his familiar face was one the community trusted.
Starting with a blank whiteboard, Andrew began a discernment process with a small committee from the community to consider what the future could hold for North Turramurra.
“We listed everything and thought, ‘Well, what are all the options?’” Andrew recalled. “And to their credit, they were open to all the options, including closing the doors.”
As the committee continued to meet, they regularly updated the community on their progress. Over time, a clear pathway emerged. They decided to approach another more resourced church to partner with them. After starting conversations with a few of the local Churches of Christ, Andrew and the committee found alignment with Northside Church.
Only a few months earlier at Collective 2017, Senior Pastor of Northside Church, Sam Haddon, had felt prompted towards a vision shift for the church. Inspired by Andrew Ball’s vision of regional hubs of churches converging to resource each other and champion local ministry, Sam brought this concept back to the eldership.
The Holy Spirit began speaking to Sam and the elders of Northside through Acts 19, in which the well-resourced metropolitan church of Ephesus supported ministries and church planting nearby. The elders saw Northside in the shoes of the Ephesian church, becoming persuaded of a call to use what was in their hands to invest in surrounding ministries.
Sam shared, “The elders became convinced that if we wanted to reach the North Shore of Sydney for Jesus, we had to be doing something out of our four walls. So, they settled that if an opportunity ever came up, they would be ready to lead the church through that.”
This change of perspective didn’t come easily for Northside, as it challenged their faith regarding their level of resources. The parable of the talents was key in convicting them about finding security in God’s abundance rather than their own resources.
Sam reflected, “We always felt at Northside that we had a squeeze on our resources. What shifted in a spiritual sense was when we began to shift our focus from what we had in our hands to the abundance of God.
“We were so consumed in our own small-mindedness that it became a limiting factor. The parable of the talents made us realise we were not dwelling on the abundance of God.”
When Andrew Ranucci called Sam Haddon in mid-2018 to discuss a merger opportunity with North Turramurra COC, it was immediately clear that Northside was already on a path of preparation to partner with them. In a step of faith, Sam and the eldership offered to take on North Turramurra as a second campus to Crows Nest.
North Turramurra and Northside began a six-month journey discerning what this new future could look like together. In the end, the North Turramurra community voted to accept a new governance model in which Northside Church took leadership of the community.
However, there was still one missing ingredient for the community as this partnership began: who would lead them? Andrew’s role as a consultant was a temporary arrangement, and the church needed a minister to champion it. It took a patient 12 months, but in the end, Sam and Andrew found the right man for the job: Barry Tramacchi.
When Sam first called, Barry wasn’t that interested. He and his family were living in their long-term home in Queensland, surrounded by extended family. While ministry had taken Barry and his family many places before, they were settled and had no intention of leaving.
As Barry began to hear the story and understand the vision of Northside Turramurra, however, something clicked in his heart. With a passion for the unchurched himself, Northside Turramurra’s desire to be orientated towards their local community excited Barry immensely.
Barry reflected, “The reason I am here is a very strong sense of calling. There’s been a sacrifice and cost, but I know God’s in it.”
Barry began pastoring Northside Turramurra in September 2019, while his wife and daughter saw the school year out in Queensland. Barry had just six months to get to know the church before the first COVID lockdown hit. However, a significant shift had occurred in the community at that time.
“I think there’s grief and joy,” Barry shared. “The grief for those who’ve been at Turramurra for years and still worship here is that it’s no longer North Turramurra COC – it’s a campus of Northside Church.
“The flip side, though, is when they did a launch in March 2019, and there was a couple of hundred people there when there was 40 before – people just went, ‘Wow!’”
A number of families from Northside Crows Nest who live closer to Turramurra have moved to the new campus to support its growth. Now the community has around one hundred members, including children.
“It’s been a real blessing,” Tina said. “At one stage, it was my kids and one other family. Now my kids have friends in the church, and we can run kids and youth ministry here.”
When Andrew Ranucci returned earlier this year, he was delighted by the contrast of new life he found.
“It was alive,” he said. “The first Sunday I went there (in 2018) with 20 people, recorded worship, and poor Tina running the service by herself – it felt like there wasn’t much hope. When I went back, there was a full band, close to 100 people including kids – there was vibrancy. It was just amazing – it felt like a completely different church two years later.”
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