Finally it was here. The long awaited day. No more moving from place to place. They had their own church building!
When St John’s, Hillcrest, SA, opened its church building in 1960 it was true cause for joy and celebration, for it ended almost three decades of being without a place the congregation could call home.
Their journey began in 1931 at Hope Valley, the first of a number of preaching centres established by the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Australia in its metropolitan mission field. A small group faithfully worshipped in the Hope Valley Institute hall during the 1930s, with services held once a month on Sunday afternoons. But when World War II came, anti-German feeling meant they were no longer permitted to use that building, and a new home had to be found.
Mr and Mrs Dallwitz came to the rescue, opening their home on a dairy farm at Modbury for worship purposes. But one small change was needed – the service time had to be moved to 11.00am to fit in with the milking schedule! However, when Mr and Mrs Dallwitz sold the property six years later and retired, the congregation was once again left ‘homeless’.
It was hoped that they might be able to use the Modbury hall or return to Hope Valley Institute. But it was 1946, and residual war attitudes meant neither was a possibility. Prayers were answered when the Methodist church offered them the use of Gilles Plains hall for morning services. And so the congregation, consisting of around seven families, settled into its third place of worship.
The area in and around Gilles Plains had been largely farming land, but now things were beginning to change. New subdivisions and developments were springing up around them, with the congregation situated at the heart of the changes. The congregation gradually grew in size, although the rickety seats and ‘lack of liturgical facilities’ allegedly hampered further growth. Would they ever have their own home?
A glimmer of hope came in 1957 through a bequest from Mr and Mrs Dallwitz. From this money two lots could be purchased as a church site in nearby Ramsay Avenue, Hillcrest. However, the wait was not yet over. It was not until early 1960 that the Metropolitan Mission and Migrant Committee (MMMC) was able to put plans into action for building a much-needed church.
Finally, prayers became reality. On 7 August 1960, 200 people turned out to celebrate the dedication and opening of St John’s first church building. Thankfully the day was fine, since the surrounding building sites and unsurfaced roads would have made access tricky in wet weather. Pastor K E Hartmann, chairman of the MMMC, gave the dedication address, praying ‘that in this house may always be heard the good news of Christ crucified’.
In its new church home the congregation went from strength to strength. Membership quickly increased and a prefabricated building was bought to accommodate growing Sunday school numbers.
Little did members know that the stay at Hillcrest would last only 12 years. Realignment following church union in 1966 and the need for bigger church premises meant another move – the final one this time – to Dernancourt. But the Hillcrest chapter remains an important one, for here these worshippers had their first permanent home.
Lutheran Archives has original 16-millimetre film footage of the 1960 dedication and opening of St John’s, Hillcrest, taken by C H Schulz. The digitisation of this footage has been generously sponsored by Dernancourt congregation and a private donor as part of the ‘Seeds that Sprout’ digitisation appeal. For more information about the appeal, visit their website.
Janette Lange is Acting Director of Lutheran Archives
This feature story comes from The Lutheran February 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
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