St Ninian's Uniting Church

cnr Mouat and Brigalow Sts, LYNEHAM, ACT


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brochure available here

Christmas 2012 Collage here

Next Clothing Sale
Fri 4th & Sat 5th
August, 2017
9am - 1pm

Next Book Sale
Fri 13th & Sat 14th October, 2017
9am - 1pm

Jesus Christ - The one sure foundation

(Sermon preached by the Rev Dr Bill Ives on 1st February, 2009
at the service to mark the 50th Anniversary of St Ninian’s Parish, Canberra)

 This congregation and parish came into existence 50 years ago to the day but it existed in the mind of God long before then. What we have been involved in over these 50 years is an attempt to work out God’s purpose.   I want to begin with my story and how I and my family came to be here. For me it’s an indication of how God was thinking ahead for the new life of St Ninian’s.

One balmy April evening in 1958 my wife, Margaret,  and I sat on the front verandah of our Manse in Mudgee.  We agreed that  there had been many short ministries there and because we were very happy, we agreed we’d stay for a long ministry. Shortly afterwards I received the white book containing the reports and business to be dealt with at the NSW Presbyterian State Assembly in May.  I was sitting in the sun  reading the reports when suddenly I read something  that sent me straight away inside to my wife to announce that we most likely would be moving to Canberra.  The Home Mission report had given details of the rapid growth of Canberra’s population and the need for Church Extension work there.  Somehow I knew it involved me.

I wish I had time to tell a quite interesting story of several amazing co-incidences that followed.  It was  on and off again several times over many months until a Call came  from 25 members of the tiny congregation of St Ninian’s for me to be its minister.  We came here in April, 1959, 12 months after I first became aware of God’s surprise initiative and what turned out to be God’s call.

Each minister who has served here over these 50 years would have their own story to tell about how they came to be here - Ian Ogilvy, John Watts, Sandy Murray, Don Erickson, Gray Birch and Theresa Angert-Quilter. So, too, would many of the lay folk who have served here so faithfully.  One way or another God has brought his servants here for a purpose. And whoever we are, we have found here a work of God to do just as the apostle Paul found  in Corinth.  He said:

I planted. Apollos watered but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor 3:6,7.)

This day we acknowledge with thanksgiving to God all the Calls, the plantings, the waterings, the work and the blessings that have resulted.

On my first Sunday morning as minister,  I took the words of Psalm 40  about waiting for the Lord in a time of great trial and having one’s feet set on a rock. I said:

 “This Church building knew better days but it went through a period of utter desolation.  (You may not know that  about 1916 it was closed for worship  and was actually used as a barn for possibly 20 years.) It has been brought back to life, established in a new situation with a new path to tread…..Will the outcome be, as the psalmist says, Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord”?

50 years ago, I went on to say, “Now, by the grace of God it has fallen to our lot to be the life force within this church.  It would seem to me that the responsibilities which settle upon our shoulders are very great indeed.  The future of this charge will surely depend to a large extent on the things that we do now, the decisions we make, the pattern of our Church life, the quality of our fellowship with one another, the zeal we bring, the plans we lay, and above all, the faith and vision that is ours and the manner in which we are instrumental in passing it on to the young who grow up in our midst and any and all who may come to be with us. Let us establish where we begin and the way we go.” And I went on to give the same text as I do for to-day:  1Corinthians 3:11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”

Now Paul had heard reports that things had somewhat fallen apart in the Church in Corinth with the formation of factions, moral failures, and worship degeneration. So he called the Corinthians back to their sure foundation in Jesus Christ.

And to-day I ask, what better theme for St Ninian’s than  “The Sure Foundation” ?  The first church here in the mid 1800’s was built of wood and probably had no foundation to  speak of that would last.  Then came the foundation for the small stone church in 1873,  then a foundation to enlarge it by 50% in 1898, then the foundation for the church hall in 1961, next the foundation for the William’s room during Don Erickson’s ministry, then the foundations for the vestry and office and the second extension of this new church sanctuary.  It seems that to be a St Ninian’s person you have to major in foundations.

But, as Paul says, “It’s one thing to lay the right foundation.  It’s another to make sure you build the right things on that foundation.”  This congregation, with each minister, has tried to build on the sure foundation.  And stories could be told to illustrate what was done. Now, simply as an indication of the kind of thing that has happened over these 50 years, let me  tell you how we tried to build appropriately on the foundation of Christ in the early days of this parish.  But, I must say we, the first congregation, were different from all who followed.  Do you know why?  I used to say to the folk, “I am delighted that we’re the first congregation because no one can say, ‘We have to do things this way, because that’s the way they always did it.’  You see, apparently in the Church you must never do anything that hasn’t been done before!  Jokes aside, it was an awesome responsibility to set down a pattern for others to follow.  Well, here are some of the things we did in an endeavour to build on Christ the sure foundation.

1.       Commitment.   (First we built Commitment) Those who began here in 1959 had left other congregations to be a part of the new parish.  So, they were committed to Church extension. There were members of some pioneering families who had links with St Ninian’s earlier days including the Southwells and the Camerons.    Deaconness Alison Todd, who would soon show her commitment to Christ as a missionary to the New Hebrides,   splendidly prepared the way for the new minister by conducting worship and drawing families together through her extensive visitation. Then we were blessed indeed with the four ruling elders of the first Kirk Session:

The Session Clerk was Dr Bob Williams, ex Congregationalist, CSIRO plant scientist, gentle, thoughtful, visionary,  and his wife Ethel.  Both were most generous.  Until I came, Alison Todd nicknamed  their home,“The Manse”.

Gordon Johnston had his Chemist shop in O’Connor.  He was also the first treasurer.  Faith simply oozed out of him and his wife Kath. 

Dave Walters was a field officer with CSIRO and Sunday School Superintendent He was an  ideas man and enthusiast whose wife Mabel brought much wisdom.  

Jim Hardie was from Aberdeen and with his wife brought a genuine Scottish element to us. Every Church seems to have one person for  the practical things to be done.  Jim was our man.

All four elders’wives  made up the nucleus of dedicated women especially through the Guild.  I cannot imagine how better led the congregation could have been than by these eight wonderful people.


2.       Sacrifice. (Next we built sacrifice) We were well aware that others were making sacrifices for us to exist at all.  St Andrew’s, Canberra gave us the use of its grand old manse  for the first year or two plus financial aid. The Home Mission Department subsidized the stipend, and St Stephen’s, Sydney made generous gifts towards our building programme.  We set ourselves these early aims –

To become entirely self-supporting in three years with no subsidies,

To give a tenth of our income to the mission enterprises of the wider Church,

To secure a building loan that we could service in order to  build a Church Hall.

We had a Stewardship campaign and a follow-up programme a year later to which very generous responses were made. Stewardship was a spiritual, God-centred matter for us. We called our first programme, “Reborn to Serve” (using the image of the re-birth of our little stone Church). And through the sacrificial giving of a relatively small congregation, each one of those goals was met.  We opened the Church Hall in just two and a half years after the parish began.

3.       Mission and Evangelism. (Then we built in Mission and Evangelism)  After we had been somewhat established, we conducted  a Lay Evangelism programme in which lay people went out in pairs to speak with people in their own homes about their Christian faith and commitment.  (I can still see the visitors on the first night they went out, all huddled together like frightened sheep afraid to move.  But they did marvelously.)  There was a good response resulting in the confirmation of a  number of new members and the congregation was greatly enriched. But, of course,  mission was part of the total life of the congregation, through giving sacrificially to the wider church,  the Prayer group,   Sunday School, Youth Fellowship and other Young People’s  organizations.  We formed, the Boys’ Brigade and the Girls’ Life Brigade thanks to the dedicated service of another Scots couple, the Rentons who became our captains.  Those were faith-filled days and occasionally something  would stand out as an indication that amazing things were  happening.  For example, there came to us an Englishman by the name of Eric Kirby who was confirmed as a member. He had an engaging personality and was much loved.  We were saddened when he had to leave to go to America, but I can never forget Eric’s words to us at his farewell.  He said:  “When I came to St Ninian’s, I knew about Jesus Christ.  Now that I leave St Ninian’s I can gladly say: “I know Jesus Christ.”

4.       Faith. (Faith was an essential element of our building) I sometimes say to ministerial colleagues, “The thing about having an accountant for a treasurer is that they tend to look at the bottom line.  Understandably they want to know that the money is there to pay for everything.  At St Ninian’s it was different.  For instance, we were building the new hall in 1961 and Gordon Johnston our Treasurer told us the position.  “Here is the cost for the building.  We have our deposit, including gifts  from other churches.  We have promises from here and there.  Our regular loan payments can be met through Stewardship  giving.  Everything can be paid for except the furniture and furnishings to go in the hall.   We have no money at all for that.  We’ll put all of that down to faith.”  That was the pervading thinking of the congregation in those halcyon days.  We lived by faith and things really happened.

5.       Love. Yes, love was underneath and overarching and through all that we built.  We were mercifully free of discord of any magnitude.  St Ninian’s was much like the early Church – we had so much in common, giving was generous, there was mutual goodwill and the Lord added numbers to us daily as new houses were occupied and families came to us. Baptisms were frequent.  One Sunday I had eight baptisms, on another seven and on several days I had five and six.  But I want to illustrate the love that pervaded our community through another story.   One day I had a call from the Rev Hector Harrison.  He said: “Bill, I have a family on a property out of town.  They have a son and a daughter of Fellowship age.  They work on the farm and haven’t been involved in life like our young people, their schools, or university or government service. If they come to my Fellowship I’m afraid they may be intimidated. How about you go and meet them and see if they would fit in with your smaller and more intimate Fellowship.”  So I went out; I met them and invited them to come on Sunday to the youth Fellowship.  Quite frankly I wondered whether they’d come and feel at home here.  But the next Sunday they came and they were regular from then on.  In time they became an integral part of our community. The lad later married one of the Fellowship girls.  The country lass became a most effective Leader of the Fellowship. Today she is a pillar of this Church.  She is greatly loved because she has lived a life radiating love in this place and in the wider community.  You may know I speak of Julie Gillespie who, to my mind, personifies the love that has been a key element of St Ninian’s these fifty years.

6.       I could go on adding various other building blocks of our congregational life and work.  I could speak of the place of prayer and the Word of God.  I could tell of the humility that said, “We won’t set our hearts on becoming a large congregation.  It is more important to establish  the Church in Canberra.”  So, instead of concentrating on building up its own numbers, St Ninian’s helped St Aiden’s Church to begin, and, when the new suburbs of Dickson, Downer, Watson and Hackett were underway,  we encouraged some of our own members to go from us to form the nucleus of the St Margaret’s congregation.

So we tried to build on the one sure foundation.  But one may build on a foundation with varying measures of success. Paul says we may build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, whatever.  And, without evaluating the ministries of others in Corinth, Paul says, “Be sure of this: that the quality of what we build will be tested, as it were with fire.”  He would say to us to-day, “All that happened it’s not about Paul.  It’s not about Apollos.  It’s not about Erickson.  It’s not about Murray. It’s not about Birch. It’s not about Ives.  It’s about the foundation.  It’s all about Jesus Christ and what we put on that foundation.   It’s what’s durable that matters.  It’s the temptation to build according to our own fancy.  If we put perishable things like wood, hay and stubble on the foundation,  they will not stand the testing fires. If we build into our Church simply the things we find near at hand, the things that come with little effort, the common, the cheap, the ordinary: - things combustible, like wood and hay, they won’t last.”

In the Church, we’ve got to dig deep to discover the worthwhile things to build securely on the foundation of Jesus Christ.  We must build with gold, silver and precious stones.  That is, things that are going to stand the test of time.  These building blocks don’t just lie around on the surface.  No way. To find them, we must search diligently, we must dig deep. We must labour long and hard. We  must make sacrifices to procure what is worthwhile for the building; stuff that will pass the test of fire to endure.

Like many of you I have been watching the Australian Open Tennis over the last fortnight.  We have seen the magnificent commitment of top players from all over the world, They give of their best.  Probably the most memorable has been Australia’s Jelena Dokic.  That lass has been through the testing fires over the last ten years, through family trouble, depression, failure, and rejection.  And what did we see before our very eyes as she played.  We saw her dig deep; far, far deeper than we could have expected and we saw the outcome – the gold, silver and precious stones of her success.

If that girl could dig so deep to win at the game of tennis, how much more ought we to discipline ourselves with sacrifice and labour for the bride of Christ.

“What is wrong with the Church these days?” We ask.  Is it not that we build too easy, without real sacrifice, without digging deep into ourselves?  Do we leave it all to the minister and the few keen ones and simply turn up on Sunday to complain when things don’t go according to our fancy?

How often do we decide to dig deeper in our prayer life? To dig deeper into the word of God to see what the Lord is saying to us?  How often do we talk with others about what might build people up in their holy faith?  Or are these things too hard and therefore put off?

Did you hear about the Spanish priest and the Irish priest lounging in the sun one day and the Spanish priest turned to the Irish priest and asked, “Tell me. Do you Irish have a word that’s equivalent to our word Manyana?”  The Irish priest thought for a while and then said, “Oh, we do have a word, but it doesn’t have the same sense of urgency that manyana has.”

Is there not too much the sense of “Tomorrow will do!” in the Church?  “Manyana! Manyana! Manyana is good enough for me.”  Well I tell you it’s not good enough for the work of Christ . We need the sense of urgency the Church has when it’s breaking new ground.  The sense of urgency when it’s building anew.  The idea of “Seizing the day” has been here from time to time over the last 50 years, with a sense of excitement, anticipation, and the prospect of coming to terms with every challenge.

When I was a lad, I recall our minister saying again and again, “You can’t run a church on anything other than religion.”  Of course he meant the foundation of our faith.  That means acknowledging one authority for what goes on. That authority was established early in Jesus’ ministry.

The Gospel for today tells us that after calling his first disciples, Jesus went into a building, the synagogue at Capernaum, and taught. That day his authority was tested by a demented man.  Jesus showed everyone there just who was the boss. And he comes to each congregation and stakes his claim.  Wherever his authority is acknowledged in the Church he is King.  He is life.  He is truth.  He is the way. He is the foundation.  He must rule supreme.  As he went to the synagogue in Capernaum, he comes to this place where over 50 years people have acknowledged his authority and built silver, gold, and precious stones on his foundation.

We went to the exhibition of Degas Art yesterday.  Everywhere was displayed a quotation of his: “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”  The more I think about it, the more I think it applies to us , THE CHURCH IS NOT WHAT YOU SEE BUT WHAT YOU MAKE OTHERS SEE.

The Revd Hector Harrison  told me once that the controversial New Testament Professor, Samuel Angus visited this church, put his hand on the wall and said, “This Church will stand for a thousand years!”  He was also an archeologist and should have known something.  God grant that as long as this church stands, and as long as it has within it a worshipping congregation, the light of Christ will shine brightly from it because we, and those who came after us will have built well on the sure foundation.

 “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”


And now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power whereby he works within us; to him be all glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, both now and forever.  Amen





Service Times


9:30 am

  • Holy Communion is celebrated on the first Sunday of each month

  • Worship at the 9:30am service includes a choir anthem and features a pipe organ.