Parish 50th Anniversary
at St Ninian's
Jesus Christ - The one sure foundation
preached by the Rev Dr Bill Ives on 1st February, 2009
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
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.
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:
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
Church building knew better days but it went through a period of utter
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
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.
(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:
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”.
Johnston had his Chemist shop in O’Connor.
He was also the first treasurer. Faith
simply oozed out of him and his wife Kath.
Walters was a field officer with CSIRO and Sunday School Superintendent He was
an ideas man and enthusiast whose
wife Mabel brought much wisdom.
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.
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.
(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 –
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
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
(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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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