Church of the Hill
Wednesday, 16th December, 2020
On Monday, it was the 140-year anniversary since the first meeting of the Church of Christ in Broken Hill.
Since its inception in 1883, Broken Hill has been an oddity. Stuck in an isolated twilight zone betwixt three states, the city has had an unusual relationship with the world around it.
The mining companies around which our city was built were all based in Melbourne, so Aussie Rules Football is king.
The first railway link in 1886 was to neighbouring South Australia, so all trade, commerce and even our time-zone is linked to Adelaide.
By the anomaly of a state border, Sydney is our state capital, even though it is 1200 kms to the east, and it provides all the state government functions such as health, schooling, policing and justice.
Our postcode is in New South Wales, but our telephone area code is South Australian.
Amidst all this confusion of jurisdiction, a spirit of self-reliance was indispensible in those pioneering days, which saw Broken Hill boom and was Australia’s second-largest inland city by 1900.
The isolation, semi-arid climate and the harsh working conditions in the mines combined to forge a people of great determination and tenacity.
Consequently, Broken Hill became the crucible of Trade Unionism in Australia, which radically reshaped the industrial relations landscape in Australia during the first half of the 20th Century.
The Churches of Christ in Australia understood what was going on in Broken Hill fairly early in the piece: on 14th December, 1890 the Federal Conference of the Australian Church of Christ established a congregation here.
The Church met variously at Carrington Hall in Argent Street, the Protestant Hall, the Temperance Hall (where the Barrier Dental Clinic now stands) and the YMCA Hall.
In 1898, a local journalist observed that “BROKEN HILL doesn’t go to church to any great extent” ... going on to chronicle the various churches that had set up shop, it appears that all of them were cash-strapped, the reporter calling the congregations, “insufferably mean”.
One of the Church’s early ministers, the Rev. Edward John Taylor Tuck, was singled out as an advanced thinker.
Mr Tuck first arrived in Broken Hill to serve as a Baptist minister, but later founded his own outreach mission, which he went on to link with our Church. Broken Hill dubbed him “Father Tuck”, because he maintained a high profile in the community and officiated at over 3000 weddings and 2000 funerals.
In 1909, the Church of Christ opened their newly constructed building on the corner of Wolfram and Chloride Streets, and 52 new members were added during the next year.
By 1912, a second congregation was planted in Wills Street, Railwaytown.
In the true entrepreneurial style of the Churches of Christ movement, the missioner or evangelist (as the pastor was then called) opened a business to support the Church.
During the 1950s, the Church lost its way, becoming better noted for its cricket team than its evangelism.
Indeed, a fellow who was sent from Orange to teach at the Technical College was part of the Church in the 50s and returned to Broken Hill in the 1980s as the deputy principal of TAFE and was surprised that there was still a functioning Church of Christ.
It was still functioning because God had not given up on it during those dry years.
In 1969, a fresh graduate from Kenmore Bible College in Queensland was invited to minister. Trevor Meares was keen to put into practise the principles of the New Testament Church and went back to basics, putting the Bible back at the centre.
He taught that the Church is the people, that even the word “church” is just a “ch” and a “ch” with “UR” in the middle - “You are the Church”, he would say, “and every believer a minister”.
It lead to the practise of a very practical faith.
As you could imagine, the Church grew over the next few years.
It grew from about 60 members to 30. What was left was the remnant: all those who knew there had to be more to Church than merely Sunday services.
What ensued was a body of people, growing spiritually and numerically, seeking the Lord and sharing their lives together.
That led the Church to buy the former fire-damaged Convent in 1982, hoping to set up part of it as a youth refuge as well as house the Church’s gatherings. Some of the Church families moved in to separate units, loaning the sale-proceeds of their houses to the Church, they founded a community to serve the Church on-site.
During their 37 years of ministry at the Old Convent, God miraculously provided so many things, just when needed.
The Church sheltered youth for a time, hosted a Bible College and provided hospitality.
They discipled people and invested into their lives and the Church continued to grow, even as Broken Hill went into decline. Their chapel was expanded and the congregation peaked at 130 people.
Today, a congregation of about 60 people meets each week. Last year was a big year: long-serving pastor, John Curtis retired after 39 years; the Old Convent was sold and the Church now meets at the former Railwaytown Library in Gypsum Street.
The people who form the Broken Hill Church of Christ are seeking to centre their lives on Jesus Christ and His Word, encouraging each other to be Fruitful on the Frontlines on which God has placed them and seeking to bring the goodness of His kingdom to bear on the community of Broken Hill for what will hopefully be another 140 years.