Canberra Baptist Church – The First Seventy Five Years 1929 – 2004

Commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the opening of the Canberra Baptist Church, February, 23-24 1929

By Dr Val Spear

Foreword by Rev. James Barr

Review by Tom Frame – St Mark’s National Theological Centre, Canberra

Front cover image of the book - Canberra Baptist Church the first 75 years

About this book

On May 9th 1927 the Duke and Duchess of York opened the door of the new Parliament House in Canberra with a golden key. The doors were then swung open to admit them by the Housekeeper, Mr Thomas Joseph Pettifer. Nearly 50 years later his son John Athol (Jack) Pettifer, the bewigged and sombre Clerk of the House of Representatives, stood behind the dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on the same steps of Parliament as Whitlam delivered his famous

Well may we say “God save the Queen” …’speech. Tom and Jack Pettifer were both members of the Canberra Baptist church. Jack Pettifer and Gough Whitlam had been members of the Sunday School of Canberra Baptist Church, the church where Tom Pettifer attended.

This vignette illustrates the way Canberra Baptist Church has been part of the life of the nation’s capital. From the humble housekeeper who opened the door to the royal couple through to the Clerk of the House who wrote the manual of Australian Parliamentary practice (Pettifer’s House of Representatives Practice) the Canberra Baptist Church has played a role in the capital.

The impact of Baptists has sometimes been well beyond their numerical representation in the population. At the dinner at which the Duke of York was welcomed there were two Anglican divines, two Catholic Archbishops and two Baptist leaders, the Reverend J. H. Goble and the Reverend Dr A.J. Waldock. Baptists have always been committed to, and involved in, the life of the national capital.

Canberra Baptist Church: The First Seventy-Five Years (1929-2004) is a considered and insightful portrait of the history of this community over three quarters of a century. It writes a sensitive and intelligent critique of the ministries of its pastors and presents a developing model of pastoral ministry and leadership.

Of course, any church is more than just the sermons and enthusiasms of its pastors. This book is also the story the life of an active congregation. The Canberra Baptist Church has been comprised of people who had a profound impact on the shaping of the nation’s capital. A former Prime Minister proudly claims to have been expelled from the Sunday School (although such precocious notoriety is not reflected in the Sunday School records!)

The sometime chief of the Canberra police force, the father of Canberra’s education system, the Clerk of the House of Representatives and various senior public servants have all been members of the church at various times. While its ministers have been prominent in civic life (particularly in the early days) its members and leaders have also been significant and influential citizens. One of the consistent storylines running through the history of this church is its engagement with the life of Canberra as a community.

What follows is also the story of a religious community. We read of the concern of the Baptists of Australia to have a presence in the nation’s capital and the subtle but significant links that existed between this church and the network of Baptist churches in other states, particularly Collins Street in Melbourne, the Hobart Baptist Tabernacle and Flinders Street Baptist Church in Adelaide. We hear the story of the foundation of other Baptist churches across the ACT. This history is published to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Church. Forty years is a biblical generation.

Thus 80 years reflects two generations. If the first-generation were the ‘exiles who sat down by the river Molonglo’ (to quote a report on the first meetings of the church from the foundation pastor Arthur J. Waldock to the Baptist Union of Australia) the second generation have been the builders, those who have made their homes and been part of the dramatic post-World War II growth of Canberra. The church now finds itself in a situation in which those generations are passing. The church farewelled its foundation generation many years ago. It now finds itself farewelling the generation of builders, those who have built the church over the last three or four decades to where it is today.

The question now comes ‘What of the next generation?’ What does the gospel of Jesus Christ say to a world of globalization, driven by rapid technical and communication changes and facing tremendous challenge in global warming and the threat to international peace and security? Is there a message of challenge and hope that we have to offer to our city and to our community? These are the questions with which the church now engages. We do so on the basis of the wonderful history that we have received, the heritage of faithful and colourful! saints in previous generations.

We are in the debt of Dr Val Spear and her team of researchers who have brought us this perspective on what those first 75 years mean. May we be faithful to the efforts and the insights of our ancestors as we seek to carry on this story into the future.

For copies write to the Office of the Canberra Baptist Church at PO Box 4055, Kingston ACT 2604, or telephone 02-6295 9470 or contact the church office here.

RRP A$30 plus $7 postage and handling.