From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures
Last Sunday 16 May marked the celebration worship service for the formation of the new Parkesbourne and Merrilla Congregation in our Presbytery. This was the culmination of a 12-month journey for the formation of the congregation that was previously part of the Goulburn District Multi-Centre Congregation. The Chair of the Multi-Centre Church Council, David Guthrey, passed on the council’s blessing to the new congregation with both sadness and joy: sadness at the parting of old ways and ending of previous forms of relationships; joy at the new opportunities for worship, witness and service as the new congregation is formed.
The formation of the Parkesbourne and Merrilla Congregation took effect on 1 April 2021 after the Presbytery’s decision on 20 March 2021 to recognise its formation. Following vows by the members of the new Congregation, Presbytery Co-Chair – Rev Ross Kingham welcomed the Congregation into the Presbytery and commissioned (see the photo) the new church council Chairperson (Wendy Williams), Secretary (Pat Strachan) and Treasurer (Craig Hunt). After the service, we all enjoyed a very generous and yummy morning tea.
The worship service included Wendy Williams telling some of the history of the churches in Parkesbourne and Merrilla. Here is what she shared with us:
“This is another exciting and historic day in the life of Parkesbourne and Merrilla. To the glory of God, since this area was first settled, there have always been people meeting together for worship. They may not have always agreed completely on the way things should be done, but they obviously worked together for us to be the beneficiaries of their hard work. In Parkesbourne there were both Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist meetings until they decided to combine under the Primitive umbrella in the early 1860’s. The land where Merrilla church is situated was donated to the Methodists by an Anglican – Mr John Chisolm. Obviously, the recognition of the importance of sharing fellowship to God’s glory outweighed individual prejudices.
The first of the churches to be erected outside Goulburn was, in fact, at Parkesbourne, or, as it was then called, Breadalbane Plains. This was a slab church erected on the property of John Weatherstone. Early records show the first services of worship in the Parkesbourne area were held in homes, primarily those of John and Ann Brown and John Weatherstone prior to this slab church being built. The church at Merrilla, once called Mummell, is the oldest church in the Goulburn area still being used regularly as a place of worship. The church at Merrilla was opened on Boxing Day 1859 and the Parkesbourne church building was opened in 1866.
Both churches are built of stone and relied on local volunteers to help with their construction. This is all the more remarkable when we remember that many of the congregation were still living in slab huts with dirt floors. Their dedication to God was such that it was more important for them to have a solid house of worship than to have material comfort for themselves.
An interesting snippet I found was that George Bool did the stonework on the building at Merrilla, which I knew, but what I didn’t know is, he quoted a price of £20. When he completed the work, he gave £6 back because he felt he had overcharged the Church!
According to our register there were 3 children baptised prior to 1860, and 13 between 1860 – 1861 at Merrilla. The first baptism at Parkesbourne was in 1862. Although the number of baptisms has slowed downed in recent years, I am delighted to remind everyone that we did have a baptism at Merrilla earlier this year. Not only that, but young Reuben is the great, great, great grandson of George Bool – the gentleman who built both our churches. It is wonderful to look around and see family members of the original worshippers still worshipping in these buildings. As important and interesting as these buildings and their history is, the really important element of our churches is, and always has been, the people.
Both churches belonged to the Goulburn Methodist Circuit until 1884, when the Circuit was divided and Parkesbourne became part of the Crookwell Circuit. This was the case until the Methodist Union in 1902 and Parkesbourne was transferred back to Goulburn. In 1977 both the Merrilla and Parkesbourne congregations became part of the Goulburn Parish of the Uniting Church of Australia. Today we are celebrating being a stand-alone congregation within the Uniting Church of Australia. And, as such, we look forward to the future, in which these churches will continue to stand, not only as a memorial to the past, but as a living witness to the glory of God and the faithfulness of his people. These churches will be, as they have always been, places of love and care for the people of this district. They are special places that continue to draw people back.
Throughout over 160 years of unbroken service a number of dedicated men and women have cared for and maintained these buildings and their cemeteries. Let us, who follow in their footsteps, realise that it is not the number of people who worship, nor the age and history of the church in which we worship that count: but rather it is the quality of our worship, our preparedness to serve and trust the Lord with our whole heart, and our willingness to love those with whom we come in contact that really glorifies God and keeps his church living and vital.
I would like to close with a verse from Ephesians:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.