A Brief HIstory of the Congregation : 1844 to Present Day
The history of the Strathalbyn Uniting Church congregation necessarily takes in the history of Methodists and Presbyterians in the town prior to Union in 1977, and the former Congregational and Methodist congregations in Ashbourne, Finniss, Langhorne Creek and Milang who joined this Uniting Church parish after Union.
Most of the first European settlers who arrived in this area* from 1839 onwards were Scottish Presbyterians. For several years they worshipped in farm homesteads — the first service was conducted by Rev T Stow, a Congregationalist, and for the second, Rev R Drummond (Presbyterian) walked from Adelaide! But despite the demands of clearing and fencing land and building homes, the settlers were determined to erect a church.
In 1844 a Presbyterian church was erected on the site of the present St Andrews building. This served various denominations for several years and was also used as a school. For the first two years, services were taken by the Congregational minister at Macclesfield, Rev. J.B. Austin, who lived in the Bugle Ranges.
Primitive Methodists in Strathalbyn were at first part of the Mt Barker circuit (from 1848 with Rev W Storr), but were soon strong enough to become the centre of their own circuit, stretching from McHarg’s Creek to Cooke’s Plain. Their chapel was opened 1853 in Chapel Street with a Manse next door, and Rev H Cole was the first Minister appointed to Strathalbyn in 1859. Following the move towards union with the Wesleyan Methodists, the first joint services were held in January 1900 and the last service held in the Primitive Methodist Chapel was 10 May 1900, with the chapel and manse sold in 1901.
Wesleyan Methodists in Strathalbyn were also part of a circuit based in Mt Barker at first, then bought land in Commercial Road and built their own chapel, with Rev Henry Jordon of Mt Barker preaching the first sermon to a full house of 150 in November 1854. The first resident Minister, Rev CH Goldsmith, was appointed in 1859. A larger church was built on the same site in 1874.
Methodist Union came about in 1900, and the Commercial Road church was used. Despite difficult times in the depression, Saunders Hall was built and opened without debt in 1935. Talks about uniting with Presbyterians and Congregationalist (which had started briefly in 1919) resumed in earnest in 1961. In preparation the Methodist church in 1972 adopted the title John Wesley Church, and Rev DW Hancock held interdenominational services on 5th Sundays with the Presbyterian, Congregational, Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Church of Christ congregations.
Presbyterians: In 1851 the first resident minister arrived in Strathalbyn for St Andrews Church, Rev J Anderson of the Free Church of Scotland. A Manse was built on what is now Love Avenue. In 1865 the Free Church of Scotland in South Australia united with the Church of Scotland and the United Secessionists. St Andrews Hall was opened in 1912 across Alfred Place from the church, and in 1923 the Manse and glebe land were sold (the location named after its longest resident, Rev G C Love,1892 -1923). A new Manse was built next to the Hall in 1925. From 1961 there was a shared ministry with Milang Congregational Church, St Andrews Strathalbyn, and the Mt Barker Presbyterian church. Click here for a list of Presbyterian ministers and the Shared ministry.
Uniting Church: Methodists made a national decision to join the Uniting Church while it was up to individual congregations in the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. The Milang Congregational Church and St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Strathalbyn agreed to the Union while the Mt Barker Presbyterians voted against it.
The Strathalbyn & Districts Uniting Church Parish was constituted with Milang (ex Congregational), Ashbourne & Langhorne Creek (ex-Methodist) and Strathalbyn (ex-Presbyterian). [The Finniss Methodist church had been closed at the time but when services resumed it also joined the Parish.] On 26 June 1977 combined services were held at 11am in St Andrews and 7pm in John Wesley, the preacher being Rev Max Jacob, Moderator of the Uniting Church of Timor. In Strathalbyn Sunday services alternated between St Andrews and John Wesley until a decision was made to sell the former Methodist church. A final service was held at John Wesley on 5 December 1982 conducted by Rev Eric March, and the newly renovated St Andrews was re-opened and re-dedicated on 12 December with the address given by the Moderator, Dr D’Arcy Wood.
In 2007 ‘one congregation worshipping in five locations’ (Ashbourne, Finniss, Langhorne Creek, Milang and Strathalbyn) became
5 ‘Linked Congregations’ sharing one minister.
In 2017 Langhorne Creek left the Link, and in 2020 the remaining 4 congregations agreed to end the Link. The Strathalbyn congregation is currently in a period of reflection before seeking another minister, to consider our mission in the community, our giving for ministry, and what the restoration needs are for our heritage building.
*We acknowledge that St Andrews church stands on Peramangk country, overlooking the Angas River, which borders Ngarrindjeri country. We are grateful to these traditional custodians for their care for the land, and pay respect to their elders past, present and emerging.
This brief history is adapted and updated from Evelyn Glazbrook’s ‘The History of the Strathalbyn & District Uniting Church 1839-1989’, which was edited and published in 2015 by Janet Stacey and Catherine Hirschausen.