Church History
Church History
Uniting Church Logo

Wesley and St Aidan's Uniting Church

Canberra Central Parish

in Forrest and Narrabundah

Wesely Logo

History of Wesley


Wesley Centre

Nearly six years after the opening and dedication of the Church a start was made on the remainder of the church precinct, and on the 26th May, 1962, the Memorial Fellowship Centre was opened and dedicated by the President-General of the Methodist Church, Rev. Professor H.H. Trigge.

The Centre was completed in its full form ahead of the scheduled time in the original master plan because of the particular concern of the local Canberra Methodist Community. Seeing the growing need in this city, members of Nation­al Memorial Church at a meeting in 1960 agreed that they would meet the addi­tional cost involved so that the main buildings could be erected forthwith. Thus with the continuing help of Methodists throughout Australia the Fellowship centre is an established feature of the Church activities. 

The architects for the main design were Messrs. N.W. McPherson and D.A.W. Harrison of Sydney, who in addition welded the Fellowship Centre and the Church into an integrated set of buildings both functionally and architecturally. This unity of design is immediately obvious in the covered cloister linking the Church with Wesley Hall, and providing a much improved entrance to both. It is also apparent in the materials used; the weathered brick of the Church is repeat­ed in the extensions to Wesley Hall, in the cloisters and in a veneer which covers the old tower.

Facilities

Lancaster Hall is the major feature of the new buildings; it is named after Walter Lancaster, Treasurer of the National Memorial Trust and "a workman that needeth not to be ashamed".

It is a magnificent activity area measuring 114 feet by 64 feet with a mini­mum height of 19 feet 6 inches; it is well lighted naturally and artificially pro­vides space for a championsihp basketball court. With alternative markings, it is possible to play at the same time three games of badminton and two games of volleyball. The floor of brush box will ensure long life even under strenuous use.

Flanking Lancaster Hall are changing and shower facilities, a storeroom, tennis room, creche, and a finely equipped kitchen, while adjacent to the large entrance vestibule are a lounge meeting room and the supervisor's office. A small kiosk and soft drink dispenser are situated in the foyer.

The original Wesley Hall is joined to the vestibule of the Fellowship Centre by a stage with club rooms above. 

In the angle between Wesley Hall and Lancaster Hall, the W.J.M. Campbell Memorial Sound Shell has been erected in honour of an outstanding Methodist layman who was well known at General Conference and highly respected in Can­berra Church and community life. 

The Fellowship Centre, as well as providing outstanding facilities for church activities, has provided a meeting place for many community organisations.


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The Church

This church was built as a memorial to the work and witness of pioneer Methodist people throughout Australia and in 1977 was proud to become part of the Uniting Church in Australia. Contributions towards the erection of the building came from every State and Territory of the Commonwealth and from the Methodist Churches of Great Britain, the United States of America, New Zealand, India and Fiji.

Within two years from the time the appeal for funds was launched enough money was in sight for the architects, Norman W. McPherson and Associate of Sydney, to be appointed and later the tender of Burrows and Lowes, of Can­berra, to be accepted for the building of the Church.

Foundation Stones

The Foundation stones of the church were laid on May 15, 1954, by the then President-General of the Methodist Church, the Rev. Dr. G. Calvert Barber, representing Australian Methodism, and the Rev. Dr. W.E. Sangster, General Conference Cato Lecturer, 1954, representing Overseas Methodism. Above the foundation stones is a tablet which bears this inscription:

Built upon the foundation

of the

Apostles and Prophets

Jesus Christ

Himself

being

the Chief Corner Stone

Opening and Dedication

The church was opened and dedicated to the Glory of God on November 19, 1955, by the then President-General of the Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. R.B. Lew.

Exterior

Constructed in weathered brick, the church is in lofty cruciform. The square tower is 83ft. high and is surmounted by a finger spire above which is a 6ft. cross.

The motif for the church is an 18ft. rough concrete cross on the outside of the large window in the west end of the church, facing Capital Hill, where the foundation stone of the Capital itself was laid in 1913.

Interior

The worshipper, on entering the church, is at once conscious of atmosphere.

Timbers used are tallow-wood for the floor, bleached alpine ash for the pews, polished silver ash for the communion table and rails, pulpit, reredos, lectern, prayer desks, organ and choir stalls, and English oak for the organ console. The ceiling is of mottled green acoustic board.

Sanctuary

Hand-carved woodwork in the church, comparable with the finest of its kind, is the craftsmanship of two Dutchmen, the Otto brothers. At either end of the Communion Table are carved representations of wheat and grapes symbol­ising the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. The retable carries carved replicas of the coats of arms of the Commonwealth and the six States. Linking the coats of arms are carvings of Australian wild flowers. 

Four carved panels which depict (i) the birth, (ii) the baptism, (iii) the cruci­fixion, and (iv) the resurrection and ascension of Christ, surmount the reredos, beneath a beautifully proportioned wooden cross. 

Traditional frontals displayed to accord with the several seasons of the Christian year are provided for the Communion Table. An embroidered drape in white and gold, symbolising the holiness and love of God, is superimposed always on the appropriate frontal.

The Organ

The organ is a memorial to ministers and lay folk of Australasian Methodism and is almost entirely the gift of their children. It is an electro-pneumatic instrument, built by Messrs George B. Fincham and Sons, of Melbourne, with two key­boards and pedal, thirty-seven stops and seven hundred and seventeen pipes. There are two separate organ chambers, one for the Great Organ and one for the Swell Organ, both of which are fitted with shutters. 

During 1974, the fine 3 manual Hunter organ from the then Burwood Methodist Church Sydney was purchased by Mr. John Bathgate, a member of Wesley Congregation. Parts of this organ are being added to the Fincham organ. The work is being carried out by members of the congregation. Also, in 1977-78, new ranks of pipes were purchased from the firm of Gustav. S. Bier in Germany to form a third or positive organ.

At the time of the production of this book, seven new ranks have been add­ed to the Fincham organ with adds another 522 pipes to the organ. It is hoped that another 1,000 pipes will be added to conclude the scheme which will make the organ one of the finest available.

Pulpit

The Pulpit stands on the left-hand side of the Sanctuary, and the preacher enters it directly from the Prayer Desk. It is in a sufficiently raised position to emphasise the high responsibility of the preacher in declaring the Word of God to the people. 

Youth Chapel

This is a side chapel within the Church, which is used for services of wor­ship during the week. Baptismal and small wedding and funeral services. Domin­ating this beautiful little chapel is a 5ft. by 3ft. painting of Christ, after Hoffman, by Mr. Ainslie Roberts, of Adelaide. This mural, entitled "Come unto Me," depicts the humanity and divinity of our Lord—the feet firmly planted on the earth, His Humanity; the fine circle about His head, the sign of perfection, His divinity; Jesus, Human and Divine. This beautiful picture, with the Communion Table beneath it, is a memorial to Stephen Lancaster, a foundation member of the Sunday School. They are the gifts of his parents, Mr & Mrs. W.V. Lancaster.

Superimposed on the front of the Chapel Communion Table are the Greek letters Alpha (the beginning) and Omega (the ending), and through each letter is a cross to indicate to the worshipper that there was "a cross in the heart of God before the wood was seen on Calvary." Also carved and superimposed at the centre of the Communion Table between these two letters are a circle and a cross as a reminder of the universal and ecumenical love of God.

Font

The fine wooden font in the church matches the prayer desk and pulpit.

The font in the chapel is in memory of Lindsay Knowles, who was lost in air combat in Libya, and was formerly used in Wesley Hall.


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Memorials and other Gifts

The Pulpit, given by Lady Knowes and family in memory of Sir George Knowles, C.B.E., a foundation member of the church, and at his death. High Commissioner for Australia in South Africa.

The Lectern in memory of Mrs. C.A. Chettle; a gift from her family.

A linen cloth for the Communion Table from the Indian Methodist Church in Fiji, on which is crocheted a leaf pattern and the words "One Fold and One Shepherd" in Hindi and English.

Page Memorial window in the northern wall of the nave which depicts four phases of the life of Christ. Installed by the Page family in memory of James and Annie de la Force Page, pioneer educationists and Methodists in northern New South Wales; Charles and Susannah Page; Rodger Page, Tongan Missionary, and Sir Earle Page, surgeon, educator and statesman.

Cummings windows in the Youth Chapel representing the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. Installed by Mrs. A.E. Cummings in memory of her son Frank, Royal Australian Air Force, and her husband, Albert Edward Cummings, station master at Darwin at the time of the Japanese bombing raids. 

J.E. Edwards memorial window in the northern wall of the chancel which depicts John and Charles Wesley. Installed by Mrs. Edwards, and her son, in memory of her husband who was for many years prominent in the church life particularly as Secretary of the Trust.

An amplification unit installed in the tower by Mrs. Thomas Burton in memory of her husband.

Original records turntable equipment, also in the tower, given by Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Taylor in memory of their parents.

A sound reinforcement system from the pulpit presented by Mrs. Athol Kilby in memory of her husband, who after many years in office at Wattle Park Church and Sunday School, retired to live in Canberra and attend church here. During 1976 this system was improved and brought up to modern standard.

Other Gifts

Communion rails; frontals to Communion Table, carpets; almsplate and Youth Chapel vases; retable vases; pulpit Bible; lectern Bible; pulpit hymn book; organ hymn book; portrait of John Wesley by Frank O. Salisbury.

Memorial Wall

During the Jubilee year of the congregation, it was decided to gather to­gether historical reminders of pioneer Methodists from every State in Australia. The results of this can be seen at the rear of the Church under the Cross. Histor­ical momentos from every State have been included. 

Sri Lanka Lamp

Within the Church is an ornate oil lamp with candlesticks presented to the General Conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia in 1975 by the Government of Sri Lanka as a symbol of gratitude for contributions from the 'Methodist Million' appeal to that country. An amount exceeding that of $500,000 was given by Australian Methodists to the Improved Seed Project in Sri Lanka.


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Foundation Plan as of 26/05/1962

Wesley Centre Foundation Plans - 26 May 1962


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Property Development 1999 - 2002

Overview

The original Church on the site in National Circuit, Forrest was opened in 1930 in the building that is now known as Wesley Hall. The current Church was opened on the site in 1955.

Major extensions to the Wesley Uniting Church property were opened on 8 September 2002. The key elements of the project were:

  • a balcony within the church providing an additional 120 seats;
  • a new main entrance at the northern end of the church;
  • glass cladding to the sides of the church to improve heating and cooling and ducted gas heating to replace the old radiators under the pews;
  • an administrative wing to accommodate ministers and provide a meeting room, front office and reception area;
  • a large multi-use foyer with kitchenette;
  • a Music Centre with a high quality auditorium and meeting and administrative facilities;
  • a semi-circular entry hall linking the foyer, church and music centre;
  • new and extended car parking arrangements.

The total project cost was just over $2.5m, over 90% of which was contributed or committed by the congregation prior to the completion of the project. The Architect was Mr Ric Butt of Strine Architects and the Project Manager, Mr Sam de Lorenzo of Integrated Construction Management Services.

The Process

Over many years in the 1990's the Church Council had discussed ways of addressing shortcomings in the facilities at Wesley which were having a negative affect on the activities and plans for growth in the mission of the church. It was also becoming clear that with the start of government development of open spaces across National Circuit, the Wesley congregation could be put under pressure to justify what could be seen as an underutilised property.

Possibilities for the development of new ventures at Wesley such as child care or aged care were investigated but rejected.  It was agreed that priority should be given to addressing the needs of current activities - the need to increase the capacity of and enhance the entry to the church, the need for a gathering space, particularly for mingling after services of worship, the need for adequate office accommodation, the poor connection between the church and the other facilities, the inadequate parking arrangements and the urgent need for appropriate accommodation for the growing music ministry.

Early in 1999 the Church Council asked its Property Development Committee, then chaired by John Sanderson, to consult with the congregation and come up with a plan. In 2000 John Sanderson moved to Western Australia and John Grant was appointed as chair. The committee members were: John Grant (Chair), Jos Webber (Deputy Chair), Elizabeth Richardson (Secretary), Jim Cox, Chris Emery, Glenda McDowall, Garth Mansfield, Harold Small and Rev. Chris Udy.

Over an 18 month period input on needs and aspirations was obtained from all groups within the Wesley congregation. A project brief was then drawn up and Mr Ric Butt of Strine Design was appointed as architect with the initial task of preparing sketch plans for further consultation and for costing by a quantity surveyor.

Plans to conduct a fundraising campaign were also prepared with specialist input from Jim Cox and liaison with the Wesley Music Foundation.  The campaign was launched in May 2001 at a very well-attended whole-of-congregation meeting in conjunction with the presentation of final sketch plans for the project. 

The early results of the fundraising campaign were extremely encouraging, both in terms of major donors and the high percentage of church members who committed themselves to up-front or continuing donations. This enabled the Property Development Committee to recommend to the Church Council a total project cost of some $2m. After fine-tuning, a final project cost of just over $2.2m. was approved.

Following a further whole-of congregation meeting and subsequent approval by the Church Council the project brief was presented to Presbytery which also gave its endorsement. A Development Application was then processed through the ACT Government.

With the project now having the green light, an early decision of the Committee was to appoint a project management company, Integrated Construction Management Services (ICMS) to oversee the project.

The Property Development Committee then worked intensely with the architect and project manager to finalise the detailed plans and get the construction under way. During this period of nearly two years, the committee met fortnightly, with all members giving additional time on particular aspects – fundraising, liaison with Presbytery and Synod, consultations with the congregation, budgeting, liason with the project manager and architect, site inspections, etc.

Construction went smoothly save for one relatively minor incident when part of the external wall near the new entry to the church collapsed in a severe storm. Fortunately this occurred out of hours and no-one was injured.

Along the way a Landscaping Sub-Committee was formed with Jack Morschel, Margaret Mansfield, Elizabeth Richardson and others who planned and executed new garden beds, with the help of many volunteers. The Memorial Garden which had been temporarily moved to the manse grounds was reestablished.

The final project cost reached $2.5m as a result of two major factors – a higher standard of fit-out, especially acoustically in the Music Centre, and a larger footprint for the main church entry foyer than originally planned.

The Opening

The opening and dedication of the new facilities took place on 8 September 2002, commencing with a smoking ceremony conducted by Ngunnawal Elder Matilda House and a welcome by Elder Agnes Shea. The dedication service was led by Rev Chris Udy and Rev Peter Walker. The Moderator of the NSW Synod, Margaret Reeson, re-dedicated the Church. The key to the new facilities was presented to John Grant by Sam DeLorenzo.

The Result

All the additional facilities have been put to good use, significantly enhancing the ongoing activities at Wesley and generating many new activities. The performance and educational programs of the Music Centre have grown to new levels, the new church foyer is constantly used for a wide range of activities and the new administrative wing provides good accommodation for Ministers, staff and volunteers.

The indigenous symbolism provides a permanent acknowledgement of Australia's heritage. The new church entry and corridor provides a link to all the facilities regardless of weather. The new parking arrangements accommodate many more cars and provide a significant source of income.

Dr John Grant, June, 2017

Canberra Times article of 9 September, 2002 

Photograph of the Project Manager, Sam De Lorenzo, presenting the key to John Grant during the dedication service.