Development of Alice Springs Presbyterian Church
(as narrated by Rev Stuart Bonnington, Superintendent, PIM at the Commencement Service on the 21st July, 2013)
Ladies and Gentlemen, I stand before you amazed and thankful to our wonderful Saviour and Lord for all He has done to bring us to this service. He said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We, in the PIM, took this declaration seriously and were stimulated by our Lord Jesus to see where He wanted us to be working with Him in building His Church.
The PIM’s mandate from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Australia is to (here I quote from the regulations of the PIM) “advance religion in the remote and sparsely populated areas of Australia (generally known as The Inland), by the establishment of patrol ministries and Christian mission to remote communities.” To fulfil this charter and responding to our Lord’s leading, the members of the PIM came to the conclusion they should be seeking to establish a Presbyterian congregation in Alice Springs.
Three years ago, the convener, Rev Rob Duncanson, and I came to Alice Springs to meet with Rev Phil and Mrs Cathy Stuart the Australian Indigenous Ministries personnel working out of this facility. Discussions ensued about commencing a PCA congregation and using the AIM’s facility for services and accommodation for the minister.
The (then) imminent centenary of the establishment of Presbyterian ministry to the outback under the Superintendency of Rev John Flynn gave further impetus to the PIM to commence a congregation in The Alice. The PIM approached several ministers with church planting experience to ask if they would consider the work of planting a congregation in Alice Springs. For various reasons these men were unable at that time to say, “Yes,” to the request. Consequently, in early 2012, the PIM advertised the role throughout the PCA. Several responses were received.
One applicant for the position described this work as
He believes this still. One year ago this coming week, Rev Martin de Pyle, a member of the PIM, and I came to Alice Springs to interview this applicant and his wife. We were convinced they were the ones the PIM should appoint to commence the congregation here. The full committee concurred and appointed Rev Keith and Mrs Jenny Bell to lead the work of commencing a new Presbyterian congregation in Alice Springs. The PIM announced this appointment to the denomination during the centenary celebrations of the Presbyterian Church’s ministry to The Inland.
Keith and Jenny were invited to speak about this work at various congregations in Victoria. Interest in this work has been very high throughout the denomination. Keith and Jenny have received many expressions of support and practical help from members of the PCA. They were greatly encouraged when they received emails from people here in Alice Springs saying they were looking
forward to the establishment of this congregation – one (Jason) is playing the keyboard and one (Sam) is taking a Bible reading.
The original plan for commencing work here was for Keith and Jenny to arrive in March – just before Easter – and to hold their first services over the Easter weekend. This plan had to be departed from when it was discovered Jenny required major surgery. Her surgery took place in mid-April and towards the end of that month they arrived in Alice Springs.
They held a meeting with their contacts and a couple of other interested people on the 5th May. At this meeting it was decided to hold weekly services at 5pm commencing 12th May. 8 people attended that first service. Since then, several others have joined that group and all have been encouraged by a steady stream of visitors.
We, the PIM, are grateful to Phil and Cathy Stuart and the AIM for the support they have given Keith and Jenny not just in providing the facility but more importantly in their friendship and encouragement in this work.
This small congregation is being blessed by our Lord and we meet here tonight for the official Commencement Service to declare they are a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and thus encouraging them by reminding them they are not alone but stand in a great tradition of Christian witness, and to persevere in the work they have begun.
12 months later – June 2014
The congregation has now been established for 12 months and is showing a steady increase in numbers and spiritual maturity. We have been blessed with some new folks who have come to Alice mainly for jobs at the hospital. They have a genuine love for God and His work here in central Australia. Many of the new doctors and nurses at the hospital are Christians and this we believe is the start of a mighty work by God in AS. Please pray that they will be encouraged and strong in their witness.
April saw the long-awaited visit from the students from Christ College, Sydney. We all had a great time and they saw a different side to ministry and ministry in a remote location. While they were here, God smiled on them and us and sent the rain. The Todd River flowed and according to local tradition you are considered a local when you have seen this event 3 times so Keith and I and they are now on the way to being locals. Maybe God in His planning will send some of them back some time. At the very least they will be good ambassadors for the work here.
Keith has performed his first wedding at a place called Rainbow Valley, 100 kms south of here. This was followed soon after by a second wedding when the Ulysses Club was in town for their AGM – over 1000 motor bikes. Keith was asked to marry one of these couples and he also conducted a church service for them on the Sunday.
We have a small Bible study group meeting weekly. This struggles as most of the attendees are shift workers and thus their attendance is spasmodic. Pray for this small group. There have been some regular attendances from aboriginal folks and as they enjoy outdoor services, we are having a service monthly around the fire beside the church. This is very welcome on a cold frosty morning.