How time flies! The Mount Barker ecclesia will be thirteen years old on 11 March 2007, and it is astonishing to look back over those years and consider how our members and their families have grown, how the ecclesial world has changed, how the nations have careered on toward Armageddon! May the Lord Jesus come soon!

Small Beginnings

The Mount Barker Christadelphian Ecclesia began in a small way with a preaching initiative launched in 1992 by some brethren and sisters living in the Adelaide Hills, supported by their extended family and friends. However, when it became clear to us that we were serious about lighting a new lampstand in the Hills, we sought the sponsorship of the Cumberland ecclesia. This ensured that we were from the beginning understood to be operating with the blessing and support of surrounding ecclesias. Any questions about our attitude to other ecclesias, or our own bona fides, would have been a most unwelcome distraction and we were keen to do whatever was necessary to enjoy a good understanding with all local ecclesias from the beginning. But Cumberland’s support was more than nominal. Representatives of the Arranging Brethren attended each of our fortnightly Business Meetings until we were established, and we benefited from their practical experience of ecclesial life and wise advice.

Our Chosen Approach—Open Hearts and Open Ears

Our philosophy was inclusive from the beginning. Our members came from a number of Adelaide ecclesias and we endeavoured to embrace Paul’s inspired vision of the worldwide family of God. Over the years we have welcomed visitors from every Adelaide ecclesia and our members return the fellowship, frequently visiting with or speaking at ecclesias across the city. There have been many benefits to us in this open engagement. A wide circle of friends brings warm and welcome fellowship, fresh thinking and diverse perspectives, teaching us to live together patiently and requiring us to examine our thinking repeatedly to ensure that it is, to the best of our ability, in line with the Word of God.

In the lead-up to our commencement we took many opportunities to speak with local brethren and also enjoyed input from Brethren Harry Tennant and Michael Ashton. “In a multitude of counsellors is wisdom”, as Solomon so truly said: and the ongoing spiritual and practical advice and input we receive from a wide circle is a blessing to the present day.

We were determined to preserve these values as best we could and in the drafting of our Constitution, while drawing on a number of existing models, we took what was then the unusual step of documenting the reasons for the formation and existence of the ecclesia:

  • to glorify God by building in love from individual members a harmonious and fruitful Body, holding Christ Jesus as the Head;
  • to preach the gospel of God; and
  • to come together in one place for the Breaking of Bread, as the Lord Jesus and the apostles commanded.

We also set out our vision for our ecclesia. It has continued to develop over time, and as it presently reads, affirms that, “by the grace of God, we will diligently endeavour to build an Ecclesia that

  • is God-centred
  • is active in prayer, praise and worship
  • learns from and conforms to the Word of God
  • is caring and supportive
  • is a place where members are refreshed, built up, encouraged and strengthened
  • is diligent in communicating the gospel
  • is faithful to the truth
  • is faithful to its Christadelphian heritage
  • looks beyond its own walls, showing love unto all, especially to the household of faith; and
  • is moving single-mindedly toward the Kingdom of God.”

It is much easier to say these things than to do them! We would certainly not claim that we have been any better than any other ecclesia at living up to our ideals. Nevertheless, to put our vision in writing has been very helpful and we have frequently referred back to this clause when working through issues or ideas.

The Constitution also contains explicit references to Scripture attached to most clauses, together with references to the wise advice of Brother Robert Roberts in A Guide for Ecclesias as appropriate. Our Constitution states clearly, “This Constitution does not replace the Scriptures as the rule of faith and conduct, in personal or ecclesial matters; and in case of any conflict, the Scriptures shall override this Constitution.” Since the writing of Elpis Israel Christadelphians have turned to the Bible as the final authority: and while we value the legacy of positive traditions that have built up over the years, we must never build on any other foundation than the Word of God and the Commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ, the living Word.

Members One of Another

It is fascinating to look back and remember the early years in the side hall of the Littlehampton Peace Memorial Institute, where we continue to meet today; the opening studies with Brother John Martin; Bible Classes in the home of Brother Leigh and Sister Sherree Samwell; preaching events, study series and prophecy days arranged jointly with a number of local ecclesias, including Adelaide, Cumberland, Southern Vales and Happy Valley; the volunteer fund, supporting members in annual mission visits to Nepal, and the involvement of others in Vanuatu and Latvia; an early interest in the welfare of our destitute brethren and sisters in Eastern Europe, strongly and generously supported by a host of individual brethren and sisters and many ecclesias across Australia, and continuing in Kazakhstan and Romania today, with the blessing and support of the CBM. We recognize that there are particular needs for funding and personal involvement in areas for which South Australia is primarily responsible: nevertheless, we believe that there are great benefits from not being confined too narrowly to one particular space.

It is so important for all ecclesias to think beyond their own four walls! All of us are interconnected members of God’s great family. ‘No man is an island, entire of itself’—and no ecclesia is, either. We ought to feel a great affection for and a deep sense of responsibility toward our brethren and sisters wherever they meet. For this reason we have always endeavoured to engage widely—for example, by having a broad speaking list; by joining the IEAC, the ACC and its successor organization, the AACE; by being quick to adopt the brotherhood’s new hymnbook; by encouraging our members to read widely; by participating in combined activities; by focusing and refocusing on the Unity Basis—such an appropriate name! It is not enough to theorise about being “one body”: we must demonstrate our commitment to this first principle by genuine engagement with and practical love toward our brethren and sisters and their ecclesias.

Joys, Disappointments and Challenges

There were early joys, early disappointments and early challenges. We were particularly thrilled when Sister Mary Grindley appeared out of nowhere. For practical reasons she had been isolated from her home meeting for a couple of decades. She appeared unexpectedly at one of our lectures—a lost coin which rolled home all by itself! With the consent of Woodville, the meeting of which she was then formally a member, we joyfully received her into fellowship with us.

Her life was not an easy one, but we were again thrilled to baptise her husband Colin. After holding the truth at a distance for many years with various excuses, Colin unexpectedly emerged from the bedroom with two Bibles on New Year’s Day, and announced that from now on, he and his wife were going to do the daily readings together. He had an urgent desire to learn, and one session a week with Brother Murray Lund quickly became two, and more, with extra reading in between, as he single-mindedly lapped up the truth he had held off for so many years. He had a mild heart attack at the Bible Class at which his application for baptism was announced, and, concerned about his health, we decided to take the edge off the chilly water in the baptismal bath by heating it. Of course, it is one thing to test the water with your hand—another thing to sit in it for several minutes. As soon as we lowered Colin into the bath his thick, heavy glasses misted over, his bushy eyebrows shot up, his skin went bright pink, and turning to us with a shocked expression, he whispered urgently, “It’s pretty hot!” Not realizing how hot it really was we proceeded blithely with the baptism, and nearly parboiled him. He emerged from the bath as red as a lobster, and according to some reports it took him a week to cool down! We are all too human, and funny memories like these help us to keep things in perspective.

Colin was a brother for only six months. Although he did not know it at the time of his baptism, he was terminally ill with cancer, which was diagnosed a few months later. He ‘sleeps in Jesus’ at the Mount Barker Cemetery, awaiting the Lord at his return. After transferring to the Salisbury Ecclesia for some years, Sister Mary has recently moved to live with her daughter in isolation at Hamilton, Victoria. If people are travelling through the area, it would be a kindness to look her up.

Our membership started at twenty-four, but dwindled to nineteen as some members returned for personal reasons to their original ecclesias. Now, however, we have sixty-eight members, twenty teenagers and forty children in our Sunday School: so we have learned a valuable lesson not to count heads, but to concentrate on building the ecclesia, in the knowledge that God will prosper our efforts as it pleases Him, if we first put our trust in Him.

We were also confronted with two fellowship issues in our early years, one a sad case of a brother who drifted away from God and his brethren, and eventually lost his faith altogether: the other a complex and serious case of sinfulness. We maintain contact as we can, and hope and pray that eventually the lost will be found again.

There has been some additional sadness through death, but the resurrection is an important aspect of our great hope, and we look forward in the near future, God willing, to embracing those who have died.

Keeping the Vision Alive

All human institutions tend to run down hill: and an ecclesia would be no different if it did not constantly refresh its vision and practice from the Word of God. We have found it helpful to celebrate our ‘birthday’ every year with a weekend of studies in the middle of March, as a way of challenging ourselves to remember our ideals and renew our commitments to God and His Son.

We have also found it helpful to review our practice from time to time and adjust it where we believe we can make helpful changes. Recently, for example, we have changed our platform arrangements so that the speaker sits with the congregation, except while he is speaking. As important and necessary as the word of exhortation is for all of us, the memorial of the Lord’s self-sacrifice must be the central focus of our meeting. It also helps the speaker to feel himself an integral part of the body. We have recognised a need to become more openly prayerful for each other, and we are also focused at present on recovering our energy for the work of preaching. There is always value in reviewing what we do and the reasons for it, so that all things might tend to glorify our Father which is in heaven.

But over and above these details we must keep in view God’s grand vision for His people: that we should be members of each other, interdependent organs and sinews knit together in love, holding the Head, and growing up in love into him. In these days, when the relationships which have bound human society together for millennia are breaking down, and people are becoming increasingly self-centred and self-isolated, may God help us all to maintain a warm affection for His Son and for each other, and a deep sense of shared responsibility for holding and projecting the true light, preserving intact the fabric of His house, carrying the gospel torch, and ministering to each other’s needs in sincerity and truth.

The words of Brother John Thomas are a clarion call to renew our love for God, His Word and His people, as relevant today as when they were first penned 160 years ago, in The Herald of the Future Age of 1846:

“A church of Christian disciples is an assembly of persons who believe the things of the Kingdom of God, and of the Name of the Lord Jesus, and, thus believing, have been immersed into Christ and patiently continue in the faith and well doing of their vocation, reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting all things revealed in the scriptures of truth. Such were the disciples first called Christian at Antioch. These Christian disciples shone as lights in the world, holding forth the Word of Life. They counted not their lives dear unto them: but hazarded everything, reputation, liberty, wealth and friends, for the Word’s sake. Their treasure was in heaven; therefore their anchor was within the veil. The icy coldness of their old nature was thawed into the genial sympathies of the new man by the benevolence of God. Heart clung to heart, and hand joined in hand, the expressive symbol of unity and love. We want to behold a Church of Christian Disciples such as these” (The Faith in the Last Days, p237).

May God help us to realise this vision, and be “a people prepared for the Lord” at his coming, so that the Son of Man might find us united in an authentic and practical faith, hope and love.