by Sally Smith
Belair Baptist – a church plant 50 years on
On 13th and 14th August 2016, friends of Belair Baptist Church past and present will meet to celebrate what God has done in their midst over 50 years. Everyone is invited.
In 1966 change was in the air. Australia’s longest serving prime minister Robert Menzies retired. Decimal currency was introduced. Widespread rains finally broke the 10-year drought which had stricken rural NSW. For the first time clubs, cinemas and sporting events were allowed to sell alcohol and charge admission on Sundays.
In a new housing estate called Belair, 7 km’s out of Newcastle, young families were moving in. Jim Cook of the Hamilton Baptist Church visited new families, and some of them started meeting together in their new homes.
The Belair developer had set aside two adjoining blocks for ‘the building of a church of a protestant denomination’ and Jim Cook, Rev Eric Walsham from Mayfield Baptist and Ted Bowen from Stroud met on site and claimed that land for the Lord. It was prime land, and the developer insisted on a building that would adorn the estate. The financial challenge would be great. “I say we go forward in faith,” Jim said.
And go forward they did. When Belair Baptist Church officially started on 13 August 1966, there were 46 foundation members from 9 different churches, a newly called pastor and a permanent building on Madison Drive Adamstown Heights! What a testimony to what God can do through willing people.
Fast forward to 1981 when it was recognised that a focus on youth was needed to grow the work. It would mean committing to a greatly increased budget to allow for a youth pastor. “I say we go forward in faith” Pastor John Tuckerman encouraged the people, and the church agreed. Ross Britza was called and became Belair’s first youth pastor.
In the coming years, the church thrived and outgrew the buildings. In 1999 Pastor Paul Hubbard announced that services would be moved to the Kotara high school hall. The original buildings were retained for ministries and offices, but the search was on for one large ministry centre.
Eventually, an engineering warehouse just 2 km away became the centre of interest. One Sunday after a morning service there was great excitement as the church wandered around the warehouse. What was seen was a basic concrete block structure, workshop amenities, steel stairs, a mezzanine floor with an overhead crane above, but by faith a future church ministry centre was imagined. At the time the church was also searching for a senior pastor but even without that leadership, the general feeling was ‘I say we go forward in faith.”
On 16 August 2006 at the 40th anniversary of the opening of the original church, the members voted to sell the original building and manse and buy the warehouse. 100 members voted in the secret ballot. The result was 99 for, 1 against.
It was determined that $1.1 million was needed in pledges for the purchase to be possible. The need was put before the people, and when the pledges were added up, they totalled $1.116 from at least 143 people. But, as is not uncommon in these things, much more money was needed than was originally anticipated, in fact, $850,00 more. In the meantime, the global financial crisis had affected many. The finance committee put the challenge “Last pledge Sunday we raised $1.1million possibly without too much pain… We are about to find out how real our faith is. To raise this sum of money in the current circumstances is going to involve real sacrifice, but we can do what we believe God will have us do because, with God, nothing is impossible.”
Again the people gave, and there was more than enough. Everyone shared the joy and wonder at what God had done. The vision of those who had worked to establish the church had passed to the next generation. This younger church was moving forward with faith.
The Madison Drive buildings were sold to a local Korean church, and before the handover, both congregations shared communion in the Kotara high school hall. What joy that the ministry would continue in the place where the original church was planted!
There was a sense that this was more than a relocation of the existing church. It was moving into a new area to take the gospel to new people. A diverse team door-knocked the area introducing the church as ‘your new neighbours’. Over the next year, almost every week there were visitors from the immediate area coming to check out the church. Some of these found or renewed their faith. Connection points with the community, like playtime, Mainly Music, family movie nights and seniors groups were intentionally cultivated. With current pastors Andrew Dawkins and David Morgan, the church moves forward.
As the church anticipates the 50th Anniversary, there is a fresh wave of response to God’s call to local and global mission and a desire to “go forward in faith”. Belair’s current Senior Pastor, Andrew Dawkins notes “The church today is a progressive, visionary and mission oriented Church, with a staff of eight, an outstanding property primed for growth and a dedicated Church family serving God in numerous ways. We build on the foundation of visionary men and women of the last fifty years who could see a fruitful ministry developing in Adamstown and surrounding suburbs. They were right. We pray that the church of today will carry that same visionary heart as we look ahead, under God, to the next fifty years of Belair’s service for him.”
Refer to www.belairbaptist.org.au for more information about the 50th Anniversary celebrations on 13/14th August 2016.