Stanthorpe Presbyterian Church - A Short History

The discovery of tin in 1872 presented tremendous challenges to all the organised Churches in the young Colony of Queensland and particularly on the Darling Downs and Granite Belt. In that year the Rev. Isaac Mackay of Warwick commenced Presbyterian Services, which he passed soon after to the care of the Moderator, the Rev. John McAra, whose ministry appears to have been intended only as a temporary one, but he had the honour of being Stanthorpe’s first resident Minister.

When the first land sales were held on Monday, 10th August 1872, the Presbyterians bought one acre just below the (Wesleyan) Methodists, in Corundum St., for approximately $16. First on the field, the Presbyterian Church grew rapidly, but withered almost as rapidly. In February 1873, the “Border Post and Stannum Miner” drew attention to the fact that the Presbyterians had already supported a minister for many months. This was the same Rev John McAra, apparently an enthusiast who exercised a great personal influence over those of his own persuasion. His flock had built a frame with bark walls and roof as their church, but by May 1873 this had been weatherboarded, gothic windows fitted, and a porch added.

At least some thought had been given to the comfort of parishioners, for other improvements included ‘backing’ the benches in the church: “It is not easy for even strong people to sit, the better part of two hours, upright, without support for their backs.” It does not appear to have been considered that comfort might have suggested a shorter Service! The first wedding in the Church was that of Robert Mungall, the proprietor of a local drapery called “The Working Man’s Friend”, and Jean Farrier Matthews, on 7th December 1872. A photo from this wedding is displayed in the porch of the current Presbyterian Church.

The canny Scots had husbanded their finances well; nevertheless their income for the year was $550.49, while their gross expenditure was $710.00. In the same year a Presbyterian Church was opened at Sugarloaf, the Rev John McAra taking a very active part in civic affairs there. Occasional Services were held in Britannia House at Ballandean. During the 1880’s and 1890’s there are no records of Services continuing, but in 1901 the Rev Richard Kerr of Warwick started monthly Services in Stanthorpe, which he continued until Stanthorpe became a Home Mission station from 1906 to 1922. A succession of ministers built up the Charge until in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s there were eight different preaching places, plus an evening Service in Stanthorpe every Sunday – probably no Charge had more. The first Presbyterian Church building in the town of Stanthorpe was opened in March 1909, on the northern side of Railway Street, between Matthew and Davadi Streets, and that was replaced on a new site in High St. in 1963, but it went to the Uniting Church in 1977.

Early in the 1970’s, like most Charges, there was little interest in ‘Church Union’, but the second vote led to all but three of those eight congregations going to the Uniting Church. Rev. Garth Filmer was minister at that time. However, the remnant rallied under the conviction that the Lord was with them, and together with Warwick and Yangan, and later Clifton and Allora, built up new congregations. Stanthorpe was able to purchase land in the town, and moved two of its three buildings (Glen Aplin and Bapaume) onto the site, in Leslie Parade, on Quart Pot Creek. The third property (at Ballandean) was sold. Clifton and Allora separated from the others. Stanthorpe eventually separated from Warwick and Yangan and became a Home Mission (“Appointment”) Charge once again, with the Rev. Greg Fraser appointed on 1st February, 2000, and a new Manse was built for him and his family, soon after. The Church was debt-free early in 2005.

He remains minister of the Charge as at May 2017, and the Church has been blessed to the point where it was filled to capacity Sunday after Sunday, with attendances in the 90’s. In more recent times, numbers fell into the 40’s, but the Church has struggled, and continues to struggle, to find an effective method of outreach and Kingdom growth for the future. In 2017 we have seen some encouraging signs of blessing, and as we look ahead, we know that God is good, and that He is building His Church; and like Paul, we give “thanks in every circumstance, for this is the will of God for (His people) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:18). Congregational leaders have been called to search the Scriptures, to study and to pray, as the Lord uses the present to equip the Church to serve Him into the future, “telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.” (Psalm 78:4).

Early history in this document was extracted from “The Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland” by Richard Bardon B.A. for The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland, 1949; and “They Came to a Plateau” by Jean Harslett and Mervyn Royle, Girraween Publications, Stanthorpe 1972.