Presbyterian Church (now Crossroads Uniting)Subject
Churches - Werribee (Vic.), St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Werribee (Vic.), Crossroads Uniting Church, Werribee (Vic.),
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A small group of local Presbyterians, many born in Scotland, began meeting in the Anglican Church building, which was built about 1859. Some years later a minister was appointed to look after the small groups in Duck Ponds (Lara), Little River and Werribee, a sizable parish in horse-and-buggy days.
In 1884 Thomas Chirnside laid the foundation stone for a fine bluestone church – which he paid for – on land – which he donated – on the corner of Duncan’s Road and Synnot Street. He provided a manse next door in the same way! (The land remained Chirnside property until 1902, when it was made over to the Church trustees.)
The foundation stone ceremony, on 5 February 1884, was well-attended. Having touched the mortar symbolically with the souvenir silver trowel, and tapped with a mallet three times on the foundation stone once it was lowered into position, Chirnside made a speech to the crowd. He felt that religious and moral education of the young was an obligation that went with ownership of land. ‘He was heartily sick of reading in the Argus day after day of the atrocities committed by young men of the larrikin type, and he trusted that the young people growing up in the Werribee district would never have any of these larrikin tendencies.’
The reporter for the Footscray Independent, was impressed with the building: ‘The new Presbyterian Church, at Werribee, built by Mr. Thomas Chirnside, the worthy squire of Werribee Park, was opened on Sunday last for public worship. The church, which is a very handsome building, is built of bluestone, with freestone facings, having a tower rising from its north-east angle to a height of about 80 feet, and forming a prominent land mark on the plains. Its exterior is very handsome, while its interior is quite in keeping with its outward appearance. The whole cost of the structure was a little over £2,000. A large and commodious manse of bluestone has just been finished, containing eleven rooms. Mr. Chirnside likewise defrayed the expense of the manse, which cost about £1350.’
The church has some distinctive features. On the church steeple is a weather-vane with the initials ‘T.C.’ (for Thomas Chirnside) on it. In the vestry, there is a fireplace, which must have been a boon on cold nights. It is now boarded up to prevent bees from swarming into the vestry. The beautiful triple stained-glass window that can be seen by passers-by in Synnot Street, was formerly behind the worshippers during services. But, since the realignment of the interior, it is now at the front. It was given by Chirnside, along with the beautifully carved pew, still in the church, that was used by the Chirnside family.
A low bluestone fence around the property was built in 1963 with stone from the home of pioneer settler William Leake.
The church reflected the conscience of the time on social issues such as alcohol consumption. According to the Bacchus Marsh Express (Werribee did not have its own paper at that time), the Rev. John McIntosh, M.A. was ‘acting under instructions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria’ when he preached a special Temperance sermon one Sunday morning.
Churches were centres not only for worship but also for social and community activities, and the Presbyterian Church, like most churches in Werribee at this time, provided a range of events. The tennis club played matches against other church and district teams, and there were tea meetings, concerts and picnics. There was a large Sunday school, and its annual picnic – needing volunteer help – involved not only the Sunday school children but their families as well. Typically, there were sports and games of various kinds for the children, and lunch and afternoon tea provided with the help of parents. Events like these were reported, often in great detail, in the newspapers.
The huge flu epidemic of 1919 was felt in churches and most public institutions. In Werribee free inoculations were offered daily at the Shire Hall, and organisations were urged not to hold large, crowded gatherings. The Presbyterian church postponed its harvest services, always popular, indefinitely. But, they advised the community via The Banner, ‘the usual services will be held on Sunday, and as the church is commodious and lofty, it is felt that there is no reason why people should not attend, as usual. Sunday school will be held in the afternoon.’
In 1977 the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches came together in a historic union, and the bluestone Presbyterian church became known then, as now, as Crossroads Uniting Church.
Quoted in The Plains of Iramoo, Esther Murray, 1974, p.82.
Independent (Footscray), 4 October 1884, page 3
Bacchus Marsh Express, 24 September 1898, page 3.
Bacchus Marsh Express, 11 April 1896, page 3.
Werribee Shire Banner, Thursday 30 January 1919, page 2.