A meeting was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Chorley in 1927, to plan the steps necessary to establish a Congregational church at Cheltenham. Congregational churches are protestant Christian churches in which each congregation acts independently and autonomously in its affairs. The church does not subscribe to any particular creed. Members are encouraged to think through their faith issues. The members have often been involved in social reform issues such as temperance, women’s suffrage and during the 1960’s locally in anti-war activism, participating in moratorium issues associated with the Vietnam War.
Congregational members believe their model of church governance is patterned on the early churches, allowing a more direct relationship with God.
Present at this meeting were the Revds. Dr .Dey and Sibree, together with Messrs. Chapman, Riddle, Walker, Dickerson, Kench, Preston, Taylor and Christmas.
There was a generous offer from Mr. and Mrs. Chorley to donate a site for the new church and one thousand, five hundred pounds towards a building fund together with other financial considerations, including ten shillings for each pound, of the first one thousand pounds contributed by others. There was ‘hearty support’ from the Epping area and residents were in sympathy with the idea to establish a church of the ‘non-episcopal order’. It was agreed to get ‘sketch plans’ and hold another meeting for local residents as ’all had not been invited ‘ to this meeting.
A local architect(at that stage records do not say who) was engaged to build a 60ft by 40ft building, ‘outer walls to be completed and a partitioned divide, 14ft by 40ft in the interior ‘ for the Sunday School and vestry’.
The foundation stone was laid on April 9th, 1927 by Mrs. Chorley. The ladies guilds of Epping and Pennant Hills together with local ladies made afternoon tea. Fifty pounds was donated for an organ fund.
The church opened for service on September 17th, 1927. An organ was purchased for one hundred and twenty pounds. A pulpit and seats were purchased from Pyrmont Church and reconditioned. The furnishings of the church ‘and all appointments’ were provided at the time of the opening. On Sunday 2nd October a Sunday School was formed with four teachers and sixteen scholars. Pastoral oversight was undertaken by Rev. Dr. R. Dey and Rev. R.S. Chapman of Pennant Hills. On 1st December 1927 a fellowship was formed with thirty members signing the covenants. The total cost of the church building was two thousand seven hundred and fifty seven pounds. The allotment of land on the north side was purchased at a cost of three hundred and fifty pounds to be used later as a manse site. A ‘substantial stone and iron fence’ was erected in 1927 in front of the church.
Church archives of minute books and ladies guild reports convey a thriving church as the depression and war years were responded to. However one prominent member of the congregation, Marie Byles, a local solicitor, and known for her activism in environmental issues, wrote to the church council that ‘the church was not meeting ethical or spiritual needs. People find help towards a better life in different ways and it is better we part company’. Miss Byles did however conclude by offering her help in any way she could.
The war years saw many local men enlist for service while the war effort, took its toll on those at the ‘home front’. Rationing was imposed on all. Everyone who could, had extra duties.
There were drills for the men who had regular training for air raids. Evening searchlight duties after a day’s work were done by both men and women. Much of this was done by locals as night time attacks on train lines out of Sydney were the main arteries between capital cities and to Newcastle where steel making was important to the war effort. Women made camouflage netting and knitted comforts such as balaclavas and socks for the soldiers as well as creating food parcels to be sent to Europe. The clergy had the duty of accompanying the telegram boy to any home where a message was to be delivered .Amongst the rejoicing when peace was declared, there was community exhaustion from the war effort. Many began reappraising their faith following such a catastrophic loss of life.
The annual routine of fundraising fetes continued .In 1946 Rev. Wells took over parish duties. He remained for ten years. During these years, there were occasional combined meetings with Epping and Cheltenham Congregational churches. In October 1956 parish records note that Cheltenham had two pianos. There was an appeal for donations to the War Memorial hall. Other activities mentioned are the ‘annual every person canvass’ held during November and the Harvest Festival service. Donations were also requested for the proposed televising of services.
By 1957 at the annual church meeting it was noted that ‘no more than three thousand pounds be borrowed at any one time’ for the War Memorial Hall. In December of that year it was decided to demolish the old hall. The new one would be built by the end of May, the following year. The congregation was reminded that a manse would have to be supplied if the parish required a second minster.
During the years between 1959 till 1984, a backbone of the local church was provided by Maynard Davies and his wife Ruth. Maynard was a lay preacher, being the son of a Congregational minister. Maynard used to make regular radio broadcasts called ’The Pilgrim’. The Davies were active during the many years of discussion and negotiations involved in the proposal to form a union between Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist churches whose congregations chose to amalgamate. It was not done hastily and all aspects were thoughtfully and prayerfully considered. The Davies went overseas to attend World Council of Churches conferences. When the Vietnam war became a contentious issue with a lottery type draft ,the Davies, along with many other local families particularly the Quaker families who lived locally, became involved in moratorium activities. Regular meetings were held locally with one result being the formation of The Australia Party which fielded candidates for the forthcoming election. This party evolved into the Christian Democrat party.
The Women’s Fellowship kept up a busy programme of sewing days particularly to support the White Russian refugees, now seeking a new home after war torn years. They sent donations to the Temperance Alliance and World Refugee Appeal. Funds were also raised having an afternoon to watch a flower arranging demonstration on Mr. and Mrs. Maynard Davies new TV set .Button selling for charities also occupied time selling at railway stations morning and night. A function was held listening to ‘a delightful collection of Christmas carols on the radiogram’. Second hand clothing was collected for the work with the White Russian refugees. Christmas parcels containing talc, plum pudding, am were packed for migrant families. Pillow cases and nighties were made, also boxer shorts for men for inclusion in the parcels. Dresses were made to be sent to Aboriginal women. Cheltenham had a migrant family living in the manse. Twenty five bags of home - made biscuits were packed for the elderly women at Hammondville. The 1960’s reports show what a busy decade it had been and mention two new fund raisers-theatre parties and Tupper wear parties. There is also mention in parish records of a discussion held to discuss the continuation of the youth fellowship. Mrs Ruth Davies was elected president of the Women’s Fellowship of NSW.
In 1968, discussion held with West Epping ,Epping and Cheltenham regarding the future of the three congregations. Having tried to share one minister for three parishes, it was obvious the West Epping had the most need of the minister’s time as they had no other church in the area .However it was pointed out that there would be difficulty for the three areas to get together for most regular activities. Epping and Cheltenham would not receive enough of the minister’s time.
It was proposed in September 1968 to discuss the commencement of united inter-denominational parishes in the area. Cheltenham was already in discussion with Beecroft Methodist and Presbyterian churches. It was time for serious negotiations for local union. At this time it was noted ‘discontinuance of membership’ of several stalwart families in the congregation.
The careful but necessarily lengthy process culminated in formal merging with the Methodist Church to become the Uniting Church. Congregation members wishing to remain Congregationalists could transfer to Epping.
The attractive church was deconsecrated and a lease signed in 1975 between Epping District Congregational churches and Alan Cedric Swale of Castle Howard Rd .Cheltenham to ‘lease church fixtures, fittings and furniture and to use toilets and conveniences erected on the land. Monthly rental was set at one hundred pounds monthly for the purpose of a craft centre to be known as The Cheltenham Craft Centre where Mr Wale planned to hold classes in woodcraft, weaving, leatherwork, enamelling and sketching .Letters on file from Mr. Wale tell of his struggle to find suitable teachers for his classes and the difficulty of covering his costs.
Soon after it was proposed to sell the church and K. G. Hurst, local estate agent was approached. The Northern District Education Centre Co-op negotiated a price of seventy eight thousand dollars. Hornsby Shire Art Society showed interest in hiring the building every month ,also for exhibitions and painting classes. There was an enquiry from the Beecroft and District Gardening Club .It was proposed to have daytime floral arrangement classes and also for ikebana. For some years it was a resource centre for education purposes, finally coming under the control of Hornsby Shire Council who allowed it to become the home for the Golden Kangaroos bands.
In the years since 2010,with state government plans for high rise development ,any spare land in the proximity of the railway stations was earmarked for sale. Now in 2015 there is a sign stating the forthcoming auction date of the land and property despite local protests to preserve the attractive building as a reminder of the past.
Catherine Bartho 2015 Beecroft Cheltenham History Group