By Steve Weickhardt – Field Staff, Strathfieldsaye, Victoria.
"What do you think of that, Steve?" We stared up at the roof together. I tried to work out the implications of what we saw. None of them were good.
We were looking at the ceiling of St Stephen's Anglican Church in Emu Creek. It had been standing for one hundred and twenty five years. We were focused on a particular section, high above the pulpit and the Lord's Table.
Lesley had found bits of the wood scattered on the floor next to the table as she was setting up for Communion. Above our heads, we could see damaged timber and a panel of the ceiling slightly displaced. As we later discovered, the ceiling was affected by termites and shifting timbers within the roof space.
I knew even then that we were facing an abrupt season of change. I wanted to cry. I wanted to say how unfair this was. But I had a service to lead in fifteen minutes and we needed the members of St Stephen's to see the area of concern so they were all 'in the loop' for the discussions to follow.
I did cry – after the engineer had completed a visual inspection of the building and declared that the building was not fit for public gatherings. I did say how unfair it was – to the LORD in the quietness of my study in the weeks and months afterward and in my heart when the Bishop read out the notice of deconsecration, seven months later.
By the time the Emu Creek site was sold, we were in the midst of complex negotiations. Our new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Uniting and Anglican Churches had to be completed, including new governance and identity for our partnership. A new life was beginning, but we still grieved for the loss of St Stephen's.
The Strathfieldsaye Ministry has experienced dramatic changes since the end of 2013. Some changes had been planned due to the upcoming conclusion of our initial MoU on 31 December 2014. Others, like the loss of St Stephen's as a venue for worship, were definitely unplanned.
Through all of these changes, our eyes have been lifted up beyond church ceilings, beyond denominational negotiations, beyond the daily and seasonal rhythms of worship, to the One who has remained steadfastly faithful throughout. The LORD's promises have been an anchor to us especially when it felt like we were in troubled waters. Whatever happened, we were God's people still and His love is constant. Buildings, and ministers, come and go.
We now have a new name and logo, a new autonomous identity with a new combined Church Council. At the same time, we remain in relationship with local Anglican and Uniting Churches. We are focussed on the future, but we will never forget our heritage.
In the mid-nineteenth century there was one Protestant Christian community in our district. In the 1870s this separated into the Church of England (Emu Creek) and Methodist Church (Sheep Wash Creek, now called Strathfieldsaye). God in His faithfulness has kept His Church alive in the district, and as tough as the last year has been, He has continued to work through His people here to this day. We are excited to see what He has in store for us in the next one hundred and twenty five years.