A In 1989 Kathy and I brought three small children to St Thomas’ and that brought the total to five or six. The church was not conducive to children – in fact we were told that greeters at the door would sometimes say to families who arrived with children ‘this is probably not the best church for you’.
To take some of the over-formality out of the morning service and to make children feel more welcome we introduced the ‘message to children’ quite early in 1990. The three, four, five or six children would come to the front and get a brief word – which everyone received very well. I’ve often reflected on the fact that 1500 Sundays later we could have collected hundreds of terrific talks for children but most of them have been forgotten. Some memorable ones are:
- A bear that travelled across the church on fishing line – invisible to adults – that was impressive!
- A lesson on ‘power’ using helium balloons when the black balloon (the devil) escaped its noose and rose to the roof (annoying!)
- A live sheep brought down the aisle to teach the lost sheep lesson.
- And the clever creative skills of Ali Macintosh putting hours into talks that take minutes.
B Over the years we have had five or six children’s workers who have each invested terrific talent and commitment to make the children learn, grow and follow Jesus. The youth leaders too have been outstanding – but it took longer to put on a youth pastor. Most of the early youth leaders were part time and lay positions. To see now the Sunday School and Youth Ministry have close to one hundred each on their rolls is a great joy.
C On the early 1990’s we introduced something called “Spring School”. This was the brainchild of one of the wardens (Chris Bellenger) and it was designed to stretch us as a church by having four evenings in September where we come together to hear a heavyweight teacher – cancelling all small groups.
Over the years we had visitors like Dr Bob White (Reformation), Dr Matthew Sleeman (Acts), Dr Bill Dumbrell (Covenant) but one of the most memorable was the visit of author Jerry Bridges from America. Jerry (and his sweet wife Jane) responded to my letter and joined us for about three weeks – teaching four Tuesday nights on “Faith” and preaching some Sundays. He preached on his “hero” – Enoch – who “walked with God”. It was a wonderful visit and they loved their time with us as much as we loved having them. Why don’t we have a “Spring School” each year? I think the busyness of life began to make such a series less of a draw card.
D In 1996 St Thomas’ turned 150 years old. Of course the building we meet in was not 150 but it was 150 years since the first St Thomas’ was built on the site. The first building was designed by the painter Conrad Martens (who sailed on the Beagle with Charles Darwin and was the first church warden with William Clarke the Rector in 1846). The original church was “built over” by the present church and then the old one dismantled and taken out the doors to make some houses. When those houses were dismantled one family souvenired a stone and kept it for decades in their garden. The owner rang me just before we turned 150 and asked if we would like it. So the one stone left from the first church now sits on the hill near the tree that Archbishop Harry Goodhew planted in August 1996 to commemorate the 150th anniversary. You can see it with a plaque attached in the ground near the tree (south east corner of church). We had plenty of special events for that 150th and in 2021 when St Thomas’ turns 175 you might plan something too.
E When the Lord was at work quickening St Thomas’ we had our share of strange interruptions. One Sunday a deranged man walked into the service painted green and red. He walked right up to the front and thankfully John Dorter (a boxer by background) escorted him firmly out. We had others disrupt services and a man threatened to kill me one Sunday with the gun in his bag because I’d not persuaded John Howard to release him from jail!
This ‘battle’ we occasionally felt was easily outweighed by the spiritual blessings that the Lord gave us. There were times when very ordinary sermons had extraordinary effects. People would be in tears after sermons – I remember one woman (quite rational and sensible) buckling at the knees under the impact of God’s word. Truth was seen to be truth and Jesus was seen to be Lord of all.
I’ve often reflected on the spiritual battle that we face now – not as obvious as it has been but in some ways more insidious. Someone once said that it is in the poorer world the devil works overtime to destroy – in the richer world he leaves it to our idols.
Many years ago in England I was preaching on the armour of Ephesians 6. I was stuck to know what to say beyond the obvious (“put on the armour”) and I asked my senior minister what it meant. He called back from his office “we don’t believe it brother – did you get ready for a battle this morning?” Exactly. And yet the Lord Jesus is our armour and strength. In the past, present and future.