The Story of St Mark’s
The history of St Mark’s Lutheran Congregation at Mount Barker has been recorded not for all to read, reminisce, and relax, but rather to help us to remember how beautiful God has been, to rekindle zeal and determination shown by the founding members in establishing this congregation and finally to reach out in a manner never seen in Mt Barker before.
The heading “A Venture in Faith” is not just something picked out for the occasion but it seems to emphasise the spirit upon which this congregation has grown since 1958. A few quotes would be in order:
IN FAITH … The people of Hahndorf decided to hold services in Mt Barker (an area even in 1958 not particularly sympathetic to the “German” church).
IN FAITH. Land was purchased and the church hall built without any seemingly feasible way of paying for it.
IN FAITH. The members decided to hold a 3 month Venture in Faith program which is still believed by many to be a real turning point in the spiritual growth of the congregation.
IN FAITH … The manse and Sunday School rooms were built to meet the needs of the area.
IN FAITH … Members decided to build their own church at a time when the cost of such a building seemed beyond resources.
IN FAITH … A Primary School was established to further cater for the spiritual and social growth of the young in the community.
In all these examples and many others not mentioned the success or accomplishment of them was not the result of efforts or organisation of mere people but “To God Be the Glory”. He in His own time and way granted His blessings.
The congregation has grown from a child of the mother church “St Paul’s” into adulthood. Will we now accept all the responsibilities and challenges that lie before us and perhaps even think of establishing our own daughter church in the future? Will we continue to “Venture in Faith”, in that God’s ways are not always our ways, but that whatsoever we plan to do in the future, we will remember the words in Romans 12:11, “Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord”.
A Venture in Faith
The Lutheran Congregation at Mount Barker began as an outreach from St Paul’s congregation in the neighbouring town of Hahndorf. Mount Barker was one of the oldest towns in the Adelaide Hills, the centre of the first special land survey undertaken in the country districts of the colony of South Australia in 1838. It had congregations of most of the major churches: the Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist, all within a few blocks of each other near the centre of the town, and with a number of comfortable double-storied homes set on estates, and its streets lined with plane, oak, and elm trees, it was a very ‘English’ town.
The Lutheran Church, on the other hand, was centred over ‘Windmill Hill’ in the oldest German settlement in the state, Hahndorf, where there were two active congregations. Here services were conducted in German until the second World War, and it was not until after this that Mt Barker could be considered as a missionary field by the Lutherans.
On September 16th 1957, St Paul’s, Hahndorf members had an Evangelism and Stewardship evening where films were shown on how to spread the Gospel. A lengthy discussion followed and this group of men decided to take some action. Two areas were considered as fields ripe for development, Bridgewater and Mt Barker. (Bridgewater at that time was considered to have the greater potential.) These men canvassed the areas and realised that services should be organised to which they could invite contacts.
1st Service Founders Room, Mt Barker Institute, Sunday 15/12/1957.
Three months later, on Sunday December 15th, the first service was held at Mt Barker in the Founders Room of the Institute, attended by 50 people. Mrs V. Wittwer served as organist and Pastor C.J. Pfitzner led the service. Services continued there and although attendances were small, they showed that there was the possibility of expansion. Officials of the S.A. District were not impressed with a new field opening without the necessary approval and a deputation from the Home Mission Committee (Pastor F.W. Stolz and Brother A.G. Pfeiffer) came early in January 1958 as a result of the report furnished by Pastor Pfitzner.
At a duly convened meeting of the St Paul’s congregation, Hahndorf, on January 19th 1958, the following resolution was passed unanimously: “That this congregation support the move for expansion in the Adelaide Hills and ask the Home Mission Committee to provide help for the Pastor of the Parish”. After consultation with Pastor Pfitzner the Home Mission Committee decided that a Pastor be called to serve the centres at Mt Barker and Bridgewater. In due course a call was sent to Pastor L.P. Doecke of Murray Bridge, who was serving the Lower Murray Mission Field. He accepted and was installed as assistant Pastor at Hahndorf on March 16th, 1958. A house at Stirling was purchased at a cost of $7100 (£3,550) and was dedicated as a manse a week later.
The Founders Room of the Mt Barker Institute was not very conducive to worship and permission was sought from St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church to hold services on a regular basis and this was generously agreed to. On June 1st 1958, after a service conducted by Pastor L.P. Doecke, a meeting was held by those present to decide whether to form a congregation. Pastor C.J. Pfitzner, who had been recently elected President of the S.A. District UELCA, appealed to those present to ask themselves whether they “ought not align themselves with this movement, which was surely a God-pleasing one”. They then voted to form a congregation, and became foundation members.
It can be seen from the list that the Lutheran Church was no longer a ‘German’ church, for there were a number of people with English names here, and all spoke English. These members also considered a constitution for the new congregation and decided that all members, both male and female, over the age of 18 be entitled to vote. The new congregation was called St Andrew’s, and had 29 confirmed members and 51 souls.
At the beginning, Sunday School was only held on Sundays when there was a service, but it was soon considered to be more desirable to hold it every Sunday. Fifteen children attended regularly at this early stage and the first teachers were Mr Reg Gallasch, Mrs Wagnet, Mrs Betty Sickel and Mr Milton Page.
By November 1958, the new congregation had a crucifix, candlesticks and communion vessels, all donated by members of the congregation and a member at Hahndorf. These furnishings are all still in use. One member donated a Devotion Book to be given to the first adult to be confirmed (this is believed to be Bill Hoare, who was confirmed that November), Hymn books for the use of visitors and the offering plates were also donated by various families.
Purchase of Land
During the first couple of years from the founding of the congregation, members and officials looked at many blocks of land in Mt Barker for a suitable one on which to build a church. As Pastor Doecke wrote in a Parish Messenger,
“we have inspected many sites and sights, prices are considerably higher than expected but after another inspection by higher church authorities in the near future, we anticipate a ‘full steam ahead’ movement.”
Eventually, land was purchased on December 10th 1959, on Albert Road running through to Howard Lane. It was bought from a Miss Davis for £1,250 and included an old house which Mrs Davis and her sister vacated in the middle of 1960. (It was suggested that this old house be used for the Sunday School.) A similar block costing $1,000 (£500) was also purchased.
Negotiations were undertaken by officials of the UELCA, S.A. District, and members of Mt Barker congregation did not at first know of the purchase. High hopes were entertained for the site, and it was said in the Messenger,
“The remainder of the property lends itself ideally for a Hall, Church, tennis courts, swimming pool and anything else considered necessary by American standards for a successful church unit.”
However, it was later found to be unsuitable. On February 2nd 1961, Pastor L.P. Doecke received a letter from Mrs Coral Stephenson, offering land on Hampden Road, her property ‘Brierlea’. She estimated that the property could be divided into five building blocks at $1,000 (£500) per block. It was an excellent site, overlooking the town, and it was purchased during 1961. The Albert Road blocks were sold sometime after 1962 for the sum of $4,000 (£2,000).
Adelaide Hills — Bremer River Parish
In November 1959, Salem and Callington congregations decided to officially join Bridgewater and Mt Barker congregations to form the Adelaide Hills-Bremer River Parish.
Pastor Doecke, who had worked hard to have a church built at Mt Barker, accepted a call to serve at the South Kilkerran Parish. He wrote in his Annual report in April 1961:
“After very serious and anguish-filled consideration we felt constrained to accept the second call sent to us from the South Kilkerran Parish. Although the three years have only just elapsed, I honestly felt that a new Pastor would be able to do more successful work, particularly amongst the people living at the two Hills centres. The foundation has been laid, and it should not be long before the benefits are seen, even in a remarkable way.”
These words proved to be prophetic.
Pastor G.E. Prove of Kingaroy, Queensland, accepted the call and was installed on October 8th 1961. He continued to live in the manse at Stirling.
Having come from the tropical warmth of Queensland, the cold of Stirling must have come as quite a shock. He reported in the Messenger for August 1962 that he gratefully received loads of Mallee stumps from some members at Callington. He also found that he had not lost the art of splitting the stumps during 14 years in Queensland, where mallee roots are unknown.
The congregation also worked hard at the task of building a church. A Church Building Fund was set up and special collections were taken up for it. Brother Tom Scott allowed members to cut wood on his property and several successful working bees were held and the proceeds from the sale of the wood was added to the Fund. In addition a sum of $2,000 (£1,000) was allotted at General Synod and $4,000 (£2,000) was made available through the Church Revolving Fund. By December 1961, plans for a church hall had been completed and tenders were being called. In January 1962 the tender of G. O’Malley of Charleston was accepted at a cost of $11,096 (The hall was stage 1 of a three stage project, stage 2 being the manse, and stage 3 a church. At this time it was decided to change the name of the congregation because there was already a St Andrew’s in Mt Barker, and it was changed to St Mark’s Lutheran congregation. The foundation stone of the hall, red granite with polished lettering, was laid on August 5th 1962.
In 1963 Mr O’Malley tendered a price of $800 (£400) to build the toilets but this was deemed too costly. It was decided to sub-contract for this job. The need for toilets became fairly urgent as some time in stormy August, two members had to tie the old ‘Potato Privy’ down before “She blew” as one member put it. The ‘privy’ was transported weekly from a Nairne potato patch for “urgent use only” by the members. Late in 1963 the toilets were completed at a cost of $1,092 (£546) and opened debt free. The Ladies Guild and monies from a fete met the necessary expenses.
Late in 1963 it was decided to relocate the manse since the one at Stirling was at the far end of the parish and this made a lot of extra travel necessary. Mt Barker, as the geographical centre of the parish was considered most suitable for a new site, and it was resolved to build a manse on the existing block in such a way that if necessary, later on it could be sold without causing any interference with the plans of the congregation. At a meeting in April 1964, the members decided to accept the tender of the Mayfair Building Co. of $11,100 (£5,550) for the erection of a manse. The architect, Mr Norm Drogemuller, said that the price included a lockup motor garage, heaters in lounge and study, kitchen cooker, various cupboards and book shelves in the study and a rainwater tank. When the Stirling manse was sold, the money would be channelled towards the Mt Barker manse. The congregation was already heavily committed financially, but they decided to go ahead with the project in faith, with the help of the other congregations in the parish. On September 27th, Pastor L.W. Auricht, Chairman of the Home Mission Committee, officiated at the dedication of the manse.
During 1974, attendances at services were good and overcrowding was fairly frequent. A Building Committee was appointed to have suitable plans drawn up for a possible extension of the church building. In May, plans were presented to the congregation to extend the church hall by about 40 feet, and to add a vestry, at an approximate cost of $6,500 plus $2,900 for the vestry. The plans were accepted, in principle, on the condition that sufficient finance could be raised. A goal was set for $6,000 in gift money and $6,000 in matching deposits from the Lutheran Laymen’s League (i.e. repayable loan money). By October, $2,917 had been received in gifts and promised money, and $1,750 in LLL deposits. A decision was then made that the building extension be deferred until the AGM in March 1975, “due to the present economic climate and lack of cash gifts”.
At the AGM in 1975, the building question was left to the Church Council to keep under constant review. At this stage, the poor condition of the temporary Sunday School rooms was brought to notice. A few months later, the urgent needs of the Youth Fellowship (attendance: 35) were brought to the Church Council. The youth needed a hail which was not also the worship sanctuary. These problems highlighted the urgent requirement for further building, but called into question the adequacy of the plans for church hall extensions to meet these needs.
In September, the Rural Mission Committee, who regularly gave the congregation a small subsidy, asked for representatives of the Church Council to meet with them, to discuss the question of extra buildings. The Committee asked the representatives to investigate these questions:
Does the congregation believe it has a mission for the Lord in Mt Barker?
Does it see scope for growth?
Then the Committee asked them to ascertain the building requirements of the congregation over the next ten to twenty years. In answer to these questions it was found that over the previous five years, baptized membership increased from 250 to 380 (52%) and confirmed membership from 142 to 260 (45%) The Mount Barker community was also projected to double its population of 3,000 over the next ten years, so again there was potential for mission growth.
The architect Mr Norman Drogemuller was contracted and he drew up sketch plans of a separate church building to seat up to 300 persons, which would cost about $90,000.
On November 3rd, 1975, the congregation decided to go forward in faith and have detailed plans and specifications drawn up. At this time Mr Colin Schultz was appointed Chairman of the Building Committee.
On June 20th, 1976, the tender price of $98,150 submitted by Mr T. Sheldrick was accepted. The builder also contracted to provide the sanctuary furniture of lectern, pulpit, font and altar for $3,000 and stained timber pews for just over $8,000. Building commenced on July 5th and the Foundation Stone was laid a month later. By September the walls were topped, but progress was then slowed by a shortage of men to work on the steel fabrication for the roof. This put the building schedule three weeks behind.
In November an Elders meeting did not believe the building could be completed by the deadline, but the builders assured them that they would finish on time. Less than three weeks before the deadline, the roof-decking and girders were finished. Then, just ten days before the opening, the builders found that the acoustic tiles could not be fitted into the main ceiling, so a sprayed-on plaster ceiling was substituted. The tension increased when the carpet ordered from England couldn’t be unloaded from the ship due to a wharf strike. The carpet, for the aisle and sanctuary, eventually arrived the day before the opening and was laid on the Saturday night.
Twenty three weeks after building commenced, the new church was dedicated on December 12th, 1976. The fan-shaped building was unique and impressive. It could seat 200 people in the nave and an additional 100 in the narthex and cry room area. The cream external brick harmonizes well with the church hail and manse, while the internal ivory brick, green carpets and natural timbers provide an atmosphere of warmth and serenity so desirable for worship life. The total cost of the whole project including furniture, fees and preparation of the large car park area, came to $125,000, which was $1,000 under the projected cost, and for this the congregation was thankful.
Pipe Organ History
An Organ Committee had been formed in December 1975 because they believed a stronger organ would be needed in the larger space of the new church in order to give clear leadership to the singing. They inspected all the organs available in SA, including electric organs and second-hand pipe organs. In September, the members of the committee made a weekend visit to the Congregational Church in the Melbourne suburb of Kew to inspect a good second-hand pipe organ.
The organ was originally built in 1889 by Mr Alfred Fuller for £850. At this time the organ was a three manual instrument. In 1921, the console was moved out from immediately under the organ pipes, to the front choir stalls. Long wooden trackers were added to the action. With the passing of time, these trackers made the playing of the organ increasingly difficult. Throughout the years the organ has been noted for its excellent tonal qualities. In 1960, the church deacons and members at Kew, decided to have the organ rebuilt. The contract was let to the firm of Hill, Norman and Beard of Melbourne. Much of the material of the old organ has been incorporated into the new instrument. The specifications have been considerably altered with the purpose of making the organ much more efficient and effective. With electro-pneumatic action, the instrument has proved to be suited to recital work, as well as for normal services of worship. The cost of rebuilding the organ at Kew in 1960, together with additional panelling work, altering of choir stalls and installing three phase motor and blower, was approximately $6,400.
The organ was purchased for the price of $2,750. The organ would, however, have to be rebuilt, including the installation of new components and this would cost $9,500. The organ was rebuilt at Mt Barker by Mr Ross Waters of Adelaide, and it finished up with most of the original 856 pipes and the same rich, resonant sounds. The floor space used by the organ was greatly reduced and a new facade built of nyotah timber. It was dedicated on November 19th 1978 by Pastor Everard Leske..
In 2011 a major renovation was undertaken by Mr Richard Larritt with the manufacture and fitment of a solid state switching system. rebuilding of thumb pistons. new key contacts and wipers and a new power transformer /rectifier. The appeal to fund this work $16,000 was fully subcribed in a short time.