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The Congregational way is extremely ancient and goes back to the Jewish synagogue and the independent churches founded in New Testament times. Unlike most religious bodies we cannot look back to a human founder because our origins are lost in the mists of the middle ages. We look back particularly to the lectureships which were organised by the English trade guilds and the movement of popular piety which was associated with a group known as the Lollards.

We generally regard the first Congregational Church as the church gathered at the Plumbers Hall in London in 1567, and our early intellectual leadership was provided by scholars of the University of Cambridge, among whom Robert Browne, John Greenwood, Henry Barrowe and John Penry were foremost. Greenwood, Barrowe and Penry were martyred in 1593, after which several Congregational Churches took refuge in the Netherlands where there was freedom of religion.

Part of the congregation from Scrooby in north-east England provided the nucleus of the Pilgrim Fathers who settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620.

Back in England, the early Congregationalists were firm supporters of the Parliamentary cause in the civil war and during the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell became an important force in the land. Towards the end of this period they produced one of the great statements of the Christian faith which is known as the Savoy Declaration.

Upon the return of Charles II the Congregationalists were persecuted but bore up strongly until better days arrived with the overthrow of the Stuart monarchy.

In the closing years of the eighteenth century, the London Missionary Society was founded by Congregationalists and others. Missionaries of the Society bound for the Pacific were first Christian j preachers other than the convict chaplains in Australia. Sydney became a principal base of missionary endeavour and in due course ministers for settled congregations were sent from England by the Colonial Missionary Society.

Unlike some other groups the missionaries - from what was then the London Missionary Society - left it to the Pacific peoples to determine whether or not they would accept the Christian faith and this produced great debate on some of the islands, notably those of Samoa where the decision to accept the new religion was not taken lightly. Having once made the decision the people of Samoa threw themselves into spreading the word throughout the Pacific and Samoan pastors took the gospel to many of the islands, including those of Torres Strait where the LMS had only just arrived from New Caledonia. The arrival of the preachers is still celebrated by the annual "Coming of the Light" celebration.

Congregationalists have been in Australia for a long time: they were second only to the Anglican chaplains and during the 1790s made Sydney Town their base for the evangelisation of the Pacific.

Among the European settlers of what was then the Moreton Bay District of New South Wales, Congregationalism goes back to the 1840s when Rev Edward Griffith from Wales came out to pastor a little congregation at Ipswich. He was the first of many ministers sent out by the Colonial Missionary Society of London. Griffith's stay in Ipswich was short but he went on to an esteemed ministry of thirty years in Brisbane. and his son Sir Samuel Griffith became State Premier, father of the federal constitution and first Chief Justice of Australia. The graves of father and son are both in Toowong Cemetery. Sir Samuel's is splendidly maintained by the State of Queensland and people from Pilgrim Church provide an occasional working bee to tidy the tomb of his father.

The Congregational churches in Queensland formed themselves into the Congregational Union in 1861.

During the 1970s Australian Congregationalists moved to join with the Presbyterian and Methodist Church and in June 1977 the Uniting Church of Australia came into existence.
However some Congregationalists wished to maintain their tradition of congregational governance. In Queensland, they formed the Queensland Congregational Fellowship which came into existence at the same time the Uniting Church was inaugurated, maintaining an unbroken link with the Congregational heritage.

Nevertheless members of the Fellowship, while wishing to be allowed to continue the independence of their congregastions, also desire to be a part of the universal Christian church. The Fellowship is a member of Queensland Churches Together and part of the Congregational Federation of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, which in turn is a member of the National Council of Churches.

A great development within Queensland Congregationalism over recent years has been the growth of Samoan Churches, some of which are directly linked with the mother-church in Apia and some of which are part of the Fellowship.

 
 
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