This article was contributed by Rod Best – he welcomes your additions and corrections!
A short history of the establishment of Beecroft Presbyterian Church
Christianity was brought to Beecroft and surrounding areas with the arrival of Europeans.
Along what is now Pennant Hills Road the earliest European contact took place with a number of farms being established. In the 1790s the largest of these farms belonged to John Macarthur but neighbouring this farm around the Thompson Corner locality were a group of farms occupied by Samuel Marsden, Rowland Hassall, William Lawry and Francis Oakes. Because these men were Christian missionaries or clergy the congregation of grants was called “Missionary Corner.” These men were denominationally either (in contemporary language) Anglican or Methodist. While these farms were owned by these men none of them had their home there.
To the east of these farms, heading along modern day Pennant Hills Road to near the current day reservoir, a government timber getting establishment was constructed from 1816. Convicts who were housed here harvested timber across the district but particularly throughout Beecroft. At its largest, 102 men lived on site in 1820. In 1819 the convicts in their own time built a chapel and one of their number, George Horne, conducted services. Any preacher who visited was allowed to use the chapel and it is known that Revs Thomas Hassall and Walter Lawry did so. It is therefore possible that a Presbyterian elder may also have done so. The establishment closed in 1831.
The first services in the Presbyterian form that are known to have been conducted in Sydney (rather than in Beecroft) were held by the political convict Thomas Muir of Dundee Scotland. He conducted them as an elder of the Church of Scotland. He arrived in 1794 and escaped in 1796. The first regular services were held in the home of Thomas Arndell who, while holding land at Missionary Corner had his home on the Hawkesbury River and a small chapel was built near his home in 1803 at Ebenezer. These services were led by James Mein who had been a seat holder at the Presbyterian Church at Covent Garden London. Under his leadership the families worshipped “by singing the Psalms of David in the Scottish metrical version, reading the holy scriptures with a sermon from some Puritan divine and commending themselves to the Divine blessing in extempore prayer to God, agreeably to the hallowed customs of their native land.”
The first Presbyterian minister did not arrive until 1822 and this man, Rev Archibald McArthur, was located in Hobart, Tasmania.
Within Beecroft closer settlement did not occur until the State Government sold part of the Field of Mars Common to pay for new infrastructure in the form of the northern railway. Land sales east of present day Hull Road in Beecroft and Boundary Road in Pennant Hills started to occur from 1887.
Following these land sales a Presbyterian Minister (Rev Dr David Bruce) was appointed to conduct services from Hornsby although his parish covered the broader area north of St Leonards. A Minister based at Thornleigh (Rev William Herbert Drewett) was inducted there in 1901. Two years later David McCall called a meeting on 7 March 1903 at his home in Copeland Road Beecroft to consider forming a Presbyterian Church in Beecroft. The first service was then held on 5 April 1903 in the Ravenhurst School Hall which stood roughly where the car park behind the liquor store on the corner of Mary Street is now located. The Committee of Management was shortly established comprising 6 men and 7 women. David McCall and James Forsyth were appointed the first elders.
On 17 December 1903 a congregational meeting agreed to purchase the land upon which the church was subsequently built.
Following the resignation of Rev Drewett the parish boundaries were altered to Beecroft, Thornleigh and Carlingford and Rev John Alexander Rainy Brotchie was appointed the first Minister of this new parish being inducted on 26 February 1907 in the Thornleigh Presbyterian Church.
The building for the Beecroft Presbyterian Church was commenced on 19 September 1908 and was opened on 13 February 1909. Its architect was William Nixon, who lived in Malton Road, and the builder was Mr W Brown of Ashfield. A church hall was built in Welham Street (now used as a child care centre) in 1918.
The church was growing and by May 1909 it had 37 communicants growing to 57 in 1915. In 1925 a new branch church was opened in Normanhurst (it having a different session from 1930) with a subsequent church being planted by this congregation at Cherrybrook in 1982.
Originally the main service of the church was held in the evening and a regular morning service was not commenced until 1913.
Youth work was a particular emphasis of Rev Ogilvie and under his leadership camps, picnics and youth activities flourished. He established a branch of the Presbyterian Ladies College in Beecroft – although the school later changed to become the Anglican school known as Arden.
No manse was originally part of the church with the Ministers having their own homes elsewhere within the suburb. Mr Robert Vicars donated the land for the first manse (on the corner of Beecroft Road and Welham Street) in 1935 and the house was built in 1941.
By 1948 the number of communicants had grown to 128. Church organisations continued to grow with a strong ladies group and youth worth work however despite growth in numbers (rising to 194 communicant members in 1958) the church was financially struggling in the mid-1950s.
In the late 1950s and into the 1960s numbers continued to steadily grow and, largely in conjunction with the work of the Billy Graham crusades a Senior Bible Class for young adults was first formed.
Between 1972 and 1977 there were votes across Australia as to whether Presbyterian Churches would combine with other Protestant Churches to form a single new church or to remain a continuing Presbyterian Church. The congregation at Beecroft voted to continue as a Presbyterian Church.
During the time of Rev Paul Cooper as Minister and until the present, the service at 10.30 increasingly became the main service in terms of numbers attending and weekly financial support for the work of the Beecroft church. During this time an evening service has existed intermittently and home groups for bible study and pastoral fellowship have grown.
A ladies fellowship (under various names and organisational structures) has been a strong feature of the church from its establishment until now. Structured groups for men have not had the same history and the Men’s League was not established until the 1950s and did not survive until the present. A new men’s ministry is being formed in 2016.
Ministers (details to be completed)
- 1901-1906 W H Drewett
- 1907-1908 J A R Brotchie
- 1908-1940 A M Ogilvie
- 1940-1956 S Watson
- 1957 H G Durbin
- J Mullen
- M Levine
- 2000-2014 P F Cooper
- 2015 A W Williamson
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