A History of St Peter's
Like Shoalhaven Heads itself, St. Peter's Anglican Church is inextricably linked with the first European settlement in the Shoalhaven.
Streets and place names in Shoalhaven Heads preserve the names of many of those associated with the settlement of Coolangatta which began in the 1820’s. And, the core building of St. Peter’s Anglican Church was first built as a library on the Coolangatta Estate.
In 1946, the Coolangatta Homestead, commenced by Alexander Berry in 1823, was destroyed by fire. The billiard room and library were separate buildings, were saved and the library was moved from its original site to become a hay shed before being ultimately being transported into Shoalhaven Heads to become St. Peter’s Church of England. The term ‘Church of England’ was dropped in the 1970s and was replaced by the word ‘Anglican’.
Regular Church of England Services began in Shoalhaven Heads in 1955, the meeting being held in the Community Hall in Celia Place. That Hall became a Pre-School following the building of the Community Centre in Shoalhaven Heads Road in the mid-1990s.
A Church Building
As Church of England Services continued, many residents felt the need for a permanent Church building. By 1961 the library that had become a hay shed was on a Berry property which came into the hands of Mr. F. A. McIntosh and his son Bruce. Just before the credit squeeze of 1961, the McIntosh family were negotiating the sale of the property to a developer who wanted the land without any buildings on it. At the suggestion of Mr. Bruce McIntosh two or three members of the St. Luke’s Church Committee of Berry went to see the building with a view of moving it to a block of land in Renown Avenue, Shoalhaven Heads. The Renown Avenue site had been given to the Church by Mrs. Woods a few years earlier.
The old building showed distinct possibilities and, after taking the measurements, the Rector of Berry, the Reverend Frank W. Slater, was able to plan for the addition of a sanctuary at the end where the fireplace had originally been, and an entrance porch at the opposite end. Sketches were submitted to Archdeacon Begbie, who approved them and gave permission to make use of the contractor’s jinker, which was in the district at that time, for the removal of the building to the new site.
The original sandstone foundation blocks were also moved and the building was relocated on them. The building was so well constructed that, in spite of its age and two moves, it was as square as the day it was built. Very little of the original pit sawn timber had to be replaced, but a corrugated iron roof did replace the original shingles. In preparation for use as a Church, the original laths and plaster lining were removed by Mr. Charlton, and replaced with masonite sheets.
At the same time, some gothic type windows became available from the Port Kembla Methodist Church which was being demolished. Mr. and Mrs. Eggar bought them and they were incorporated into the new church building. All the work was done voluntarily under the direction of Mr. Eggar.
A news item in the ‘Parish Messenger’ of June 1961, reads as follows: “The materials for the building extensions to the Church at Shoalhaven Heads have been ordered, and a start has been made on fitting the windows, which were given to us by Mr. and Mrs. Eggar. Plans were adopted at the meeting of interested people to have the ceiling plastered and fluorescent lighting installed, and the building is to be lined with masonite. It was also decided to apply to the Archbishop to have the Church named St. Peter’s, Shoalhaven Heads, as St. Peter was a fisherman and the Heads is noted for its fishermen.”
On Saturday, December 16, 1961, the Church was officially opened and dedicated by the Venerable Archdeacon H.G.S.Begbie, Registrar of the Diocese, at 2.30 p.m. The first Church Service was held on Sunday, December 17, 1961, when Patricia, daughter of Keith and Eileen Smith, was baptised. The Christmas Communion Service was at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday, December 24, 1961.
Church furnishings came from various sources—the Pews from an old Church at Broughton Village, the Prayer Desk was made by Mr. Slater from timber taken from an old organ, also from the Broughton Village Church. The Lectern and Communion Rails were made by Mr. George Oyston from Cedar timber given him by his brother, Tom. While working on the Communion Rails, George Oyston accidentally lost two fingers to a circular saw. The Bible on the lectern was the one originally used at the Coolangatta Homestead for worship services for the Berry family, their staff and the convicts employed on the estate. That Bible is now in the Berry Museum.
The original Organ (which was later moved into the Sunday School building) was a gift from St. Andrew’s Church of England, Wahroonga. The Organ that came to be used in later years was a gift from Miss McLachlan. The Communion Table was made by Mr. Jonathan Eggar, the Hymn Board was a gift from Mrs. Semmons, the Book Rest was given by Mrs. Belmore in memory of her uncle and the Font, designed by Mr. Slater, was given by Mr. R. Salway. A Pottery Shell for use on the Font and four vases were made and given by Mrs. Dawn Gumley. That shell was broken in cleaning up after the fire that occurred in July 1998.
For many years before a Church at Shoalhaven Heads was envisaged, Mr. George Oyston conducted a Sunday School in the Public Hall. He walked in the footsteps of his Master and sought out every child at Shoalhaven Heads. Every child knew him personally, and he knew them all by name. Mr. Oyston gave many hours of voluntary labour, as well as financial help, to get the Church established at the Heads. Unfortunately Mr. Oyston was not able to attend the opening of the Church because of ill health and passed away in Wollongong Hospital three weeks later, on January 11, 1962. A Memorial Service held at St. Peter’s on January 14, 1962, was conducted by Mr. Trevor Moon, of St. Anne’s, Ryde, who was acting in Berry Parish whilst the Rector was on holidays.
A Vestry was added at the side of the Church as a permanent memorial to Mr. Oyston and a Service of Dedication was held at 3 p.m. on December 15, 1963. The plaque on the Vestry door reads: “To the Glory of God and in the memory of George Oyston, 15-12-63.” That Vestry had to be demolished when the Church was moved in 1991 but the plaque has been preserved.
The first Funeral Service in St. Peter’s did not take place until 8th June, 1977 and was conducted by the Rector, the Reverend Frank Slater. The funeral was that of Mr. Jonathan Seymour Eggar who had given many years of service to the Church, and had been the Rector’s Warden since the beginning of St. Peter’s. The inscription in the Prayer Book given by Mrs. Eggar reads: “In loving memory of Jonathan Eggar, who laboured faithfully in the building of St. Peter’s Church. Died 7-6-77.”
Eighteen months later the Church was beautifully decorated for the first wedding at St. Peter’s. On Saturday, December 1, 1979, The bride was Patricia Smith who was the first baby baptised in the Church. Patricia was married to Bradley Hock by the Reverend Colin Berriman.
A Sunday School Building
After the opening of St. Peter’s Church building, the Sunday School which had long functioned in the Progress Hall, transferred to the Church. Mrs. Eggar, who had been helping Mr. Oyston from 1960, was in charge, with the help of Mrs. Dressel.
It was soon evident that a separate building was needed for a Sunday School and, in February 1966, Mr. and Mrs. Clarke donated a cottage which was situated on their land at 25 River Road. The site was prepared at the rear of the Renown Avenue land, and Mr. Clarke built the foundations to take the cottage. The Women’s Guild gave financial help towards moving the building and later paid for paint and the connection of electricity.
The Sunday School Building was dedicated by Canon Basil H. Williams, Rector of St. Michael’s, Wollongong, on the afternoon of December 17, 1966. Mrs. Eggar continued as Superintendent for many years. Mrs. Christine Edwards taught in the Sunday School for many of those years and continues to lead the Sunday School to this day.
When St. Peter’s was established it was a branch church of St. Luke’s Berry which was under the ministry of the Rev. Frank Slater. Mr. Slater was also Rector of St. George’s Gerringong (1955-1962) as well as conducting services at Meroo Meadow, Bellawongarah and, from 1961, at Shoalhaven Heads.
Mr. and Mrs. Slater retired in 1979 and the Rev. Colin Berriman became Rector of Berry and Shoalhaven Heads. One of the first things Colin Berriman did was to meet with the Shoalhaven Heads congregation and to appoint a Church Committee and Churchwardens. The first Wardens were Mr. Bill Watts, Mrs. (Mac) Eggar and Mrs. Esme Pepper. Mrs. Heather Watts was the first Secretary of the Church Committee.
The linking of St. Peter’s with St. Luke’s Berry continued until the 1980s, At this time St. George’s, Gerringong was part of the parish of Christ Church, Kiama. The Rector of Christ Church was the Rev. Stephen Gabbot and the Rev. Philip Kitchin became his Assistant Minister, resident at Gerringong.
In 1987 St. George’s Gerringong was ready to be raised to the status of Provisional Parish but a sister-Church was needed to increase the viability of the new parish unit. The Wollongong Anglican Regional Council decided to link St. Peter’s Shoalhaven Heads with St. George’s Gerringong and the Reverend Philip Kitchin became the first Minister of the Provisional Parish of St. George’s Gerringong and thus Minister of Shoalhaven Heads.
On the retirement of the Kitchins, the Reverend Leigh Roberts became the Minister of Gerringong and Shoalhaven Heads on Thursday 8th September, 1988.
St. Peter’s continued through these years with a number of faithful members maintaining both church and Sunday School. However, the Church Services suffered from a lack of continuity. Responsibilities at Gerringong prevented the incumbent Minister from conducting Services at Shoalhaven Heads with any real frequency and most Services were conducted by retired clergy and Lay Readers.
These circumstances changed in late 1989 when the Reverend Eric and Dorothy Bird retired from the Parish of Minto to their home in River Road. While many retired clergy carry out the necessary function of filling in during vacancies in parishes, and while other ministers are on long-service leave, Eric determined to commit his time to providing a resident leadership for St. Peter’s. This was welcomed by the Parish and Eric was made an honorary member of the staff.
A further invaluable contribution to ministry at Shoalhaven Heads occurred when Canon Reg and Shirley Hanlon, who had retired to the Heads from West Wollongong, added their efforts to St. Peter’s. Eric and Reg provided the greater part of the ministry of St. Peter’s through the 1990’s.
A Church on the Move
In those years the hand of God was very evident both in answers to prayer and in the growth of the congregation.
Even quite early in those years there was a real vision for the future. In 1990 the Reverend Leigh Roberts became aware of a ‘church site’ that had been set aside by community planners on the corner of Scott Street and Booner Drive. Leigh’s interest in that site was for two reasons. First, as Shoalhaven Heads had developed to the north, the site in Renown Avenue was no longer central to the community. Secondly, and more importantly, with Council requiring a parking area to be built with any future extensions to the church facilities, that site would be far too small.
After consultation with the congregation and with the consent and help of Church Authorities, the Scott Street site was acquired and plans were made for the one-time library, then hay shed, and now St. Peter’s Church to be lifted up and moved once again.
That move occurred in June 1991. The high-pitched roof of the building was removed to allow it to negotiate the streets and the new site was prepared to receive it.
Once there, extensive alterations were made—a fellowship entrance area was added, as were a cry-room for mothers and babies, a kitchen and toilet facilities.
During the months from June to December 1991, Services were maintained with the Church meeting in the home of Mrs. Heather Watts at 41 Ravenscliffe Road. In these years Heather provided the music for most of the Morning Services.
The plans provided for a hall to be built but due to lack of funds, this was put down for a later stage of development.
However, several months into construction, a substantial donation enabled work to proceed on the hall. When the new St. Peter’s Church Centre was opened in December 1991—on the 30th Anniversary of the opening of the first St. Peter’s—afternoon tea was served in a hall which had reached lock-up stage but had as yet no interior linings.
That opening day was an occasion for much rejoicing, not only in the facilities but for other significant reasons. Through the generosity of members of the Church Family and the congregation of St. George’s Gerringong, the Centre was opened debt-free. Also, the level of support—both financial and by way of voluntary labour—contributed by the Christian brothers and sisters of Gerringong was far beyond that which is normally given by a principal church to a branch church. As a church, St. George’s Gerringong contributed sacrificially to this development at Shoalhaven Heads.
The opening of the new St. Peter’s Church Centre made an immediate impact. The congregation virtually trebled and the new facilities enable ministry activities that could only be dreamed of previously. After prayer and increased financial support from the congregation, Nigel Dixon was employed as a children’s worker and, with the help of his wife, Natalie, an after-school Kid’s Club commenced. Bible Studies flourished and there was evidence of considerable spiritual growth in individual lives.
All this progress was enormously encouraging and exciting but there was concern that while there were many young families in the community, the majority of the congregation was of more senior years. This gave rise to a desire to add another Sunday Service, one aimed at meeting the needs of families with young children. To do this, members of the congregation began contributing to a fund out of which an Assistant Minister would be employed.
When the Rev. Mark and Dianne Howard began as Assistant Minister in February 1995, it became necessary for a Church Residence to be found in Shoalhaven Heads. Again the prayer was that God would provide the means to do this through His people and that prayer was answered in two ways. Rental accommodation was first found in Scott Street and the Parish Savings and Development Fund was established. The first project of that Fund would be the purchase of a permanent residence. The PS&DF operates by way of parishioners depositing money—mainly on an interest-free basis—with the interest earned by the Fund being made available for projects determined by Parish Council. With a loan from the Anglican Church and the deposit from money provided by the PS&DF, a Church Residence was purchased at 36 Shackleton Street.
There was a change in the parish ministry at the beginning of 1998. The Reverend Leigh and Merilyn Roberts accepted a position on the ministry team of the Figtree Anglican Church and their place was filled by the Reverend Andrew and Elizabeth Glover who had grown up in Wollongong and came from Fairy Meadow. A Service of Institution and welcome took place in Gerringong Town Hall on Saturday, 14th March.
A year into Mark Howard’s ministry, a Sunday afternoon Service was commenced—Family at Five—and while a faithful core had kept that Service viable, it had not drawn very many of the younger families it sought to serve. The Morning Service continued to develop and considerable discussion centred on possible ways to enlarge the Worship Centre of St. Peter’s. This was resolved in July of 1998 with what began as a potential disaster.
Late in the evening of 6th July 1998, a fire was lit by persons unknown underneath the floor of the Sanctuary. The walls and floor were badly burnt but amazingly the Communion Table and other furnishings were not destroyed. Andrew Fielding, a member of St. Peter’s, was Captain of the Rural Fire Service at Shoalhaven Heads and the quick response of him and his team prevented the Church Centre being totally lost.
What began as a disaster resulted in the rebuilding process enabling the Worship Area to be widened and lengthened, thus enabling about a 25% increase in seating. All this took time, though. Plans had to be approved by church and civic authorities, money had to be raised, and because of the historic nature of the building, the involvement of the Shoalhaven City Council’s Heritage Committee added to the inevitable delays. While all this was going on, Services continued each week in the Church Hall.
It was December 1999, on the 38th Anniversary of the establishment of St. Peter’s, that a rejoicing congregation returned to the Worship Centre.
The ministry at St. Peter’s of Mark and Dianne Howard had come to an end in November of 1998 and St. Peter’s was without an Assistant Minister through 1999. The Reverend Ross and Leanne Maltman moved into the Shackleton Street residence in January 2000 and began an active and enthusiastic ministry.
At the same time severe illness threatened Reg and Shirley Hanlon. Late in 1999 Reg was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and the prognosis at the time gave him only months to live. At the same time, Shirley’s health suffered a serious decline and resulted in some months in hospital. These circumstances necessitated their moving into the William Beach Retirement Village at Dapto in June 2000.
A Farewell and Thanksgiving Service was held in St. Peter’s on Sunday 30th July but, sadly, Shirley’s health prevented her from being present. Mrs. Val Turner made a quilt with panels carrying names and messages from members of the congregation and this, together with flowers, were presented to Reg.
It is appropriate to look back at over fifty years and give to God the thanks and praise for lives that have been eternally changed because He planted St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Shoalhaven Heads.
Men and women have been converted to Christ and Christians built up in their faith. This is the reason for the existence of St. Peter’s Church. We must pray that in the years ahead this emphasis will continue. We must pray that God will be pleased to call men and women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and an eternity in His presence.
In 2010, a long-held hope was fulfilled, as St. Peter's was created as its own parish, independent of our friends at Gerringong. This is an exciting next stage in the life of our church, and testimony to the goodness of God.
Many men and women have faithfully ministered in St. Peter’s over these years and have done so to the glory of God. We acknowledge the many ways in which God has answered prayer and provided for the needs of His Church. We recognise also that just so long as the preaching that comes from the pulpit of St. Peter’s remains faithful to the Word of God, these blessings will not cease. It is His work and we look to His grace, guidance and strength to continue it.