Wembley celebrates and gives thanks

This year marks the centenary of Wembley Uniting Church.

On Sunday 12 February 2017, the congregation celebrated with a Thanksgiving Service, celebrating the date which Miss Mildred Grigg started a Sunday School in her parents home in the local area just over 100 years ago.

In a document prepared for the service, John Meyer writes:

Mildred Grigg started her Sunday School on 11 February 1917 with just four children – Laurel and Mervyn Caporn, and May and Bill McLean.  By the end of the year there were 26 names on the roll, despite having lost several children to the Anglican Church which had opened its first building near Herdsman Lake in the same year.  It only took several months before worship services started in the Grigg home, at first monthly and a little later fortnightly.  The first of these services was held on Sunday 29 April 1917 and was conducted by Rev Harley Morrell, the minister at the West Leederville Methodist Church.

Later in 1917 permission was granted for the block of land at 35 Pangbourne Street to be bought so that a building could be erected to serve the growing Sunday School and congregation.  It was not until 1923, however, that the former wooden church building from Bullfinch in the Goldfields was erected towards the rear of the block, along with an extra room (which remained until it was demolished in 2004), a toilet and an organ.

This wooden building became the hall when the brick church was opened at the front of the block in 1941.  The present hall was opened in 1955.  By the time of the Second World War both the Sunday School and the congregation had grown considerably, reflecting the increasing population of the suburb.  The hey-day of the Sunday School was in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  There were 176 on the roll in 1941, 209 in 1946 with a staff of 28, and even as late as 1968 enrolment totalled 120 and there were 20 teachers.  A gradual decline set in from around 1970 but a Sunday School or other form of children’s activity was maintained until quite recently.

During the years of the large Sunday School it met at 9.30am with the service of worship following at the then traditional time of 11.00am – although, for many years the better attended service was the one in the evening (this was before the days of television and other modern distractions).  So both the church and the hall were needed to accommodate such large numbers, while classes for younger teenagers were held in nearby private homes.  The Kindergarten met in the hall at 11.00am, at the same time as the service.

The Sunday School Anniversary in October or November was a special highlight of each year.  The men of the church set up a tiered platform along the back of the church and as many as six Anniversary services were held over two weekends in the morning, afternoon and evening, followed by prize giving on the following Monday night.  Weeks of preparation went into the Anniversaries, with a high standard of singing which at times was accompanied by a small group of instrumentalists.

Many faithful people have served as Superintendents and Sunday School teachers over the years, following in the footsteps of Mildred Grigg (later Dawson).  Mildred was active in the community as a music teacher, and when she died in 1975 her piano was left to the church.  It still occupies a special place in the church building and provides an important link to the very beginning of the congregation.

A number of people who contributed their reminiscences to the history of the church written by Maud Thomas for the 75th anniversary in 1992 commented on how they always looked forward to the traditional Harvest Festival service, which we are also celebrating today.  Trestle tables at the front of the church were adorned with a great display of fresh fruit such as figs, grapes, melons and apples, as well as jams and different breads of all shapes and sizes.  All the windows would be framed with wheat.  The Monday evening was set aside for auctioning the produce and this was followed by a social with musical and other items and then supper.  Harvest Thanksgiving is a tradition that has been kept alive in this congregation, although not necessarily held every year, and with a change to mainly processed rather than fresh food – but nevertheless, a means by which we may give thanks to God for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon us.

The service kicked off  celebrations for Wembley Uniting Church’s centenary year; a major Centenary Celebration will be held on Sunday 4 June, 3.00pm, at the church. Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA will be preaching.

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