Clayton Church (Historical Perspective)

Having spent my entire Christian walk growing and serving in one church, the Clayton Church of Christ, I am able to reflect on a good 25 years of the church’s history. In one sense, this article delves quite deep into the history of the church, focusing on the last 25 years of ministry since that is this period I was an eyewitness to. To avoid controversy, I will attempt to focus on historical facts. All through the 1990s, I built up a personal archival collection of the church news bulletin — then coined the ‘News & Views’. Along with the annual reports and telephone directories (which included ministry/leader lists), I will attempt to present an accurate record of my church.

The original write-up was published on 21/06/2013 and as at 20/11/2015, has been further enhanced with material documented from various historical records that were used in the artefacts Vision Dinner 1998 (May 1998) and Golden 50 Jubilee.

Founding Generation (1951 – 1966)

Sunday 4 February 1951 is considered the founding date for Clayton Church of Christ, when 37 people gathered at the home of Bill Munyard, 459 Clayton Road. During this time, the main street of Clayton was a narrow strip of bitumen bordered a few shops, houses including a bakehouse, grain store public hall and the weatherboard Methodist Church. Bill Munyard was a well-known builder. The preacher at that first service was Jack Bond, from Springvale Church of Christ, was given the vision to reach the Clayton area with the gospel. The first offering collected at that first service was given in totality to the mission field. In March 1951, the Tucker family joined the church family and have remained with the church through four generations now.

Doug Holloway, at the time a Bible College student, was appointed the first pastor and he commenced on a part-time basis from 24 June 1951 with a salary of one pound a week. Soon outgrowing the home, the group met in the old Clayton Hall. Following the previous Saturday night’s parties held in the hall, each Sunday’s service would require an initial clean up before the church service could begin. Doug stayed for two years shepherding the flock during which time his wage increase to £3 ($5) per week. Wages during this period would have averaged £10/week. The dedication of the growing church to mission saw 25% of the 1952 total offering being given to missions.

Commitment and faith were required by both pastor and the people in order for the dream of a church in Clayton to become reality. To support this aim, 1952 saw a total of £476 raised to buy a block of land on the corner of Burton Avenue and Dunstan Street – a location where the church has remained ever since. An extra £1000 was borrowed from the bacnk so that a weatherboard building could be constructed using volunteer labour. In this way, it was highly intentional that Bill Munyard was a key supporter of the church given his profession in construction. Volunteers led by Bill Munyard and Don May, built the first Church of Christ in Clayton. The building was first officially dedicated on Saturday 24th April 1954 and Conference President Mr Stan Neighbour and Mr Jim Reid addressed the crowded chapel for the first time. The first Sunday meeting was held running two services with 100 people. 117 students attended the children’s Bible School on that first Sunday. In 1957, a hall extension was added to the south of the original building which had reached capacity.

 

Roberts & Kavanagh (1967 – 1977)

The second generation of leaders guiding Clayton Church are Roy Roberts (1967 – 1972) followed by Pat Kavanagh (1973 – 1977). During this period, the Sunday School ministry expanded and at the annual Anniversary service over 300 children and teachers would squeeze onto tiers of seating reaching to the ceiling. The Boys’ Brigade and The Girls’ Life Brigade (later The Girls’ Brigade) commenced during this time with approximately 100 young people from the community attending, not considering their families.

The first missionaries sent from the church were Fred and June Reynolds, who on 8 February 1958, left for the New Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu. The Missions Offering that year was £1061 and the following year it amounted to £1191. In 1959, Ron and Judy Robertson went to Papua New Guinea with Missionary Aviation Fellowship. In March 1963, David Soffe left for Papua New Guinea with the Unevangelised Fields Mission, now Pioneers. Shortly after he was joined by Dorothy Tucker and they were married at Balimo on 11 April 1964 where they worked until 1986. In 1966 Gwen McKelvie went to serve in PNG and in 1967, Norma Hunt went to the Dyaks of Kalimantan, Indonesia. These pioneers set the standard for many people to go to many parts of the world from the Clayton fellowship.

Many overseas students began attending the church in the late 1960s when Monash University opened its doors and upon graduating, remained both in Melbourne and stayed connected to the church community. The announcement of the future university in 1958 and subsequent opening to students in 1961 no doubt helped to ensure the church would have a ready-made community to tap into. The church family responded generously in not just supporting the students spiritually, but also opened their homes to invite the students over for many meals of fellowship. This practical application and demonstration of the love of Christ is testament to the second and third generations of these students who now remain in the church.

Under the leadership of Pat Kavanah, the church embarked on the construction of a permanent/brick structure in 1975 that became the iconic chapel front that defined the corner of Burton Avenue and Dunstan Street for some 40 years. Construction of the chapel was another opportunity for the church community to contribute tangibly; some of the elder statesmen of the church provided hands-on contribution in the brick laying and positioning of the steel beams. A cry room at the back of the brick chapel provided much needed space for the young families who were attracted to the preaching and presence of God working out of the Clayton Church. The rows of green-cushioned seats enabled the chapel to seat some 300 individuals. The North and South Halls completed the complex along with outdoor toilets. The South Hall was used primarily for Sunday School where child-size/friendly pews were lined up to create the same atmosphere and feel of the adult church. This original building frontage onto Burton Avenue provided an open air space with a declining gradient towards the roadside angle parking. It created space between the South Hall and the main chapel, with the church foyer forming the central connection between all three halls. The foyer and cry room were decorated to reflect the then styles and fashion

Times of Transition (1977 – 1981)

This next short 6 year period in the history of Clayton Church spans the service of some 5 Senior Pastors:

  1. Paul Cameron (1977)
  2. Chris McKenzie (1978)
  3. Peter De Wildt (1978 – 1979)
  4. Syd Wilkerson (1979)
  5. Chek Chia (1979 – 1981)

Limited information is currently available for this period in the history of the church. During the 1970s, the church developed links and associations with Monash University based christian ministries like the Overseas Christian Fellowship (OCF). This particular relationship has lasted a good many decades and as mentioned above, was testament to the number of international students who have since remained in Melbourne to work.

The Cutchie Era (1981 – 1994)

In 1981, the church appointed Barry Cutchie as Senior Pastor. This appointment saw the departure of former Pastor Chek Chua, who left to form Grace Church. Worship was led by Anne Cutchie, wife of the Senior Pastor, with the support of one Winston Chin-Lenn. It was under these conditions that I first operated the church’s overhead projector (refer to Creative Technology).

The kindergarten on the opposite side of Burton Avenue was used for creche but my memory of these earliest years of my life are a blur; thus I cannot confirm whether or not I was a member of the kindergarten during the week, or whether there was a link between the operator and the church to ensure reuse and availability of the facilities for church services on a Sunday. The Pastoral team during the period of Barry Cutchie as Senior Pastor saw the introduction of additional pastors supporting the leadership and operation of the church:

  • Youth Pastor:
    • Martin Burgess, 1984 –1989
    • Glenn Williams, 1989 –1991
    • Gary Berry, 1991 –1999
  • Associate Pastor:
    • Milton Lund, 1985 –1989
    • Henry Kong, 1990 –1993
    • Hon Hoh (International Students), 1994 –1995

This new approach to appointing additional pastors reflected the needs of Clayton Church as it continued to grow. That growth in the 1980s saw the introduction of a second morning service. Towards the end of the decade, both services were near capacity – full of vibrant congregations made up of predominantly of families. A growing demographic in the youth and students was also a large driver for the specific responsibilities assigned to the new pastors, ensuring dedicated pastoral support. The

1990s: Growth & Change

During the late 1980s, the church acquired 23 Burton Avenue and utilised the weatherboard house for its youth and counselling ministries. In 1991, the North and South Halls were demolished to make way for a major renovation, which extended the chapel auditorium as a single continuous hall along the Dunstan St side, with the offices, kitchen toilets located along the south-west corner of the building – largely in space previously occupied by the former South Hall. The location of toilet and bathroom facilities at the rear western side of the building included shower facilities. At the far western end of the hall/building was a cry room which was eventually repurposed as a library and meeting space. New pink-coloured collapsible and mobile seats helped to extend the seating capacity of the auditorium. Half-length windows lined the Dunstan St side of the building and vertical blinds became the new window furnishing throughout the building. The initial design saw the chapel being preserved structurally but with a new higher knee-length stage constructed over the original two-step structure. Extensive rewiring of the entire building enabled the sound desk to be relocated away from its previous location at the centre rear of the chapel. Instead, the sound desk was shifted to the right side about 2-3 metres. This initial design also allowed for use of the original green pews to extend for an additional 3-4 rows on the far right. Having wall dividers on ceiling roller tracks was an innovative way to allow maximum efficiency from the multi-purpose halls.These dividers provided the church with the capability to partition the space into three separate spaces — a rear hall, middle hall and the front chapel.

 

The former house that was 23 Burton Avenue was demolished, and that land was turned into paved car park spaces. The garage building at the back of 23 Burton Avenue was retained and converted into the YACC — Youth and Children’s Centre.  Most of the building construction took place in areas separate from the chapel area, so Sunday services could continue interrupted, except for a number of weeks when the church hired Clayton Hall to conduct its services.

In the 1990s, the church held a single Sunday morning service at 9:00 am. At 11:00 am, a program known as Adult Christian Education (ACE) utilised the middle hall whilst the Sunday School and Youth classes ran concurrently. Church lunches were introduced with church home groups serving on rotation; making full use of the newly built kitchen facilities and rear hall. New pink fabric seating added to the capacity of the church, with a full house reaching 700+ at Easter. The initial construction included a cry-room near the foyer, but this was later removed and the area was partially reused as space for the computer/projection system and audio recording equipment.

After a long 14-year service of shepherding the church, Pastor Cutchie stepped down in 1995 to embark on missionary work associated with Promise Keepers in the US. During 1996 –1997, the church leadership entered a transitory phase during which time Pastor Hon Hoh led the church. Throughout the 1990s, the printed church identity was associated with a graphic sketching of the building foyer facade with the cross.

In 1997, the church mission statement was ‘A Church of the move … pursuing Christ’s fullness and mission’. The church vision, as stated in the front of the annual Church Telephone Directory was “To evangelise the unchurched and mobilise every believer through caring for, discipling, equipping and releasing them to pursue Christ’s fullness and mission.

The culture of the church was epitomised through the house church groups which offered small group environments in which to cultivate members/believers. A strong cultural artifact that resonated with me was the whole church lunch ministry, where each group had the opportunity to serve lunch to the wider church community on a Sunday. As a child, I would assist with the dish washing responsibilities.

Brownless Era (1998 – 2003)

In 1998, the church leadership appointed David Brownless as Senior Pastor. Hon Hoh’s faithful serving under his pastoral term came to completion in 1999, thus enabling a smooth as possible transition. Under the leadership of David Brownless, the church worked through the issue of incorporation. Further structural work was undertaken to reform the governance and constitution of the church, whereby the present Council of Elders was formed as the peak governing body, accountable to the membership. To further support the church, incorporation enabled the appointment of a Church Administrator to head the office and administrative functions. In 2000, the next generation of associate pastors were appointed:

  • Paul Worsnop, 2000 – 2009
  • Philip Kua, 2000 – current
  • Moses Khor, 2000 – 2006

The ministries of the church evolved, with the educational services delivered previously through the Sunday 11am ACE program revamped into a Bible School ministry under the new direction of Sue Brownless. The evolution and emergence of ministries for young people led to the formalisation of the following ministries, some of which had their foundations laid back in the late 1990s:

  • Youth AsSalt (high school ages)
  • FOCUS (local university students)
  • ISM (international university students)

In 2001, the church branding settled on a new logo of an artistic cross, doubling up as a person. In 2002, Ken Harris made the transition from serving as Elder to serving the church in a full-time paid position responsible for Administration and Youth. The leadership of David Brownless helped to refocus the church and through the contribution of his wife as an ordained minister, the church expanded its focus on education and training through the launch of LifeWorks as a bible school ministry. Each of the associate pastors appointed were charged with specific ministries to focus on. Philip Kua championed the cell-based approach whereby the former small groups that were known as house church groups became known as cell groups. The model and approach to church as a cell-driven church was part of the growth strategy for the church whereby a large congregation of several hundred people could still benefit from the closeness of relationships and small intimate environments of a cell group.

A change was implemented to reshape the Sunday celebration services so that an early morning 8:30am service was introduced, the main church had a 10am service with parallel Kids Church program and a 6pm Sunday evening service. The audiences of each service thus differed and catered for the diverse needs of the entire congregation – the early morning service had a lighter chapel feel in worship whereas the evening service was highly youth oriented and the worship style was appropriately louder.

Harris Era (2003 – 2010)

In 2003, David Brownless stepped down from the role of Senior Pastor to a newly created ‘Advisory & Teaching Pastor’ position, which he served for two 3-year terms through to 2009/2010. The transition of Ken Harris to Senior Pastor enabled a smooth transition under their combined leadership. In 2008, Chee Seng Fah was appointed as Associate Pastor in charge of young adults.

From 2005, a series of annual thematic vision statements were developed for the church congregation to focus on.

  • 2005 – 2006: Come Follow Me
  • 2006 – 2007: Claiming the Word of God
  • 2007 – 2008: Unveiled Eyes (will See the Lord’s Glory)
  • 2008 – 2015: Vision 2015 Taking Hold, Pressing Forward, Seeing His Kingdom Come

The details of the church’s vision and mission, as defined by Vision 2015, are available on the church website here. The last vision incorporated the plans to rebuild the church complex, with the final designs settled in mid-2008, just prior to the economic downtown.

The original Vision 2015 details for the building had stated:

  • Initial cost estimate of $4M (which we now can retrospectively add a +/- 50%)
  • Two-phased construction to allow church service operations to continue on site, whilst key ministries were relocated off site.
  • The eventual operation of three services each weekend, each with the capacity to hold 650 – 700 people.

In 2010, Ken Harris stepped down from the Senior Pastor role to assume the role of Associate Pastor; this transition was just prior to the relocation of the church. During the first phase of Vision 2015, fine tuning of the building construction led to:

  • Revision of costs upwards to $5M+ with the addition of lift facilities and increased cost of goods/labour.
  • The recognition that full relocation was required; services would be held at Huntingdale Primary School whilst the offices and youth group meetings operated from 73 Sarton Rd.
  • The move to Huntingdale Primary necessitated the reduction of services to a single 10am Sunday service.

In 2006 the church rejoined the denominational body – Churches of Christ Victoria/Tasmania which was timely given the loan that the church subsequently took out for the building redevelopment project.

Kua Era (2010 – 2015) [Vision 2015]

After some 25 years of serving at Clayton in various elder and deacon roles, and ten as Associate Pastor focusing on cell and community ministries, Philip Kua was called to serve as Senior Pastor for Clayton church. With his appointment in 2010, the church leadership and pastoral team was uniquely and briefly blessed with the continued presence of both former Senior Pastors, David Brownless and Ken Harris. David Brownless together with his wife Sue Brownless had led the LifeWorks bible college ministry but eventually felt God the couple to serve as ministers of the Oakleigh Church of Christ, a sister church which Clayton has helped to support on a periodic basis.

Mother’s Day 2010 marked a historical milestone as the church community held the last service in the old building before vacating the site and witness the demolition of all the buildings. For almost 24 months, services were held at the newly constructed multi-purpose hall at Huntingdale Primary School; this facility was the result of the timely Federal Government stimulus package for school infrastructure. It was timely that Mother’s Day 2012 saw the church hold a homecoming service, complete with a cross-mounting ceremony.

2012 saw the church family host a number of high-profile events as part of fully maximising the new facilities:

  • Watoto Children’s Choir & The Official Building Opening Ceremony, 5 August 2012
  • Melbourne Gospel Choir, 2 December 2012
  • Sons of Korah, 14 April 2013

In 2013, Kenny Koay was appointed Associate Pastor whilst Ken Harris bade farewell to the church family to pursue God’s calling away from Clayton. The church community was required to finance the funding gap of $1M+ against a final cost of $6.4M which was a loan taken out from the Churches of Christ Victoria/Tasmania. At Pentecost 2013, the church congregation bore witness to an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with a new wave of unity, prayer and discipleship unfolding. The church continued to press in to the practical discipleship framework espoused by the ‘One Another’ teachings brought to the church body from Indonesia.

In 2014, a restructure of the church organisation structure resulted in a new Up – In – Out structure. With the Senior Pastor leading all facets, the Up Department would focus on spiritual growth, whereas the In Department on the internal community life of the church and the Out Department on outward mission life. Infused across all three disciplines is the theme of discipleship. Unfortunately, the later half of 2014 would mark the beginning of a series of events which culminated in the departure of Philip Kua as Senior Pastor, an unfortunate milestone reached in July 2015.

2015, as a calendar year in the life of the church however was not a year without success; in spite of an unstable governance structure at the head the main body of the church community largely remained intact and the “valley of death” helped to focus the church’s commitment to serving God, the local community and press into His Word. “Being a Gospel-centred people on mission in everyday life” became the theme for 2015. Whilst Vision 2015 as originally articulated has not eventuated, the church leadership had already sensed a shift in focus at the mid-way point around 2010-2011. The organisational restructure mentioned above was part of this realignment, preparing the church for a 2015+ future. Worship Night, held at the end of August was a timely focal point for the church to simply focus on God and his goodness.