Australian Association of Mission Studies South Australian Mission Studies Network



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Australian Association of Mission Studies

South Australian Mission Studies Network
First edition: an invitation to comment and feed back
Dean Eland July 6th 2011

djeland@bigpond.com
Mission Legacy: Australian Urban Mission 1960-2010
A legacy is a bequest, a gift from one generation to another and the story of Australian urban mission over the past 50 years is central understanding contemporary mission theology and practice. Mission experience in the context of Australia’s most disadvantaged urban communities is a learning opportunity, one perspective in discerning and articulating the challenges facing the church in the post Christian era.
At the 2008 AAMS conference in Canberra a number of participants shared their mission histories. Speakers included members of Catholic orders, those involved with partner churches in the Pacific and indigenous communities in Australia. These and other histories are of great interest to those involved. Documenting these experiences is important for developing an appreciation of current challenges and in articulating some of the core issues for contemporary mission theology and practice.
The Sixties: A Turning Point
The sixties were a watershed decade for mission theory and practice in Australia and for the western church generally. Some have expressed their regret and doubts about the social upheavals, the growing secular climate, the collapse of liberal synthesis and the challenges and questioning of traditional assumptions (Breward 2001. 429-432). Others have explored how Australian experience was influenced by the same missional trends and contextual realties as the western church generally (Hilliard 97:213). While there is always resistance and doubt about changing or experimenting with traditional ministry patterns a number of younger Australian activists in the sixties began to explore new forms of mission engagement. These innovative practices and the new reformation ethos were based on a rejection of conventional suburban patterns and the domestic preoccupations of the normal church life.
The first National Conference of Australian Churches, sponsored by the Australian Council of Churches, held in Melbourne in February 1960, provided a solid foundation for developing a new mission agenda for the Australian church. (Other conferences followed. The 1970 conference at Wesley College Sydney was focused on world development. In 1980 the WCC Conference, Your Kingdom Come, was again held in Melbourne and was organised by the Mission and Evangelism Unit of the WCC. One of the sub themes of this conference was urban mission. The Seventh Assembly of the WCC was held in Canberra in February 1991. This assembly included a challenging address by a Korean woman theologian and an angry and defensive speech by the Prime Minister of the day, Bob Hawke).
430 delegates from most main line churches attended the 1960 conference and the ideas and inspiration generated had a continuing influence over several decades. Leadership included overseas guests and an emerging Australian group which continued to influence an emerging generation of mission practitioners well into the 1980s. Speakers included Lesslie Newbigin, (IMC), Hans-Ruedi Weber (WCC), Masao Takenaka (Japan), M. M. Thomas (Syrian Orthodox) and a young Australian Methodist from Melbourne, Colin Williams. One of the recurring themes of the conference was expressed by Weber, Come and meet the church: go and be the church in the world (Taylor 60:89).
The conference divided into five working groups and included two strands that influenced urban mission practice. In the following three decades the term urban mission was subject to different interpretations or models of practice. Generally it was understood as an alternative to the dominant middle class or conventional suburban church that was regarded as captive to an inward looking, domestic and confined pattern of church life. The title of Gibson Winter’s 1962 influential book, The Suburban Captivity of the Churches expressed this sentiment. Those who accepted this analysis became involved in innovative and creative new forms of ministry and were generally drawn to Australian inner city slum areas, public housing estates and industrial cities. Others became leaders in alternate forms of ministry based on social sectors or industrial chaplaincy.
Existing City Mission Models
While there were long term existing inner city missions, a new breed influenced by the theological emphasis of Colin Williams questioned the appropriateness of the mission hall and the institutional approach to programs (Howe 93:160). High profile established Central Missions were mostly Methodist or non denominational and were founded in the late years of the 19th century in an attempt to evangelize the working class (Kaldor 83). The well known exponents of this form of mission were public figures and included Alan Walker and Ted Knoffs in Sydney, Erwin Vogt in Adelaide and Irving Benson in Melbourne. Each Australian city also hosted non denominational missions and these organisations eventually amalgamated and became Mission Australia.
For these mission leaders Sunday night services was an evangelical opportunity, Pleasant Sunday Afternoons (PSAs) were platforms for discussion of public issues and week day programs and welfare services were understood as the practical expression of the gospel. Pulpits were platforms in the sense that they generated a regular commentary on political or welfare issues of the day and were not afraid to address social questions and go public regardless of the denominational policies. The Methodist conference in NSW for example was divided on the church’s attitude to the Vietnam War and Alan Walker was a strong voice for the peace movement. Long term Methodist superintendents were advocates of the view that word and deed went together and they resisted the inevitable trend to separate the welfare ministry from the public or prophetic Sunday ministry. Other implicit influences in shaping this mission model included the Salvation Army and their tradition was more in keeping with the non denominational city missions and street corner or open air preaching.
The Iona Community of the Church of Scotland formed by George Macleod developed its own unique form of industrial mission and Macleod’s 1956 book, Only One Way Left could be found in many ministers’ book shelves along with E R Wickham’s 1957 publication, Church and People in an Industrial City. Wickam was appointed by the Bishop as director of the Sheffield Industrial Mission in 1944. This book was one of the first sociological studies of an industrial city and a call for the church to engage with industry. Seminal publications from the US included Bruce Kenrick’s 1962 book Come out the wilderness, the story of the East Harlem Protestant Parish sub titled discovering faith in a notorious slum. The most influential publication in the sixties was Harvey Cox’s The Secular City: Secularization & Urbanisation in Theological perspective. Other influential theological insights came from Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship and the Niebuhr brothers, Reinhold and Richard.
It is also possible to trace the response of the evangelical tradition that existed in each denomination. While this tradition was reinforced by the Australian Billy Graham crusades of the 50s many expressed their doubts about the effectiveness of mass open air rallies. The more moderate influential leaders in the UK included David Sheppard, the Bishop of Liverpool. In 1974 he explored some of the issues about the impact of urban life (revised in 1985) in Built as a City: God and the Urban World today and in a 1983 sequel, Bias to the Poor.
In the US, The Cross and the Switchblade, written in 1963 by Pastor David Wilkerson, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, is the story of Wilkerson's first five years in New York City, where he ministered to disillusioned youth, encouraging them to turn away from the drugs and gang violence. The book became a best seller, with more than 15 million copies distributed in over 30 languages. Later in the seventies this evangelical strand was impacted by the charismatic movement. Many urban issues were eventually incorporated into the Lausanne movement with leadership from some Australian Baptists.
Industrial chaplaincy and growing engagement by congregations
In Australia one model of urban mission developed as industrial chaplaincy. Leadership for this ecumenical commitment was supported by the 1960 national conference and was led by Archbishop Woods of Melbourne who appointed Lawrie Styles formerly from the UK as director. Most states eventually developed Inter-Church Trade and Industry Mission committees (ITIM). In SA Methodists were very active under the leadership of Vern Harrison in Whyalla and Cec Watson (Baxter 85). The European background to this model included the ministry of Methodists and the Church of England in the UK. (William Gowland from the Luton Industrial Mission was missioner to the second NYCC convention held in Adelaide in 1957).
The short lived pre and post war French Catholic worker priest style experiment was based on a theology of incarnational presence and priests lived and served as industrial workers. Because of their involvement with the Union movement this form of ministry was proscribed by the Vatican and the movement disintegrated (Perrin 65).
By the late sixties the impetus which was generated by the 1960 National Conference provided strong directions for leaders of most main line denominations in Australia. In 1967 a nation wide church life study program organised by ACC involved lay leaders who became involved in local government and community organisations. Churches became active in establishing counseling centres and other forms of community based self help programs. This trend reinforced by two influential publications by Colin Williams, Where in the World and What in the World. Williams was then in the USA and chair of the WCC Department on Studies in Evangelism. The Australian Council of Churches assisted in establishing Australian Frontier and under the leadership of Peter Matthews this group sponsored a wide range of community consultations to address community needs. Matthews was initially inspired by the lay leader academies in Germany (Engel). In the next decade other forms of mission developed including the radical discipleship or Christian community movement involving Athol Gill and others.

Contextual trends, influences and social change in the sixties
The main features of these social changes included…
The anti Vietnam War campaign.

Immigration, multi cultural policies and the end of the white Australia policy (Dunstan)

1967 referendum on the right to vote for Aboriginal Australians

The pill, women’s liberation and attitudes towards sexual freedom

Shift from rural based economy to industrialization, post war boomers and urban growth (little boxes).

Inner city slum clearance and eventual gentrification

Green bans and resident action movement

Dominant boomer generation is aspirational and upward mobility

Impetus of the Whitlam government in relation to urban policies: DURD under Tom Uren, AAP and Bannon in SA. Free higher education.

Affluence leads to post industrial society and end of class identification. Hawke and Keating.


Australia’s Inner City Geo-Social Context and Reform Movements
Mission innovation in Australian inner city areas should be understood against its cultural and historical background.
Inner city areas and port communities were the pre war centres of Australia’s eventual industrial growth and epitomized the working class or labour movement (Connell 80). The perceptions and images of middle class Australians towards the inner city was negative and assumed that these were bad places to live, that slums were unhealthy and dens of vice and the home of criminal organisations. Popular perceptions were reinforced by stories and semi fictional accounts of inner city life. Frank Hardy in, Power without Glory wrote about Carringbush and the infamous John Wren of Collingwood. This novel was subject to a major court challenge. Ruth Park in Poor Mans Orange and her other novels were sympathetic towards family and community life in Sydney’s inner city.
Inner city areas were also characterised by their politicians and public personalities. The Labor member for East Sydney, Eddie Ward was the radical voice of the workers in federal parliament and he sat with the more moderate leaders including prime ministers Curtin and Chiefly and other former union leaders. Bill McKell former state premier of NSW and member for Redfern became governor general. Jim Cope, elected in 1955 and speaker of the house in the Whitlam government, was the MHR for Sydney and lived in William St Redfern for most of his working life. In SA the Waterside Workers Federation and the Vehicle Builders Union, based in the western suburbs, were influential in pre selection battles for the safe labor seats of Port Adelaide, Hindmarsh and Bonython. In Victoria and NSW the ALP held pres election ballots for local government candidates and this led to Tammany hall style politics. Many battles were fought to control the City of Sydney as the highly ratable CBD properties provided a financial base for local government welfare and social support organisations in the inner city residential areas.
Local identity was also generated by community based sporting clubs and two football clubs, the Magpies, Collingwood and Port Adelaide wore the black and white! Australian playwright, David Williamson wrote about some of the machinations of club life in his play, The Club.
Irish Catholic parishes represented the dominant religious tradition in Sydney and Melbourne in the pre war years and in some communities St Patrick’s Day was a public holiday! As the inner city often provided transitional or affordable rental housing many inner city suburbs became the first home of newly arrived migrants. Based on earlier 20th century immigration of a few families, South Sydney, for example, became the home of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese when they acquired the former St Paul’s Anglican Church in Cleveland St. Three branches of the eastern church from Lebanon and Syria were represented by the Maronite and Melkite churches (Catholic) and the Antioch Orthodox church of St George in Walker St.(Eland 75:54).
Protestant churches in the inner city were established in the latter years of the 19th century and small congregations often inherited large and expansive properties. These sites were largely abandoned by families in the late years of the century as they took flight from the industrialization and crowed conditions and settled in the next ring of middle class suburban development. In the post World War 2 war years congregations were made up of a few families hanging on and hoping for revival! Leaders of the congregations did not generally did not live locally but commuted to the inner city on Sundays out of loyalty and for some a sense of vocation. The population increase that came with the slum clearance programs and new public housing estates in the 1950s and 60s did not generate growing congregations.
Early in the sixties the inner city became the focus of social research and sociologists developed various indices to compare the various rates of health, unemployment, welfare, education opportunities, and housing conditions. Almost all these studies confirmed that inner city areas were rated at the bottom end of the scale. In 1961 Tom Brennan, from the Department of Social Work produced a report, An Areal Analysis of Social Differentiation in Sydney. A study report by Tony Vinson covered the front page of The Sun on Dec 7th 1976. The official view of their lives draws on a picture of poverty, misery and hardship. Vinson (University of NSW) continued to undertake this type of study for the next forty years!
Driven by poor housing, health and working conditions the inner city attracted social reformers who developed various programmes and social policies for rehabilitation, slum clearance and community improvement. The history of the brotherhood of St Laurence, Melbourne is informative and illustrates the commitment of high church Anglicanism on this tradition (Carter 67). In the 1970s Peter Hollingworth was appointed to a leadership position within this organisation.
By the 1970s and with the election of the Whitlam government in 1972, social policies and urban reform proposals involved the respective responsibility of three levels of government plus the voluntary sector.

Australian locality based examples
It is helpful to trace the history and name the parishes and leaders who contributed to the story of Australia’s urban mission
In the suburbs immediately south of the city of Sydney, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches formed a joint parish in 1968 and this amalgamation adopted the name the Inner City and later the South Sydney Parish. This ministry was based in the suburbs of Redfern, Waterloo, Alexandria and Surry Hills and for a time included Palmer St Darlinghurst. Ministers prior to the formation of the parish included Jim Downing (Congregational Metropolitan Mission). I was called to be minister of the Congregational Mission and served the parish from 1967 to 1978. In the first few years the team included Ron Denham, of the Presbyterian Inner city Charge. Presbyterian member churches at first included Newtown, Palmer St, and St Luke’s Redfern. The Methodist minister at Paddington, Harry Roberts, provided oversight of the Methodist congregation at Raglan St Waterloo and the property in Botany St. Redfern. Currently the South Sydney Uniting Church publishes the South Sydney Herald a monthly give away community paper. www.southsydneyherald.com.au This congregation remains an active and involved presence in the South Sydney community and had retained many of its missional characteristics over forty years.
The attached aerial photograph of South Sydney shows the proximity of the area to the CBD and in the foreground (at nine o’clock) are the four high rise blocks in Waterloo and the two 30 story towers are about half built. Redfern oval is at the centre and just north is the site of Keating’s Redfern Park speech. At the 10 o’clock position are the railway yards and Central station.
A second joint parish developed at East side and included Presbyterians at St Johns Paddington, (Jim Bishop) and Methodists (Harry Roberts) and later, Congregationalists from Woollahra (Rex Matthews). Further to the east other mission churches were Methodist and included Kings Cross and the Wayside Chapel, (T Knoffs), Bondi Junction (a major regional centre redevelopment site over 10 years) and Bondi Beach (Clyde Dominish. Jonathan Barker). To the west of the city mission style initiatives included Methodists and Presbyterians in Glebe and Balmain. North Sydney included the Northside Parish Mission.
Three central city churches became part of the UCA in 1977. Wesley Central Mission, St Stephens Macquarie St Presbyterian and Congregationalists at 264 Pitt St. These first churches related to each other and inner city churches in a variety of ways. The story of the Pitt St congregation, it’s near demise and revival can be found in chapter eight of its published history, Pride of Place (2008).
In Melbourne inner city parishes formed a ring around the CBD. Public housing estates continue as a feature of the inner area than Sydney. Churches and places include... Flemington Kensington, an ecumenical parish (B Fabb. A Wendelken. R Browning). Collingwood and Richmond (B Anderson. G Miller). Fitzroy (B Howe).Carlton Church of All Nations (N Lowe). South Port Parks (K Braithwaite). North Melbourne, Hotham Parish Mission (J Rickard). (Name included here include selected ministers in the sixties and seventies and are not an exhaustive list). In the decade leading up to church union the Victorian Methodist conference resolved to designate Broadmeadows, (Uren), Sunshine (J Blacker) and Footscray as Mission appointments
In the 70s and 80s active Baptists included Ross Langmead, author of the Western Suburbs report. This report led to the formation of the Westgate community church in 1978. Tim Costello began his ministry in St Kilda in 1987.
In Brisbane Methodist missions included the WCM, West End and South Brisbane.
In Adelaide the Methodist mission ethos was led by Maughan Church, (E Vogt and K Seaman). The Port Adelaide Central Mission was formed in the early years of the 20th century (McCutcheon, G Martin, P Bicknell). A Mission was also established in the inner western area at Bowden Brompton. Commitment to the Parks community is part of the Methodist home mission story and the Woodville Gardens congregation remains in the area. Congregationalists served the inner city through Whitfield’s Mission based at Hindmarsh and eventually this counselling service transferred to Flinders St in the city and was closed down early in the first few years of the UCA. (G Pope, A Searle, M Forward). The other three city churches played a part in various mission programs including the establishment of new urban congregations and some inner city type work. The Iron Triangle cities of Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie each had their own history in relation to mission activity.
Mission in and with host communities
Those committed to new and creative forms of ministry were involved a major reordering of the priorities and an underlying commitment to community organisation models of social change. The South Sydney Parish, with its 15-20 members developed a strong disciplined team approach to ministry. Members met regularly for study and planning and most lived nearby in George and Pitt Streets Redfern. Sunday liturgy was formal and consistent in style. In effect team meetings equipped members for their extensive involvement in the wider community life of the area. South Sydney Community Aid became the spring board for a number of community programs and partnerships. Other groups, campaigns and services included the annual South Sydney Festival, support for the growing number of Aboriginal organisations, services to immigrant groups, reform of education services in the region, resident action in an attempt to stop the demolition of older housing stock and new high rise public housing. Some of these commitment involved support from the local ALP machine and others involved conflict. Most members of the team joined the local branch of the ALP and in one notable case became officers of the branch.
The attached brochure from the Collingwood North Richmond Combined Parish is dated about the mid sixties. It shows the extensive engagement of the members of the ministry team and their areas of specialization. This was one of the most innovative aspects of ministry in inner city parishes and involved new organisational arrangements, skills in developing a team approach to ministry and extensive engagement with the concerns and issues of the wider community.
While community ministry was extensive and a high priority local leaders also became involved in producing liturgical and music resources for Sunday services and special events. Best known are the extensive range of liturgies produced by Dorothy McRae McMahon in her 10 years as minister of Pitt St. The song by Ross Langmead, Lord let me see, number 681 in TiS, expresses the theology and underlying ethos of inner city ministry. This is one of many songs that capture the spirit of the AAUM. There are similarities here to the work of the Iona community in producing appropriate liturgical material reflecting its mission. .
Selected para church organisations and community based partners
Australian Frontier (P Matthews).
Ecumenical Institute (J Bishop).
Urban Mission Unit Collins St Baptist
Radical Christianity Movement. House of the Gentle Bunyip (A Gill). The Abode of the Friendly Toad (J Hirt).
Workers Rights and the Church and Trade Union Committee (John Bottomley in Melbourne and Geelong).
Centre for Urban Research and Action (CURA) Melbourne. One famous study is still required reading for social work students, But I wouldn’t want my wife to work there.
Ecumenical Housing Unit and Fair Share Melbourne.
Service to Youth Council SA (G Killington).
Elizabeth Counselling Service (R Seipolt).
St Paul’s City Ministry Adelaide (Ron Williams, Geraldine Hawkes and Greg Elsdon. (To close in July 2011).
South Sydney Community Aid, (Redfern) Communicare (Whyalla) and the Junction Community Centre, Ottoway SA (D Eland).SSCA involved support for Aboriginal organisations including the Redfern Medical Service, the Legal Service, the Block and several other family based services. See the web site www.korriweb.org and article by Gary Foley on the Black Power Movement.

Networks and Coalitions
Networks and coalitions were formed in the 1970s and 80s by those with common views about social action, community organisation, public policy and theology. There was a variety and often conflicting views about priorities and action needed to address structural inequalities. Some favoured grass roots community development models and others sector social action or policy formation.
The Australian Association of Urban Mission began in 1980 and was initially known as the National Urban Network. A number of small conferences and workshops were held and in May 1984 the first major conference was held at Whitely College. The change of name involved a concerted effort to extend the scope of this practitioner’s network. The Association continued to hold bi annual conferences for the next ten years. As the coordinator of the Association I was supported by a number of others who made up a leadership team. Members included Peter Whittington in SA, the Pitt St team in Sydney, some former members of the Ecumenical Institute and Ross Langmead from Melbourne.
The beginning of the Ecumenical Coalition for Urban Mission dates from 1985 and was officially launched in 1987. This Melbourne based group was developed with the support of the Victorian Council of Christian Education, with Denham Grierson as executive officer and Ken Luscombe as field worker. This group was the primary contact group for AAUM in Melbourne.
As a Sydney based network Scaffolding involved Peter Kaldor and a number of full time staff and this group included support from the Sydney diocese of the Anglican and the Uniting Church. They produced a regular newsletter, Intermesh the first being the winter edition in 1982.

Leaders of Methodist Missions kept in touch with a bi annual Trans Tasman Conference.


The Centre for Urban Research and Action (CURA) in Melbourne developed from the ministry of the Fitzroy ecumenical parish and developed its focus on social issues. It produced a regular publication called, Ekstasis. Articles in this publication reported on research activity and included addresses and commentary on issues impacting inner city residents.
Another style for urban mission was introduced by the Australian Contact group for Urban Rural Mission (URM). This group was based on the convictions and emphasis that had developed over 30 years under the sponsorship of the East Asian Christian Conference. Australian leaders included John Garbutt, John Rickard, Richard Wootton and John Brown of the UCA Assembly’s Commission for Mission. The struggle and emphasis of this group is described in a 1997 report of the Uniting Church, Synod of Victoria (Tulloh 97).
It is significant that none of these networks have survived into the 21st century. Inner city areas have become gentrified and apart from the remaining public housing estates trendies, greenies and the independents have become popular and active in local government and community life. The older ALP machine operators no longer dominate civic life and the Lord Mayor of Sydney and independent local State MP, Clover Moore is representative of a new emerging leadership style.
Examples of International Networks

Gospel and Culture Network (Developed from Newbigin’s work)

Alban Institute USA

Urban & Industrial Mission WCC

Urban Theology Unit. John Vincent, Methodist, Sheffield.

William Temple Foundation. Manchester.



Summary of contribution and insights


  1. Mission study is contextual. Context is local and specific while taking account of wider social trends and cultural changes.

From the local knowing my community to social analysis. Context is both local and social. Analysis involves an appreciation of global trends and the implications of social change and its impact on the place and role of the church in society. Congregations are impacted by context and in turn they contribute to social capital. Contextual or community exegesis provides the foundation for developing a response and in discerning an appropriate emphasis or style of ministry and its priorities for action.




  1. Mission study involves learning from engagement and from partnerships with community based groups and social movements.

Churches are effective when they join in partnership with other groups and adopt a cross-disciplinary approach. Some examples from inner city experience include …Civil rights, resident action and the green bans, Australian Assistance Plan, migration and refugee support, ecumenical housing, community health centres, educational opportunities for the poor. The church does not need to do it all by itself and have all the answers!


Leaders often began in inner city churches and have demonstrated that partnerships are fruitful and creative. Those well known in Melbourne include Brian Howe from Fitzroy, leaders of the Church of All Nations in Carlton, Hotham Parish Mission in North Melbourne, Ross Langmead and the Westgate Baptist community. Peter Hollingworth Brotherhood of St Laurence and Tim Costello in his civic role in St Kilda.
Ted Knoffs in Kings Cross, Ted Kennedy, Redfern and Dorothy Mc Rae McMahon, Pitt St. In SA Gary Killington established the Service to Youth Council in SA. Howell Whit, Anglican and John Bodycomb in Elizabeth.

Peter Mathews, Australian Frontier.


Many worked alongside or outside of established church and denominational allegiances and contributed to social justice policies for equity and political action in health, housing, immigration, public education, environment, social security, self determination and rights for indigenous Australians and workers. One study by CURA, But I wouldn’t want my wife to work there, exposed issues involving migrant women workers in manufacturing industry. Melbourne. Public policy formation included the national enquiry into poverty late in 1960s (G Martin Port Adelaide) and later in the Hawke Keating years with Brian Howe in various cabinet positions. .
The recent UCA study of 15 congregations in the Western suburbs of Adelaide demonstrates that many suburban congregations are now involved and committed to community based programmes including a priority for families at risk (playgroups) and support for those living in hostels and supported accommodation (Eland 2011). This is a major shift in congregation life in comparison with the preoccupations of the immediate post war years.


  1. Mission study draws on praxis: the cycle of experience, engagement and reflection.

An inductive process where action leads to theological reflection leads to local or practical theology. Theologians of the street not the balcony and yet time out for reflection.




  1. Mission study discerns the formative theological images or models for being the Church. The predominant model for urban mission is the church as servant of the servant Lord. (Dulles).

A church in exile but with a liberating and transformative purpose, not militant and triumphant! A preferential option for the poor.







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