Our Australian Tour (8)

We had a hectic experience at the airport in Hobart on the morning of our departure, July 8. All along we had blissfully been planning on an 11:50 A.M. departure, and we had planned accordingly during our brief sightseeing tour of the penal colony at Port Arthur. Imagine our surprise when we arrived in the terminal building and were being paged! Our plane was scheduled for 11:15, not 11:50! And we still had to make some ticket changes! The TAA plane was held up a few minutes for us, and we were virtually shoved toward the waiting airliner. We did not have a decent opportunity to say farewell to Pastor Rodman. 

But that was our last hectic experience for that day. We arrived at Melbourne in time for a late lunch, and we spent that day by ourselves at the Tulamarine Travelodge, close to the airport. Either bone weariness from the whirlwind pace in our Tasmania tour or the cistern water in Tararma, or a combination of the two, made us quite miserable that day; and we were content to try to rest up and not to make any contacts. Even then we could not escape contact by telephone, however. Nevertheless, we got some much needed rest, had an opportunity to take care of our laundry, and enjoyed the quietness of simply being by ourselves for the remainder of that day. The next day we began our labors on the Australian mainland. 

A little background on the ecclesiastical scene in Australia is in order at this point. 

First of all, one finds all the mainline Protestant denominations in this country, even as in our own. There are the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Anglicans, the Congregationals, etc. And just as in New-Zealand, these mainline denominations are in the process of consummating a gigantic union. This, in turn, has finally given some the impetus to separate—something which, for the most part, they should have done long ago on account of the liberalism in those churches. 

As far as Reformed denominations are concerned, there are two of these. One is the Free Reformed Church of Australia, the so-called Liberated Church. Numerically they are very small. We had no contact with this denomination, although we did meet one of the ministers after the Saturday evening lecture in Launceston, Tasmania. The Reformed Churches of Australia is a denomination of Dutch Reformed background which was established through immigration after World War II. This is a denomination of some 8600 members. Also with this group we had no contact. At various of our public meetings there were a few Reformed people present who had responded to the advertisements of these meetings. 

It is rather striking—but, I think, not unexpected—that our contacts for the most part are not with Reformed people of Dutch background, but with Presbyterians of English and Scotch and Irish background. 

First of all, there is, of course, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which also has various centers on the mainland, especially in Queensland, far up north along the east coast of Australia. One of the churches, in Brisbane, we visited. But there are also centers in Rockhampton and Townsville, still farther north, which our schedule did not permit us to visit. Secondly, there is the small denomination known as the Free Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia. I have no statistics at hand, and I will not bank on my memory; but although this church has been in Australia already for many years, it is relatively small From what we learned from various congregations, it is, on the whole, also rather weakly Presbyterian. It has been one of the supporting churches of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, though this support was decided upon by a very narrow margin. This is also the denomination with which the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in its earlier years tried to cooperate in the training of theological students, but with which they came to the parting of the ways over the issue of the “free offer.” In the third place, there is a very small group of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. I mention them because we came into contact with a couple of their men in the Melbourne-Geelong area. 

In the fourth place, there is an independent Reformed Presbyterian congregation in the Sydney area, some 500 miles up the coast from Melbourne. With these people, especially with their pastor, the Rev. John Stafford, we have been in contact by correspondence for several years. Mr. Stafford graciously assisted with many of the arrangements for the Australian portion of our tour. I shall tell more about this congregation and their wonderful reception of us a bit later. 

Finally, there is the denomination known as the Presbyterian Reformed Churches. This is a group of relatively recent origin who separated from the mainline Presbyterian Church of. Australia. Our Committee for Contact for a few years has been in correspondence with a similar committee of this denomination. Originally, one of the purposes of our tour was to have a face-to-face and official conference with representatives of these churches and to discuss various doctrinal matters (among them, common grace and the “free offer”) about which we had corresponded. Shortly before our tour began, however, we received notice from the moderator of their Presbytery, Rev. G. Kastelein, that the proposed meetings with some of the sessions and with a Commission of their Presbytery—meetings which had in part already been scheduled—were being cancelled. Apparently the occasion of this notice was the fact that the Rev. Stafford, who had formerly been in that denomination, and who is persona non grata to them, was acting as the coordinator of our Australian tour. Our Contact Committee and our Synod must still resolve various matters connected with this unexpected cancellation and with regard to our future attitude toward these churches; hence, I will not comment further at this time. We had held open the possibility of meetings even after the cancellation-notice was received; but we had no contact whatsoever with these churches. 

The above will furnish some orientation with regard to the various churches which we will mention in the subsequent part of our report about this segment of our tour.