On 15 May, the congregation celebrated its first service at St Andrew’s Uniting Church Gardiner in Glen Iris.
The Indonesian congregation originally started with a small group of six families led by Rev Barnabas Ong. It was intended to be a space for Indonesian-speaking migrants to worship in their native language. But the congregation members wanted to reach out to the wider Australia community, so they decided to join the Uniting Church in 1985.
Through the support of Rev Helen Cox from Mulgrave, Rev Joe Fraser from Chadstone and Rev Margaret Watson, the head of Maroondah presbytery at the time, the first Indonesian service was held at Wanda Street Uniting Church in Mulgrave on 5 May 1985. This was the same year the UCA declared itself a multicultural church.
The Indonesian congregation has since grown into a community of approximately 130 to 150 worshippers, in addition to 60 to 70 children who attend Sunday school classes.
Jacinda Widjadi, a representative from the congregation, said the church plays an important social and cultural role in her life.
“I came from Indonesia 17 years ago, so the church has been my second family in Melbourne,” she said.
“It helps me to not forget the roots of my origin and Indonesian culture. And of course the food is always great!”
While some churches have struggled with declining numbers and low levels of youth participation, the Indonesian congregation at St Andrew’s Uniting Church Gardiner tells a different story.
It is home to a significant number of young people, second generation Australians, young families and international students. It has an active youth ministry, with five Sunday school classes catering for toddlers to teenagers, along with a youth fellowship group.
As the congregation expanded over the years, church space became an increasingly prominent issue, especially for Sunday school activities. Prior to moving to St Andrew’s, the congregation ran an Indonesian service at Mulgrave and an English-language service at Box Hill. For years, the congregation had been on the look out for a new church building that could fit all the families together under one roof.
When news came that St Andrew’s Uniting Church Gardiner was willing to hand over its church to the Mulgrave Indonesian community, the congregation felt their prayers were finally answered.
“As we finish our services, we are able to enjoy fellowship together in one location,” Ms Widjadi said.
“We were unable to do this before, as we had Indonesian and English service at two different places and two different times. Being able to enjoy the fellowship together has worked out well in the end.”
The history of St Andrew’s Gardiner stretches back to 1911, when it was first established as a place of worship for the Presbyterian community. The current building was reconstructed from the Free Church of Scotland in Carlton, which closed in 1938. Instead of having their beloved church demolished, the congregation offered it to the community at St Andrew’s Gardiner and the church was transported brick-by-brick to its current site.
Members at the former St Andrew’s Gardiner congregation have been invited to join in worship with the Indonesian congregation at their Sunday morning service, which provides English translations. There is also a contemporary English service in the parish hall at the same time.
As one door closes on the history of St Andrew’s Gardiner, another exciting new chapter begins. The ministry at St Andrew’s Gardiner will continue under a different face, one which builds upon the 105-year legacy of the church and offers a foundation for worship for generations to come.