Eight years of planning and transition came to a culmination on Sunday as hundreds of people crammed into the opening service and dedication of the Shepparton Uniting Church redevelopment.
Congregation and planning group chair Joan McRae said it was wonderful that so many people were there to celebrate a breathtaking event.
The service opened with an exuberant display of song and dance in a procession headed by Congolese Uniting Church members.
“They came in dancing and singing in Swahili and then English. We all joined in and it was very frenetic and exciting,” Ms McRae said.
There was a strong and often colourful representation of multicultural communities present in the congregation.
A contingent of Tongans, who regularly attend a service led by Shepparton minister Rev Loni Vaitohi in Merrigum, came in national dress and predominantly red polo shirts. They were joined by the Congolese and Indonesian members in traditional clothing.
Among the visitors were former ministers, some of whom travelled from interstate.
Members of neighbouring congregations, often an hour or more away, and former members joined the large number of Shepparton people.
Prominent members of the synod also attended, including moderator Rev Sharon Hollis, who gave the sermon.
“The moderator spoke to the children and then preached most movingly, as you would expect,” Ms McRae said.
The new development links the former Presbyterian Scots’ St Andrews church to its hall.
It features an octagonal worship space with pyramidal roof at one end and offices and kitchen at the other.
In November 2009, all four Shepparton Uniting Church Congregations closed before uniting to become Shepparton Uniting Church.
That congregation then considered where its future home would be. It was agreed to redevelop the former Scots’ Church site.
This resulted in some much-loved churches closing.
In January, a final service was held at the Maude Street Church as it was closed for worship.
“We acknowledged the grief as well as the excitement of the move,” Ms McRae said.
Photographic documentation of the redevelopment was made by an appointed photographer and other members of the congregation from when work began on April 18 last year un until Sunday’s opening worship.
This continuing photographic record has been presented to the Congregation to keep them informed of what was happening.
At the opening, service a glass mosaic baptismal bowl made by the Rev Rhonda Kissick of Tallangatta and a new lectern Bible were dedicated. These were added to refurbished sanctuary furnishings from the four congregations.
A wall cross from one of the closed churches is now freestanding and will carry the liturgical colours.
“There was a lot that was new and a lot that was old,” Ms McRae said.
A particularly eye-catching feature of the new development is the 52 metres of white Uniting Church doves that adorn the glass windows and doors.
“They look stunning,” Ms McRae said.
In the wake of the success of the opening service, Ms McRae wanted to pay special tribute to Shepparton minister Rev Rosalie Rayment-Hewitt, who has extended her ministry for an extra three years at Shepparton.
“Her sense of the vision and ministry the mission we can do from there is extremely strong and has been a driving force,” Ms McRae said.