Established in November 1955 by the then Premier of South Australia, Sir Thomas Playford, the town of Elizabeth took shape on what had been wheat fields 23 kilometres north of the city of Adelaide. Like a grain of wheat, from small beginnings, Elizabeth had grown by 1997 into a city of 29,000 when it combined with the city of Munno Para to the north and was renamed the City of Playford. A number of people have told the story of the city that spread across Adelaide's northern plains in the 1950s, but the real story of Elizabeth is to be found in the dreams and accomplishments of its citizens.
Every family needs a home, however temporary their stay in this world may be: a home where, in a loving family environment, they can be nurtured and encouraged as they grow towards maturity. The Church of Christ family in Elizabeth had its beginnings in a garage.
The Early Days
Pat and Norm Russell, previously associated with the Cowandilla Church of Christ, were among the earliest arrivals in the new town of Elizabeth.
Norm had been looking for a pharmacy of his own. When he saw an advertisement in the Sunday Mail calling for tenders for the first block of shops in the new town, he decided that that was where he would like to start. He asked Pat what she thought; she agreed with him, feeling that God had a plan for her life too. A feeling of excitement filled her as they began to make plans. Norm applied for the shop and was granted the first pharmacy in Elizabeth.
The First Sunday School
There were no church buildings or halls in Elizabeth in those days and the children, pouring in to the infant city, had nowhere to go. Pat looked ahead to the January of the coming year and asked herself, "Where are we going?" The new school would not be ready for the children to attend at the beginning of the school year. Many of them had come from migrant camps, and some sort of organisation was needed to keep them occupied.
With this in mind, Pat decided there was no better time to start than the beginning of the New Year. She made a poster and placed it in their shop window, with the announcement that starting in the new year there would be a Sunday School open to children of all denominations. The meetings would be held in a garage at the back of the shops.
A local builder loaned her some planks, and the proprietor of the delicatessen loaned her his empty drink crates. Each Sunday morning, with Norm's help, she set up rows of crates with planks on top of them for seats, until finally she had 200 children squashed together in the garages. In this way the children were taught the stories of the Bible.
Enter The Girls Brigade
Pat had decided the meetings would be bright and cheerful, meetings the children would enjoy. She says her reward came when she heard little voices call out, "Hello, Mrs Russell." To her ears each of these little voices was as a prayer being answered. Pat wanted to start a youth group with a strong Christian emphasis, so she decided to approach the Girls' Life Brigade. Because of the experience she had already acquired in youth work, she quickly came to terms with their procedures. Her long-term plan was that, as the different churches started up, the children leaving her Sunday School would already be church oriented, and be a benefit to their denominations.
The Girls' Brigade was a great success, and they were soon bursting at the seams in the garage. It became clear to Pat that greater space had become an absolute necessity.
Help From The Education Department
Unfortunately, the Churches of Christ Conference was unable to help. The land designated for building their new church was located in the town centre, an area awaiting development. After many consultations with them, Pat decided to approach the Department of Education, to see if they would permit her to use a brand-new school in the area for "her activities". The Principal opposed her application, understandably enough in the circumstances, as the new school was obviously his pride and joy.
The church of 1957 possessed few creature comforts. The summers were hot, and the winters cold, but in the halcyon days of the late 1950s such considerations mattered little to this young and enthusiastic congregation.
After considerable deliberation, the Department of Education granted permission, as long as the Principal agreed.
Pat went to the owner of the drapers shop, as she was using his garage for Girls' Brigade.
He said, "I'm glad you came as I have something to tell you."
Pat replied, "I've got something to tell you too, but you go first."
"Well, I'm sorry to say," he said, "you won't be able to use the garage anymore as I have a lot of stock coming in and there won't be room."
Pat smiled and replied, "I've come to tell you we won't need the garage anymore as we will be holding Brigade at the school."
The Family Takes Shape
Among the many new arrivals to the City of Elizabeth were people who were already members of other Churches of Christ. Acting on advice from their ministers, they would contact Pat Russell at the Pharmacy on Goodman Road. As a result of this contact, a nucleus of church members began meeting in the garage at the back of the shops. Together these families formed a partnership, and bought the delicatessen in the row of shops on Goodman Road.
Realising they had now enough members to form a church, Pat arranged for a meeting to be held in her home. The purpose of this meeting was to plan the founding of a new church in Elizabeth
A Church Movement...A New Minister
Pat moved that a church be formed in Elizabeth. The motion was seconded, and then carried unanimously.
The young church members discussed the possibility of obtaining the services of a minister, even though they knew they were not in a position to pay his salary. Kevin Heath was planning to go to America to study at Lexington Bible College. He was approached on the possibility of a part-time ministry at Elizabeth. He responded enthusiastically and was thrilled by the challenge of working in a new town establishing a new church.
Mr Heath took up his duties immediately and quickly became involved in visitation. He also became a familiar and respected figure in the Elizabeth area.
The intensity of the Elizabeth people's desire to have a building of their own was so great, that at the meeting to form a church, they alos decided to write a letter to the Department requesting a 25,000 pounds grant towards a new church building.
God was moving in the church at Elizabeth, mini-miracles were being performed, and the prayers of God's people were being answered. The Church was alive. The people had a vision for their new city.
A Church For The Ladies
At a church meeting, Kevin Heath proposed that women should be asked to help with the Sunday morning readings. This would allow the men to concentrate on other aspects of the church service. It must be understood that this proposal was made at a time when great emphasis was placed on women keeping silent in church. The proposal was revolutionary for Churches of Christ. Whether Mr Heath realised it or not, the move was to have far-reaching effects on the worship of the church in Elizabeth.
Ten young men from Croydon were rostered each week to come up to Elizabeth to help with communion, and assist in any way possible. (The Eizabeth church had help from other Churches of Christ in these early days.) They came on motorbikes and crossed through the unmade roads such as "Gluepot" Road as it was called then. Four of these young men: Barry Grear, Ray Bishop, Bruce Bailey and Laurie Higgins, eventually moved to Elizabeth, and became members when the church was opened on 16 November 1958.
The Official Beginning
March the 17th 1957, was a great day for the young church. On that day it officially became part of the Churches of Christ in South Australia.
Twelve months had passed since the Sunday School was formed, and Pat Russell thought it would be a good idea for the children to celebrate their anniversary by being the choir for the big occasion.
The crowd was so large that only half of them could be seated. Many stood around to witness the signing, and to welcome the new church into fellowship. An offering was taken up and a substantial amount of money was raised to assist the new church.
Eric Hollard, the Home Mission Secretary, was the speaker. He spoke on the early church, drawing a parallel with this new church at Elizabeth.
The Power Of God To Set Free
Before the church opening, the meetings were moved to the RSL Hall in the Elizabeth South shopping centre. Arthur Pigdon, Minister of the Gawler Church of Christ, came to Elizabeth to preach in the RSL hall. One morning he spoke on Romans 12:1-2 about our bodies being a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. Guilf Pederson was a heavy smoker and after that sermon he gave up smoking. He had tried several times before that without success. With the help and power of God, Guilf has never smoked since that day.
Soon the church building was complete and preparations were made for the opening.
A Building Of Our Own
The church building was designed by Lance Brune as a multi-purpose hall with associated rooms. It was to be part of a master plan involving a chapel and more classrooms to be built at a later date.
Built by Neil Bright, the building was ready for the commencement of the first full-time Minister, Ray Ewers, in November 1958.
A Harmonious Family
In the early days of the church there was a great oneness between all its members. Many working bees were held with the men cementing the pavement around the church, creating a car park, laying the tennis courts, and planting trees and shrubs. While the men were working outside, the women were busy sewing the curtains for the church, and providing refreshments for the men doing the heavier work. This sense of family has continued to the present time.
Working bees were family days. The children joined in wherever possible and those days are viewed with great satisfaction.
When the manse was to be built, Guilf Pederson, who was in the building trade, was appointed overseer on behalf of the Board to keep in contact with the builder and the building. Guilf remembers checking on the Manse building foundations. After six men had worked all day setting out and digging foundations, he found they had it on the wrong block. Lucky for them Guilf inspected it before the foundations had been poured!
Through The Years
Because of the rapid growth of the Kindergarten Department of the Sunday School, it became necessary to build a hall and this was completed in 1961.
In 1964 a temporary galvanized building was erected north of the Kinder Hall. This was used to house the Youth Department of the Sunday School. It was later removed.
The foyer and minister's office were added in 1982. The large garage that was built to house the large Sunday School Anniversary platform was later converted to an Op Shop called "The Boomerang Centre".
Further expansion of the worship hall is limited by the amount of on-site parking spaces. This prompted in 1997 the commencement of an additional morning service.
Mobile Mission Maintenance constructed the storeroom on the western side of the church building. They were ably assisted by those men of the church who faithfully undertake maintenance tasks throughout the year. In 1998 an area previously used to store cleaning equipment was converted into a toilet for disabled people.
In 2003 we completed a major building renovation, which has really enhanced our mission into the community. Since then we have been a congregation that is strong in prayer and growing by the power of God amongst us.
We have continued to reach out to the local and global community, growing our contact with the local community through outreach's like Girls Brigade and the Boomerang Centre (Op Shop), and Cafe Hope.
Many lives have been touched over the years as we continue to seek to be a beacon of hope around us.