A look at the history of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church

For more than 140 years, Presbyterians have met and worshiped in the beautiful St Andrew's church in Harold Street.

That chapter of church history has now been closed, with the building sold to Forbes Shire Council.

But the final four members of the church have shared some of its rich history, and the care they have taken in finalising the story of the church's connection to the heritage building.

St Andrew's has been a central part of Deidre Quirk's life as long as she can remember, Jean Hodges' journey of faith began in the Sunday school there and she has returned to it as an adult.

Keith and Jan Mullette have been members of the congregation for more than a decade.

The three women spoke to the Advocate, and said closing the doors of the church building was a topic of conversation for about three years before they came to the difficult decision that they simply could not keep up the maintenance on the historic building.

"It was a very long, hard process to get to the point where the decision had to be made," Mrs Quirk said. "And once it was made it was still pretty hard."

Until Covid-19 forced the cessation of services, the Parkes Presbysterian minister was attending every week to conduct services for the four parishioners, but it wasn't the pandemic that forced their hand. Nor was it a directive of the church leadership.

"Four of us simply couldn't sustain the upkeep on the old building," they said.

That's despite fundraising including the fantastic "5Ps luncheon" that quickly rose to popularity from its inception seven or so years ago, and catering for the annual eisteddfod.

They want the community to know they were not forced to hurry with their move, and took the time and care they needed.

St Andrew's had many beautiful and unique donated items, and it was important to the group that those be placed where they would be cared for.

Items that had memorial plaques were, wherever possible, returned to the family who donated them. The baptismal font, donated in memory of WWII Flying Officer Tom Hood, is one example.

Large print Bibles and hymnals were re-homed to those who could use them.

The beautiful embroidered communion linen and the red velvet Bible pad worked in gold thread have been placed with the Presbyterian heritage committee and will be part of a travelling exhibition in future.

The Holy Bible and brass Bible stand were given by the friends of the late Nellie Robibnson, in appreciation of her hard work and worth in St Andrew's.

The communion table and runner were donated by R H and Mrs Beddie, and the dais carpet by the Town and Country Guild. The gifts were dedicated by Rt Reverend R G Cruikshank, Moderator of NSW Assembly, in 1951.

The Presbyterian Church in Forbes has a rich history, and we share some of it here.

Early days

The Presbyterian congregation was active in Forbes before December 1862, the month when the land in Harold Street was granted for the church.

The first Forbes Presbyterian church was a timber building in Cross Street, which was blown down in what's described as a hurricane in church history. Undaunted, the people rebuilt the church and worshipped there until 1877.

There is mention of an inauguration address in Presbyterian Church records by the Reverend Hugh S Seaborn in those years.

Home missionaries and itinerant ministers including the "apostle of the saddle" Rev James Adam MA served a parish which embraced the whole of the Lachlan Valley.

Sabbath School, as it was known in the 1870s, had an average attendance of 70 pupils, who would march from the church behind beautiful banners and the St Andrews Band Of Hope to the grounds of the manse on Camp Hill for picnics.

The church was a bustling congregation at the time, the photograph of the laying of the foundation stone on May 25, 1984, shows a sizable crowd gathered for the occasion.

Rev A A Aspinall is recorded to have said, "If people continued the good work which had called them together, there would be every reason to hope that in due time the church would be successfully completed and that it would prove a fitting building wherein to worship God, and an ornament to the town."

Some 700 pounds was collected on that occasion.

In 1877 the work was completed and on June 11 St Andrew's was opened with great rejoicing.

Rev Aspinall arrived in 1874 and was in charge of a growing Presbyterian community, the church history explains.

He was responsible for the push to build St Andrews, built between 1874 and 1877 and opened on June 11, 1877, with great celebration.

The Reverend moved on from Forbes and became one of the founders, and the first principal, of Sydney's Scots College.

He's not the only notable character associated with St Andrew's.

Reverend John Calder took leave from the church to serve in World War I, and conducted the first Anzac service in Forbes in 1916.

In 1927, as the church celebrated its 50th anniversary, St Andrew's and grounds underwent improvements including a new slate roof, renovation of building within, and amongst other changes the renovation of the pulpit.

The church congregation is no stranger to the hard work of fundraising, and over the years the women of the church have done an amazing job of supporting the committee in running the church.

Among the historic items Mrs Quirk has is the guide the church women used to cater for Rotary dinners and the Scots Ball, with quantities for serving 350 people. This was something the women of the church did from the 1950s through to the 1970s.

It was written in the celebration of the church centenary in 1977, that "St Andrew's stands as a monument to faith and perseverance in the centre of Forbes' community, and as a reminder of so many faithful Christian men and women who made it all possible in their service for God and mankind."

The union

The local congregation actually worked for years to raise the funds to purchase St Andrew's back after the union of Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterian Church churches in 1977.

All Church property and assets became the property of the Uniting Church.

The continuing Presbyterians met in homes then rented a room at the Masonic Lodge for a time until they were able to rent St.Andrews from the Uniting Church until eventually they bought the property back.

"They (Forbes Presbyterians) met in homes, for a time they rented the Masonic Lodge, and then in 1982 they were able to buy it back and continued in St Andrew's," Mrs Quirk said.

She has the minutes book of those years, which records the "incredible" efforts the church members went to to raise the funds to purchase their beloved building back, including regular cake stalls from a caravan in the street.

The church hall - which is now the council chambers - was sold to the shire in 1984 so the congregation could keep the church building itself.

If these walls could talk ...

St Andrew's has been the venue of many key events in the lives of local families, from weddings to final farewells, or the simple joy of getting to sit in the special little birthday chair at Sunday school.

Mrs Quirk acknowledges the history of St Andrew's is very personal to her.

Her great grandfather Peder Neilsen was married, to Annie Smith, in the church in March 1878 by Reverend Arthur Aspinall.

"Everything that ever happened in our family has happened here, I don't know anything else," she said - and the church members know there are many in our community and beyond who also have their links to St Andrew's.

Future of the building 

While Forbes Shire Council has not yet revealed finalised plans for the property, Mayor Phyllis Miller OAM says it's important to keep the heritage-listed building in the condition it is worthy of.

Built in a Gothic Revival style with an octagonal belltower and spire, St Andrew's is constructed in coursed stone with smooth dressed stone to quoins and surrounds and openings.

It was classified by the National Trust in 1975.

"The church sits within a very important square of Forbes, Victoria Square and is part of our very popular Heritage Trail," she said when the council announced it had purchased the building.

"Local stonemasons assisted in building this stone church back in 1877 and many locals will tell you the church is a special part of our history and they didn't want to see it go into disrepair."