PILGRIM UNITING CHURCH
In the early days of colonisation, Christians met together and formed groups in their like denominations. One of the first Christian groups in the centre of Launceston was of the Methodist denomination. The first Methodist chapel was built in 1826 on the site which now houses Holy Trinity Anglican Church. Numbers grew, and in 1835 Governor Arthur granted the Methodists some land in Paterson Street. By 1836, a Chapel with schoolroom (now the church hall), as well as a caretaker’s quarters, were completed. In 1839 the preacher’s residence was built (now Wesley Chambers). By this time however, the Chapel had become too small for the growing congregation, so some adjacent land was purchased and the foundation stone for a new church was laid on 18th September, 1866. Paterson Street Church was opened on 21st February, 1868. A pipe organ was installed in 1880. This organ, now in Trinity Uniting Church, Margaret Street, Launceston, was replaced in 1911 by a larger organ, its installation necessitating internal structural alterations to the building.
Meanwhile, in June 1840, John West was asked to form a new Congregational Church. (There was, at the time, a Congregational Church in Tamar Street from which this new group was formed.) A wooden building was dragged to its site, where now stands the City Mission, by a team of bullocks. This Church soon became too small, and on 14th August, 1842, a new building was opened opposite St. John’s Square. It became known as St. John’s Square Chapel (now Milton Hall, named after the Congregational poet John Milton). The name of the church was changed to Princes Square Congregational Church when the name of the Square was altered. As time passed, the congregation outgrew the church building. The foundation stone for a new building was laid in 1883 and the new church opened in 1885 – much to the joy of the congregation. It was named Christ Church, after a London church of similar design. The church was originally build to seat 1,000 but the size has since been reduced by the addition of a wooden screen under the gallery and more comfortable spacing between the pews.
While the other denominations were busy, so too was a band of Presbyterians. In 1840 – 1850, they worked together to form the Van Diemen’s Land Free Church of Scotland. On 11th May, 1844, the Launceston group formed “The Launceston Free Church Association” for the purpose of supporting those ministers in Scotland who had chosen to secede to the Free Church rather than remain with the established Church of Scotland and submit to the dictates of parliament. They hired a room belonging to a Mr. Bell and began a Sabbath School, conducting a Divine Service when a minister was available. An appeal was made to the Assembly of the Free Church for a permanent minister and the Rev. James Lindsay was appointed on 7th December, 1850. A move was then made to Wycliffe Chapel, York Street and the Temperance Hall. On January 19th, 1859, a special service was conducted in the Wycliffe/Baptist Chapel, followed by a procession to the site of the proposed Presbyterian Church and the foundation stone was laid. Twelve months later, 15th January 1860, Chalmers Church was opened. It was named after Dr. Thomas Chalmers who in 1859 took a strong stand on Assembly’s declaration “... that the Church should not submit.”
In 1977 these three denominations joined together as the Uniting Church in Australia. The congregations of Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Christ Church Congregational Church and Paterson Street Methodist Church began to worship together using the three buildings. In November, 1979, the Chalmers and Christ Church congregations worshipped as one in the Christ Church building until May 1980, then in the Chalmers building for the rest of the year. They were then joined by the Paterson Street congregation, worshipping in the Christ Church building while renovations of the Paterson Street complex got underway. In July 1982, the Uniting Church Central Parish congregation moved to its present location – to be known as Pilgrim Uniting Church.
The buildings in Paterson Street are an important architectural heritage and represent the major steps in the design on ecclesiastical buildings during the main part of the 19th century.
The first church of this parish still exists and is now used as the church hall. It was built in 1835 to the design of the early Tasmanian architect, Samuel Jackson. The design reflects the traditions of the non-conformist churches at that time.
Gothic architecture was being proposed as the only true Christian architecture worthy of being used for a ‘house of God’. Classical architecture was derided as being of sacrilegious pagan Greek origins, with all the connotations that that held for the prim and proper Victorian mind, and thus not at all suitable for a place of Christian worship.
The building that Samuel Jackson designed for Paterson Street shows the beginning of the architectural change in direction which resulted from the ‘battle of the styles’. It is very much a simple classical box with its rendered front facade and Greek inspired pilaster and central pediment. The windows however are rather odd, very squat-topped Gothic lancet windows, evidence of the impending change to a Gothic approach.
In England, the revival of interest in ‘true’ medieval Gothic architecture was largely the work of Augustus Welby Pugin of England. He wrote widely about the Virtues of what he saw as ‘God’s own architecture’ in a series of books and tracts published during the 1830s and 40s. These books became pattern books to be blindly copied.
By the 1860s when the Paterson Street congregation had grown to such an extent that a new, enlarged church was needed, the design they received from their Melbourne architects, Crouch and Wilson, was none other than a direct copy of one of Pugin’s churches, St Peters Woolwich.
The design had appeared in Pugin’s ‘The True Principles of Christian or Pointed Architecture’, in 1841.
The drawing received was quite small, only 30 cm tall, so a great deal of the detail had to be guessed. The irony is that St. Peter’s Woolwich was never completed, remaining without its spire. The very handsome structure that graces its copy is in fact the only tangible expression of Pugin’s design.
To fulfil its new role as conceived by the Uniting Church in 1979, the interior of the church building needed to be adapted. From research, and piecing together the design history of the buildings, local architect Robert Morris-Nunn gained the insight necessary for designing the alterations. His brief was to create a centre of worship in which the participants would have complete involvement.
The new church interior was designed to express the desire for personal freedom of worship. The greatest inhibitions were perceived to be the remote, raised sanctuary area where the communion table used to stand, separated from the congregation; and the formal ranks of pews in which the congregation was isolated. The pews had long ceased to have their original function of bringing money into church coffers by being ‘bought’ by families as a form of permanent lease and handed on from generation to generation. An anonymous minister, calling himself Clergicus, had written a series of articles in the Examiner in 1840 attacking the use of box pews and suggesting that benches or individual seats were more appropriate to the true preaching of the faith.
The new communion table is an adaptation of a Pugin design to match the details of the existing timberwork in the Church. It is made of the old pew seat planks and portions of the lower sections of the old pulpit. The carpet was specially woven for the worship centre. Its design is based on a Pugin illustration of a medieval tile which he thought appropriate.
Every attempt was made to make the old elements and furnishings from the three former churches perform a useful role in the new building interior, tying the new to the old, and thus creating a fusion which hopefully would give new meaning to both. The backs of the old pews have become wall panelling; at the base of the organ is the former communion rail, and the pulpit is still here, if now on casters. The ducts which provide the heating along the walls are in fact three dimensional versions of the original painted dado which once ran along the walls at that height.
The more difficult questions concerned additions which were required. One, a new entrance and the other, a social meeting area, which would enable the congregation to meet and share in fellowship after services.
It was research into the revival of Gothic architecture that provided the answer. At the time the church was being constructed, rapid technological advances in the use of glass and cast iron were being made in the United Kingdom.
The design of the Crystal Palace, built in 1851, had heralded a new age of technology. Even the Gothicist architects came to be influenced by the new materials and tried to express the Gothic forms in new ways.
While that was the 1860s and was contemporary with the church in thought, if not in deed, to Robert Morris-Nunn it seemed more than suitable to be adapted to materials of the 20th century, such as laminated plate glass and steel. With the use of glass for the new covered walkway, a sense of history is enhanced as on either side there are the two churches which form this parish and a new view of the magnificent spire.
What has been achieved by way of design would not have been possible without the tremendous, stimulating involvement of all the Uniting Church members. Both ministers and lay people alike provided inspiration, trust and testing, every step of the way.