IT ALL BEGAN IN 1856,
IN A COWSHED ON Mr MOORE’S PROPERTY … …
In 1856 a group of orchardist settlers with a Primitive Methodist heritage met in a cowshed (with the cows also in attendance), probably on the property of Samuel Moore, on the opposite side of Burwood Highway from the location of the present church hall. There is a possibility it may have actually been on the site of the highway, which of course has been substantially widened over the years. Meetings were held in members’ homes.
The first church building arrived in 1862, a small structure that had already been used on two other sites, at Hawthorn and Norwood (in Warrigal Road Burwood) – it was dubbed “the travelling church“. Known as The Nunawading Primitive Methodist Church, it was part of the Melbourne circuit with the minister living in Fitzroy! In 1864 trustees bought a small block of land for 5 pounds for the purpose of erecting a chapel and meeting house. As the congregation’s numbers increased “it was contemplated to build at this place a more substantial chapel, the present one getting somewhat shaky”.
In 1901 all the different “Methodist” churches in Australia united, so the church became
East Burwood Methodist. When Crown land became available on the Blackburn Road/Burwood Highway corner, a momentous occasion took place, probably in 1910, when the weatherboard building was rolled on logs pulled by draught horses across Burwood highway to the present location. Two extensions were later added to the northern end. Electricity arrived in 1923 and water in 1934 (sewerage in 1981!). None of these early buildings still exist today.
Long time church member Dorothy Schwab painted this image in honour of the pioneer families.
The late 1950s and the early 1960s saw the orchards and market gardens giving way to residential urban sprawl. When the need for more space became evident, the new A-frame church building was opened in October1961. Sometimes called “K-Mart Uniting” due to its location, it became well recognized in the community and its innovative design later earned a heritage listing.
The first Parsonage was built in 1967, fronting the highway. In 1974 this building was offered to the newly established East Burwood Centre (now known as Uniting East Burwood Centre) and a new parsonage purchased elsewhere.
The 1970s saw a huge increase in numbers attending Sunday School, with well over 300 children being catered for in cramped conditions and in innovative ways. Many church groups were very active, including Choir, Youth Club, Young Adults, Boys’ Club, Knights, Rays, Scott Cottage (Tally Ho) Support Group, Gymnastics, Cricket, Netball, Badminton, Table Tennis and Jogging.
The wooden church was demolished in 1975 and six years later a large new hall was erected adjoining the East Burwood Centre – with toilet facilities replacing the former primitive version. Vacant land behind the church was utilized in 1977 with the building of eight retirement units.
When in 1977 all Methodist churches merged with the Congregationalists and Presbyterians to form the Uniting Church, three churches – East Burwood Methodist, St Stephen’s Presbyterian Bennettswood and Blackburn South Methodist – combined to become Burwood Heights Uniting Church. By then it was the spiritual home to over 200 people and the occasion was recorded on an embroidered banner which depicts the three church buildings whose congregations came together in Union.
A vestry was added and the foyer extended in 1986. Small changes were made to the interior, such as reversing the position of the pulpit and lectern and relocating the organ from the back of the church to the front. Five chairs were crafted to be located behind the communion table and eventually the communion rail was removed. In 2003 a new pressed-metal tiled roof replaced the old asbestos tiles and in 2012 the foyer and fellowship room were opened up to form a large flexible space which has proved to be of great benefit. In the early days, floral decorations were thought to be a distraction, but in latter years they have become regarded as a ministry that enhances the atmosphere of the sanctuary.
The same can be said of the beautiful banners, many of which are designed to reflect the church calendar. The 150th anniversary of the church’s establishment was celebrated in 2006 and a special banner is mounted in the foyer of the hall In the second decade of the 21st century, the congregation was enriched by members from a diversity of countries and the introduction of an outreach program of English conversation acknowledged the changing nature of the local population.
‘The thought provoking messages on the highway ‘wayside pulpit’ sign are seen by many passers-by and commuters.
Notable events which have occurred in the area include: 1970 – K-Mart became our neighbour; 1978 – the tram linked us directly to the City; 1999 – Telstra erected a striking white tower on the corner, with a
cross that is lit at night.
In 2020 when a pandemic changed the world, the church embraced technology to make worship services available online for those who could access it. The restrictions imposed did not diminish the strength of the congregation’s caring for each other and those around them, which was maintained despite the limitations on meeting together.
The 165-year-old church fellowship continues to engage
with the community of East Burwood and beyond.
Acknowledgements to Helen Blakemore, Laurie Rush and Barry Horn