Christ Church, Mount Gambier
At the time of the foundation of Christ Church in 1865, Mount Gambier had been settled for about 11 years after Mr Hastings Cunningham cut up 77 acres of his Compton Run into township blocks for the new settlement of Gambierton. Buildings such as the Courthouse, Telegraph Office, Assembly Hall, schools, the Fidler & Webb store and the newspaper The Border Watch, had all been established by this time. Although Mount Gambier had become substantial pocket of civilization, people arriving in the South East from Britain, Ireland and Germany to the town in the early 1860’s still found conditions primitive, requiring a robust pioneer spirit to cope with unmade boggy roads, no railway line, limited communications and isolation.
The early clergy of the time were made of stern stuff indeed. Since 1858, ‘Horseback Priests’ had spasmodically preached and administered the sacraments, often camping out in the open between settlements. Priests Craig and Corbett also travelled from Adelaide by boat to conduct services. The first incumbent in Mount Gambier, the Reverend R.W. Needham, arrived in 1863. He initially conducted services in the National School House in Sturt St. He and his wife moved into the newly built rectory on its completion in 1864 and was priest during the building of Christ Church in 1865. Sadly he died of paralysis in 1866.
The purchase and installation of the Great Organ was a great occasion in 1882. There was also a huge Exhibition of Art and Craft, initiated and organised by the then incumbent, the Reverend Dr B.T. Craig and his wife. Dr Craig had other less savoury events to deal with. An argument following his dismissal of a choir boy for bad behaviour together with issues concerning the resignation of governors of the Grammar School led to falling out with the People’s Warden, Mr Thurston. This resulted in a split within the Church and the establishment of The Church of the Holy Cross in Doughty St. This Church operated independently until 1889, although the building was not demolished until 1915, with the building materials being used to construct the Christ Church Sunday School. Sadly this building was destroyed by fire in 1948. Nevertheless, as part of the Jubilee Celebrations the building was rebuilt as the upper hall in 1951 as almost an exact reproduction of the Holy Cross Church.
The Lych Gate at the front of the Church was erected in memory of Miss Margaret Anne French and dedicated in 1928. The Priest’s Vestry and People’s/Choir Vestry was rebuilt at a cost of $78 000 and opened in 1978.
In the 1950’s, it was believed that Mt Gambier would develop eastwards with the post-war housing boom, therefore the Bishop’s Home Mission Society in conjunction with the Rector and people of Christ Church purchased land for a new church on Pick Ave. Definite plans for the building of the church were begun in 1955 and on February 1st 1958 the foundation stone was laid for St Margaret’s Church and the first service was held on May 18th, 1958. Although St Margaret’s began with great enthusiasm, when it became clear that the eastwards development of Mt Gambier was not going to happen as projected, and car travel made it easy to travel in Mt Gambier, it became evident that there was no need for a second Anglican Church in Mt Gambier and with great sadness, it was closed in 1980. The beautiful St Margaret’s Chapel at Christ Church is a permanent reminder of this short-lived branch Church.
There have been so many priests serving in the Parish of Mt Gambier to list individually, but special mention must be made of the Reverend Brian Ashworth, who faithfully served the Parish of Mt Gambier from 1974 until his retirement in 2012. He was made Canon in 1984 and Archdeacon of Bishop Porter in 1992. He came to Mt Gambier after 3 years in Penola and 7 years as an army chaplain. He was also chaplain to SAPOL in Mt Gambier during his ministry. Father Brian was a dynamic preacher with a quick wit and strong leadership. He initiated many advances in the Parish and fostered the spiritual advancement of his parishioners. He inspired a significant group to take up vocations to the Sacred Ministry, including Frances Cook who is still working for ABM in Chile. ac.care was initiated from very humble beginnings and developed into a vital Diocesan welfare agency within his years in the Parish.
In a history spanning more than 150 years, many have walked through the doors of Christ Church to serve God as both clergy and lay people. Most have embraced the family of this Church in good times and bad, enjoying not only the spiritual life in the Church but also the fellowship in the various social, music and sporting groups. Many began their relationship with Christ as children here; many have shared times of great spiritual and personal significance within these walls in baptisms confirmations, weddings and funerals of loved ones. With such a strong and active history may we pray that Christ Church continues strongly into the future as a centre of vibrant Christian worship.