On April 16, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland congregation marked the eightieth year since the opening of its place of worship on Fitzroy Street in Grafton.
At the time of the opening, some of the locals predicted that the small congregation could not survive for long since it mainly consisted of older people. However, the stalwart members whose forebearers had come from Scotland were undeterred. The elders of the congregation maintained regular worship services until they were able to procure the services of a full-time pastor. Since then, the congregation has progressively grown under the ministry of Rev. William MacLean, followed by Rev. Edward Rayner, during whose ministry the church building was extended. The present incumbent, Dr George Hutton, left Inverness in Scotland to take up the pastorate in Grafton in 2014.
Reflecting upon the past eighty years of Christian witness on Fitzroy Street, the members of the congregation look to the future with the same confidence displayed in 1941. Although church attendance has diminished throughout the Clarence Valley in recent years, the Free Presbyterians on Fitzroy Street are hopeful of future interest in Christianity and the Bible. They believe that the congregation owes its existence to God’s faithfulness over the years and that it exists for the primary purpose of teaching and practising what God communicates of his will in the Bible – His inspired word.
At the opening of the new building in 1941, the officiating minister Rev. Donald Beaton from Oban in Scotland gave an address in which he explained the church’s principles and practices. Adhering to those principles, the congregation is aware of its ecclesiastical uniqueness among the local churches due to its form of worship and practice. Aware of its Scottish roots, the congregation retains the long-established practice of the exclusive use of Metrical Psalms, in its praise, without instrumental accompaniment. The exposition of the Bible is central in all the services. It is preached, sung, and prayed. Some worshippers from other churches unfamiliar with this practice may find the plainness of the unadorned and unembellished worship to be unattractive, but the congregation believes its form of worship is based upon biblical principles.
Convinced that many former church attendees in the Clarence Valley community have become disillusioned with what they have experienced or witnessed, the Grafton congregation offers spiritual and theological stability. Its theology, worship and practice, has remained unchanged throughout its history, as testimony, to the spiritual satisfaction it gives to the participants. Although the congregation claims a Scottish heritage, it is culturally Australian with an open door and an open heart for all Australians.
Mrs Florence Jeffrey, the only remaining member of the congregation who witnessed the opening event in 1941, recalls the excitement among her family members. Her father, who became an elder in the Grafton congregation, was certain that the procurement of the new building was a high point in the congregation’s history. With its opening, he and his fellow-elders believed the Free Presbyterian congregation had become established as an integral constituent in the Clarence Valley community, and so it remains eighty years later.