C3 Devonport’s new home on the hill
“You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out,” Matthew 16:17-18 The Message.
“Come and be his ‘living stones’ who are continually being assembled into a sanctuary for God. For now you serve as holy priests, offering up spiritual sacrifices that he readily accepts through Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter 2:5 The Passion Translation.
The “living stones” of C3 Devonport finally have a permanent, physical home from which to serve the city in the name of Jesus Christ.
The 14-year-old Pentecostal church has resurrected one of the city’s oldest church buildings, breathing new life into the 132-year-old Wesley Uniting Church building in Steele Street.
For all but three years, the magnificent Uniting Church has continuously served Devonport from its grand vantage point overlooking the city.
Pastor Brian Webber said: “We are delighted to see the building returned to its original intended use as a church, serving the community and being a light on a hill.
“We feel very privileged, especially as such a young church, to become the owners and caretakers of such a significant piece of the city’s history.’’
C3 Devonport started 14 years ago in the home of pastors Brian and Sharon Webber before moving into Reece High School and on to rented premises, a converted Motors car maintenance workshop on the corner of Fenton and Parker Streets.
The church called the sprawling site home for five years until the owners put the site on the market. The building search led the leaders to the Uniting Church building (formerly Methodists) on the other side of the CBD in Steele Street.
While C3 Devonport took 14 years to put down permanent roots, the Methodists, whose origins in North West Tasmania can be traced back to 1850, had to wait nearly four decades to get a home.
The Methodists’ influence in Tasmania’s North West can be traced back to the 1850s when pioneers visited settlements at the Tarleton coal mine and Spreyton, conducting outdoor services including Sunday School, and offering comfort and hope to residents, travellers and workers.
The C3 Movement only started in Australia in 1980 when New Zealand couple Phil and Chris Pringle started a church on Sydney’s northern beaches.
By 1870, the Methodist church had a shared home with the Congregational Church in lower Steele Street. They coexisted until two Methodists, Basil Archer and Robert Stewart Jnr, donated land in 1888 at the corner of Steele and Upper Fenton Streets on which to build the Devonport Methodist Church.
The original, somewhat modest church was opened 16 months later on October 6, 1889.
Nine years later, buoyed by the growth of the church, Archer and Stewart donated more land, extending the church footprint to Archer Street to build what would become the existing grand structure with its steeple, stained glass windows and enormous pipe organ. It cost 3462 pounds and was constructed during the hard days of the Great Depression.
Architect Stephen Priest drew his inspiration from Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Hampton, on Melbourne’s bayside.
Devonport builders Wilson Brothers were contracted to build the new church which finally opened 42 years later on March 12, 1932. The Fincham pipe organ was added in 1938.
The original church building served as Sunday School for many years before being demolished in 1958, being replaced with a new Sunday School building and hall. A parsonage was built in 1955 on the Hiller/Archer Street corner.
After much consultation, arguments and a final vote, the Methodists, Congregationalists and Prebyterians amalgamated to become the Uniting Church of Australia in June, 1976.
The Uniting Church continued on the existing site until June 2018 when dwindling numbers and the prohibitive cost of maintenance led the Uniting Church to sell the church to television chef Ben Milbourne and his wife Sally who planned to use the site for their production company.
Ben based his business Cultivate Productions on the site and had used the church as a yoga and wellness centre. He also intended to open a restaurant. Then COVID hit.
“I want to thank Ben and Sally who also had a vision for the church being used as a creative arts space for the community, and who understood and supported our vision to continue to see it as a space through which to serve the community,” Pastor Brian said.
The Uniting Church was “changing addresses but not closing,” as Reverend Allan Thompson reminded the 250 people who gathered in July 2018 to farewell the then 129-year-old church building.
He also acknowledged that some members of the congregation would have “mixed feelings’’ about the church no longer being used for the purpose for which it was built.
“The purposes for which this sacred place was built can be fulfilled without this building,” he told the gathered faithful.
“This is not the end of the Uniting Church in Devonport. This is not the closing of a congregation. The congregation continues to thrive, and it is committed to continuing its life from a property which is more user-friendly and low maintenance that this old building has become.”
C3 Devonport has retained the heritage character of the fine old building, while also moderninging the interior for a growing congregation of around 300 people.
“Our style of worship may be more contemporary songs rather than hymns, and electric guitars, drums and keyboard rather than a pipe organ, but at its core, the Chistian church exists to be Jesus to our community,” Pastor Brian said.