Faith. Marrawah Gospel Chapel welcomed worshippers to its final service on Sunday December 4 in what was a touching tribute marking lifelong tradition.
The very beginnings of the Brethren Church in Marrawah are woven into the early settlement of this district. Early letters from Marrawah pioneer, Jack Lawson, made mention that when he was first working in Marrawah from 1898 to 1901 that the Brethren met in the home of William Cunningham, and the original hall was built before he returned to Marrawah during the First World War.
The land that the chapel now stands on was donated around the turn of the century by Mrs John Horton. After the donation, Ned Arnold and Jack Gale began to split and cart palings to the site and the first small building was soon standing. The assembly grew and by 1916 the hall had been enlarged, 37 people were in fellowship and another seven had been baptised in that year.
However by the late ‘60s and into the mid-70s the numbers were mostly down to just members of the Saward and Heres families, but usually the Sunday school had reasonable numbers.
With an influx of three new families in the late-70s and the old hall having no kitchen or modern toilet facilities, the vision of a new modern chapel building came into focus.
Charlie Wigg and his team, along with many willing volunteers, started construction of this building. Individuals and other churches were generous with donations of money, machinery and much-needed items allowing the new chapel to be opened on June 24, 1979 – debt free.
For the first 30 or so years in the new chapel, there were about six to eight families who regularly attended and Sunday school was a large affair with up to five classes. There was also an active youth group, creating fun with fellowship nights and barbecues in the summer. Many visiting GLO Ministries students also added to the numbers.
Over the years, five weddings were held in the chapel with Daryl Quilliam officiating in four of them; he has been the only celebrant to belong to the assembly.
Funerals have also been held there and a good number of baptisms in the baptistery – warmer than the sea at Green Point Beach that had been used in years gone by.
The building has been used by the public in many different ways over the past 37 years and many events were held in conjunction with other churches, in particular Marrawah Baptist Church.
As families moved away in the late ‘90s the numbers declined until again only the Saward and Heres families remained, with Lyle and Glenys Saward plus Kevin and Betty Heres all now much older. They continued to run a Sunday school and welcome visitors to the chapel until they needed to move away.
Now to the present day, where there are now no regular members living in the district.
The chapel’s closing ceremony, led by Patrick Bakes, was made more special with a few certain touches.
Bev Quilliam was the organist for the service, just as she was 37 years ago for the opening service of the new chapel.
Among the 70 or so present on the day included church regulars and descendants of many of the original members.
Paul Saward, who fondly recalled his childhood through to adult years as part of the church, spoke to those in attendance saying that with the recent decision to sell the building “an era comes to a close after about 120 years of an active Brethren Church in Marrawah”.
“But we should remember that the church is not defined by a building but by God’s people,” he said.
“As perhaps the oldest church body with the newest building officially closes, we can hand the baton on to the newest church and the last one operating in the district – the Marrawah Baptist.”
The building’s new owners will convert the chapel to a residence, however the Marrawah Cemetery will continue to be maintained for use by the people of the district and in memory of those who rest peacefully there.