Early History of the Origins of the Westbury Baptist Church

The Westbury Baptist Church has deep evangelical roots that go all the way back to the early 1870s, when the eminent London preacher, the Rev CH Spurgeon, began sending out young students from his Pastors’ College. The active interest and generosity of Mary Ann and William Gibson, wealthy pastoralists of Native Point, Perth, made this possible, as the Gibsons paid for the passage of these men, as well as contributing to the cost of building churches, chapels, halls and manses. Spurgeon’s son, Thomas, visited Tasmania five times between 1878 and 1890. By 1901 there were sixteen men from the Pastors’ College working in Tasmanian Baptist churches.

The essence of the Spurgeon tradition in Tasmania was an unashamed, powerful, and evangelistic preaching tradition … Spurgeon’s men and the Gibsons were ambitious doers rather than thinkers (Rowston 2011: 130). That unashamed, powerful and evangelistic tradition lives on in the Westbury Church today, as does the desire to be ambitious doers for God.

William Gibson was instrumental in the formation of the Baptist Union of Tasmania on 27 May, 1884, when he called together the pastors of the five main Baptist Churches in Tasmania at that time to meet in Launceston. They were Rev Robert Williamson (Perth), Rev Harry Wood (Longford), Rev Edward Vaughan (Deloraine), Rev Robert McCullough (Hobart), and Rev Albert Bird (Launceston). Gibson served as the founding President of the Union (Rowston 2011: 113).

The churches of the Bracknell District were greatly influenced by the outreach and vision of the Gibson family. In 1878, Thomas Spurgeon, son of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and Mr Harry Wood visited the Gibson family at Native Point. They encouraged William and Mary Gibson to help them build a little church at Blackwood Creek to serve the local area.

The Blackwood Church was opened in 1879. Liffey Church opened in 1881, Bracknell Church in 1884 and Cluan Church in 1906 (built by voluntary labour on land donated by Mr James Leonard. The front porch was added later by Mr Lockhart (Jack Gillam’s grandfather and Tom Lockhart’s great grandfather). A new church was built at Cluan in 1975 (voluntary and paid labour).

These four churches became the Bracknell District Baptist Churches, which ultimately sponsored and financially supported the establishment of the Baptist Church in Westbury.

Events Leading to the Building and opening of the Westbury Baptist Church on 14th June 2003

It was outreach, again, that led members of the Bracknell District Churches to eventually construct the Westbury Baptist Church in Westbury. Some members of the Cluan Church played a key role. Noteworthy is the fact that this tiny church, with a congregation that could probably be counted on the fingers of two hands, produced two presidents of the Tasmania Baptist Union of Churches (Mr Harold West and Mr Syd West) and two ordained ministers (Rev. Kevin Gillam and Rev. Christine Cohen (nee West).

The first steps towards the establishment of the Westbury Baptist Church began in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s when Mr Harold West commenced monthly Sacred Singing at the Westbury Town Hall supported by members of all the other Westbury churches. Mr Jack Gillam helped with religious films. These nights continued into the 1980’s.

In the early 1990’s, a number of Cluan members took the view that they should hold church services in Westbury. The Westbury Baptist Church Fellowship was started as an outreach from the Bracknell District Baptist Churches in 1991. At the time, Mr Peter Pinder, a worker pastor was the full time pastor for the Bracknell District Churches. He held services, starting monthly and then fortnightly in the Westbury Town Hall Supper Room, and then later, in the Westbury Community Health Centre. General Business Meetings were held every 3 months and the Executive Committee at the time consisted of Mr Syd West (Chairman), Mr Andrew Johnston (Secretary) and Mr Neil Walker (Treasurer).

In March 1992, the Bracknell District Churches bought a 2-acre block of land in preparation for a church to be built in Westbury. In the same year, Rev Ivan Kilbert came to Tasmania from Adelaide to commence a Chat ‘n Choose Craft Group at Devonport. He started this work in Adelaide as an outreach program from his Baptist Church and established quite a number of these groups. He approached Syd and Iris West, but at the time, the idea didn’t catch on and so Iris West started a Craft Group at the Health Centre in Westbury. In mid 1994, Isobel Pinder, Val Page, Christine Gillam, Margaret Clarke, Betty Roach and Stephanie Johnston and Iris West started a Chat ‘n Choose Group in Westbury, which over the years raised a lot of money for the new church as well as made donations to charities.

Following the departure of Peter Pinder to Wynyard Baptist in 1996/7, Steve Lennon followed in the position of pastor of  the Bracknell District Baptist Churches until late 1996.

In October 1997, it was agreed that some members from Cluan and Westbury would start a Baptist church in Westbury. The Bracknell District Churches gave its blessing and donated the block of land, previously purchased in Westbury in 1992, plus $20,000 that had already been raised to build on the block. About this same time, a $700 donation was made by the Tasmanian Women’s Ministries and 23 chairs were purchased for the new church. These chairs were stored for 5 years and were used for the first time at the church opening in 2003.

A series of lay preachers supported the church until March 1998 when Rev Trevor Chalk, his wife Ruth and family took up the call. Trevor remained as pastor until January 2006.  In July 1998, at the Mid-Year Assembly, the Baptist Union recognised Westbury as a member church. By now, the Health Centre was proving to be too small and in October 2001, it was decided to build a church. Mr Dudley Bakes and Crew from Mobile Mission Maintenance were contacted and they eventually completed the building in time for the opening day 14th June, 2003.

The Church Building

Westbury Baptist Church was built as a modern, open and welcoming multi-function facility. Features of the building include an auditorium to seat 160 people, a commercial style kitchen which can cater for conventions and community groups, and a large sunny foyer, ideal for group meetings.

There is a facility for young children with an enclosed playroom. The Church building also includes a couple of consulting rooms which have the potential to be used by health care professionals or community services.