The Time for Pulling Down and the Time for Building (Ecclesiastes 3:3b)

If nothing else, the recent pandemic has taught us to be adaptable.

At our congregation in Box Hill, Victoria, we’ve had added overlays which have further confronted members and friends and caused pain. Change and disruption to certainties we took for granted have been our close companions for some years now. We have closed our beloved house of worship and relocated our worship home and, sadly, we’ve also experienced congregational conflict on other issues.

Place and soil and even bricks do matter. Ask any farmer, or refugee, or indigenous person. Our congregation’s place was chosen by a group of far-sighted members in 1949. With enormous effort, the inspiration of a few dynamic leaders (including their pastor, Ev Leske), and the faithful help, both financially and physically, of many members, they built a church on the block they had purchased. Later they added a hall, then a Community Centre and the congregation grew. Station Street, Box Hill became the hub for many activities and for the worship life of members and others, and it was dearly loved. It was a time of birth and planting and building and laughing, as well as a place where we mourned and wept together – and the bricks held and even breathed these memories. Its position close to the hub of an expanding suburb seemed ideal – we were close to public transport, and all the amenities of an increasingly busy city.

But as in all things earthly, circumstances made us aware that even our church building might be temporal.

The Victorian Government made plans to decentralise and make Box Hill one of the proposed commercial, business, transport and residential hubs. We saw opportunities as a church and were inspired. At the same time, investors from China and Hong Kong were seeking places for capital development, and cranes started to appear on our immediate skyline and tall buildings went up … and up … and up. We started a ministry to Mandarin-speaking people with a sister Chinese Lutheran congregation, and saw our profile slowly start to change.

But all was not easy. Parking became a huge problem, especially during the week. Access onto the street became a waiting game, and tall buildings started to overshadow our small church. Our loved building needed refurbishment and an update, but now Council regulations were making this difficult.

We saw possibilities in perhaps combining with a developer and meeting our needs on the site. Members still saw immense mission possibilities on our doorstep. Then one day, we heard a whisper that a Uniting Church, a few kilometres away, might be for sale. A few members inspected it and knew right away that this was a possible new home for us. It was a painful process for many to make the decision to move, but with heavy hearts and much prayer, a final vote, with 90% in favour, was taken to sell our property and move to a quieter location with lots of parking and a new neighbourhood in which to establish a mission and ministry.

A “For Sale” sign went up at the church, and it sold way above our expectations. Was this a sign of God’s blessing or a challenge for us to address? Perhaps it was both. We appointed an architect who was sympathetic to the particular mid-century style of church we’d bought and plans for a thorough refurbishment began.


Meanwhile, we planned carefully how we might farewell the church building which had been so special to many, many people over the years. We took our time and planned a series of services which would highlight the acts of God which had meant so much to people over the years. This included open invitations for past members and friends to attend.

So began a wonderful month in February 2020, where each Sunday in succession, we celebrated baptisms, confirmations, marriages, our saints of St Paul’s, and our past pastors – and each Sunday we catered for the midday meal so we could break bread together. It was such a time of rejoicing and sharing of memories.

And then on 1 March, it was time for the final service – and what a day it was. Unbeknown to us, it was the final Sunday before the pandemic started to interfere with worship practices and limit numbers. But on that day we sang our hearts out, hugged, ate together and then picked up our sacred items from the church and walked 2.5 kms through the centre of Box Hill to our new home.

The church wasn’t quite ready for us, and then the pandemic kept us apart for much longer than we had thought. In one way, this was a precious time of letting go and yearning again for the time when we could gather, even if it wasn’t in the old church.

Finally, late last year, the doors were opened and hearts eager to receive God’s gifts in a new location walked in through the doors to drink in the church which was now theirs. Some wept, and most gasped, and others went quiet as they drank in the beauty of this place. “It’s a place which is stunningly beautiful”, one said. “It’s a place of peace”, said another, and a person who had found it particularly hard to leave Station Street commented, “I’m so happy that I will be buried from this place”.

Now it’s a time again for building and planting and laughing and weeping, all in the presence of a gracious God who is timeless and unchanging. We are beginning a second and much larger stage to develop an adjacent ministry and community centre, which will also serve our Chinese congregations, the District offices, and Lutheran Education.

If you would like to see a little of the church, here is a link to a video tour which was recorded last year for the congregation in isolation: 

About the Author

Marlene Pietsch

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