Tuesday, November 10, 2009


CROSSWAY’S 60th (14th September 2014):

Some notes in preparation (with four other senior pastors of this church throughout its history) for an interview this Sunday, based on two questions:
[1] What was the church's focus at that time?
[2] What do you believe God was doing in the church?
Update: (A day later: Monday September 15, 2014): It was wonderful! Four (five? six?) thousand people were there at the four services. 'First time I've heard a sermon preached four times in one day!') 


The Church’s Motto from Crossway’s website (accessed 11/9/2014):  Loving God, Loving People, Making Disciples

I like it!
Blackburn Baptist Church in the 1970s was an ordinary middle-class church comprising ordinary people: 90+% Anglo-Saxon (with a sprinkling of Dutch and other Europeans, a few Chinese, but no aborigines or other blacks at all, that I can recall). And no one with an earned doctorate - except for two medicos.
My time pastoring there (1973-81) was the 'defining period' of my ministry-life... Eight marvellous years, when a suburban church in Melbourne grew - with nine on the pastoral team, 25 (or was it 28?) on the payroll, and hardly any unhappy moments.
As I think back on our Blackburn days, I'm constantly humbled at the beautiful relationship which exists between a pastoral shepherd and his or her flock - especially when that pastor is involved in significant events like rites of passage for individuals, and couples, and families.
+ I remember a father breaking down in tears as he poured out his pain for an hour in my study. Meeting him many years later, he reminded me of the healing he experienced in that shared grief...
+ And the mother with her children who were abused and beaten up by a violent husband, so we arranged a secret place for them to stay (with Frank and Trish Groom). (The man threatened to come with a gun and kill me).
And the many, many deep secrets people confided in me. All very humbling... 

But back to the current church motto: what did that really mean in practice?

About ‘Loving People’: I used to hear myself say: ‘You love God just as much, and no more, than you love the person you love least.’

And ‘Making Disciples’? That’s answered by asking another question we used to discuss: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’
We discovered that on any given night of the week - somewhere within a couple-of-kilometres from our place of worship in Holland Rd., Blackburn South - a woman and/or a child/teenager would be wandering the streets with nowhere to sleep – mostly due to domestic violence often fuelled by alcohol.
What would Jesus do about that? Well, it’s an interesting story. My wife Jan (she was an elder at BBC; a woman elder!) used to visit her aunt, Myrtle Robinson, who lived in a nearby suburb, Box Hill. Myrtle died during those years, and she bequeathed her home to the Cancer Council, but for Blackburn Baptist Church to use it for a charitable purpose for as long as they wished! To this day it hosts a wonderful ministry as a haven for people who were then called 'battered women', and their children.

'What else was God doing back then?' I was asked yesterday... 

Let me begin with one negative item: something God was not doing:

Some teenagers were hanging around outside - a few of them smoking - before the evening-service. A cranky adult said to one of them: 'Get inside, preacher's kid, it's started!' That adult was not-yet-fully-redeemed eh? That 'kid' is now middle-aged - and still recalls that unloving experience with bitterness...

But now some positive notes:

There were no 'seriously cranky' people in the church, thanks largely to the irenic ministry of my predecessors, George Ashworth and David Griffiths. Dale Stephenson's text today (14th September 2014 at four 60th Anniversary Services): 'According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid, Jesus Christ' (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). George (now in his 90s) and David (in his 80s) laid a good foundation, and Christ was honoured I believe in those years... 
There were some saintly/prayerful people in that congregation: at the risk of omitting many, the names Sally Glanville, Marg. Dyer, Nancy White, Phyl Corben, Peggy Jones and Molly Parslow come to mind.
There was only one 'skeleton in the closet' when I arrived in 1973. It was about an organ, which a good man in the congregation wanted the church to use, but which broke down at inconvenient times (it's performing excellently at the church we now attend - East Doncaster Baptist). Anyway, one of my first tasks was to go with the Church Secretary, Ian Timewell, to visit the organ-donor (!) and apologize for any hurt he might have suffered through his generosity. It was a good visit.
Ian Timewell was an excellent church secretary. A Government bureaucrat (Department of Railways) he was a very careful and methodical man. At his funeral, held in April 2008 at Box Hill Baptist Church, several people reminded us that Ian was not a person to 'bignote' himself, or 'please himself in the guise of pleasing God.' He was a good man. Thanks, Ian. (And his wife Kath was my first secretary at BBC - a good woman. Thanks to you too Kath). Max McCann was another conscientious church secretary.

In 1975 I went to the Baptist World Congress in Stockholm: a marvelous experience (where I met for the first and only time my preaching mentor, John Claypool). I remember being 30,000 feet up in the air and having a horrifying feeling: I hadn't left any instructions for anyone while I'm gone. And then a reassuring thought: I didn't need to: the pastors and leaders knew exactly what they were doing and didn't need me around the place to do their ministries...


The next trip was to Korea in about 1977, to experience ‘what God was doing’ in that country. Our plane-load comprised Pentecostal – mainly AOG – pastors/leaders and many of their spouses, with just two of us Baptists. A packed, expectant audience turned up the evening I reported back to the church. Subsequently in another pm. service the five preaching-pastors had 5 minutes each to summarize their stance on charismatic renewal, followed by questions from the floor. Their views ranged from what is sometimes naughtily termed ‘soft charisphobiac’ to ‘soft charismaniac’. I still hear about that night and the wonderful acceptance of differing points of view expressed with tolerance and love. We believed that affirming diversity was – and is - an important Christian principle. About that time we lost four couples who’d attended regularly for at least a year over that broad issue: in the exit interviews two of them said we were becoming too ‘Pentecostal’; the other two that we weren’t ‘Pentecostal’ enough!


From an email this week: ‘The hook for me about Blacky Baps was the change from hymns (that mum still likes!) to choruses etc. If it wasn't for that, especially at the night services, I don't think I could have stayed nor would I have accepted Christ. All the music influences from Keith Green to Petra. A great thanks to Robert Colman for the change in direction there. Other influences were the friendships from tennis and Boys' Brigade.


Word spread about these odd happenings. Groups of church-leaders would visit us to ask (though perhaps not this directly!): 'How can we grow a church of 1000 people in three easy lessons?' Another delegation - of two or three 'heavies' (as we cheekily called them) - from the Baptist Union of NSW spent a Sunday with us, talking with leaders and members of the congregation. They came to find out why half a dozen Baptist churches  in Victoria were larger than any in NSW; and particularly why about 32 NSW-trained pastors had migrated to Victoria, but only two Whitley graduates were then serving in NSW. (What do you make of all that?). The NSW delegation wrote a report about their trip, but several attempts later by various researchers couldn't locate it. It was apparently never shared publicly with the BUNSW.

Another radical thing God was doing was teaching us that every Christian is in ministry. One night I was at Box Hill Hospital, and about to settle down for a night’s vigil at the bedside of a dying lady. Her adult daughter was there. In an ‘aha’ moment I asked myself: ‘What am I doing here, when we’ve affirmed the ministry of Elders to do this sort of thing?’ I think it was about 9 o’clock I phoned our chairman of Elders, Russell Costello (father of Janet, Peter and Tim), and invited him to draw up a roster for any available elders to come and ‘minister’ to these two special people. At 4 am or thereabouts the lady died. Ted Dufty was there. What was he to do? He’d never been in this situation before. He took the mother’s and daughter’s hands and commended them both to their loving God, and said the Lord’s Prayer. A couple of times later Ted’s eyes would well up with tears as he recalled that night: one of the most wonderful experiences of his life.

At one point we counted 60 small groups which met regularly. Tim Costello and Bill Hallam led a thriving group of young adults. Other groups were for friendship, with maybe a devotional speaker and some prayer for one another. Many groups engaged in serious Bible study, or discussed  a book. One of the groups comprised some keen charismatic people: once they told me a ‘spirit of laughter’ descended on them which resulted in their laughing uncontrollably for an hour. Everyone in the group had sore ribs the following day!



One of the reasons this church was so healthy/happy was that the pastoral staff worked within the areas of their own 'giftings'. Each of us was called to a generalized ministry-position, but in reality wrote our own ministry-descriptions. You get highly motivated colleagues that way. A book by Marcus Burkingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules (Simon and Schuster, 1999) could have been written by our team. Break All the Rules makes the rather surprising assertion that people are not equally talented and that it is easier to match people’s talents to specific job responsibilities than to teach people to do things they don't do well. In other words, it’s easier to develop the talents that are there, than to put qualities into a person which God has not seen fit to give them.

Oh, and we loved and respected each other!

In terms of faith, I reckon we did well in this area (and poorly in a couple of others). We had at its maximum nine or ten on our pastoral team: seven of those, as I said, were preaching pastors. 

I want to pay a special tribute to the pastoral staff. 

In order of their appointments:

1. Tom Keyte was first to be called: about six months after my appointment - as a part-time generalist pastor and also as a pastoral counsellor. This experienced pastor was the wisest 'minister' I've ever known. He'd read every issue of the British journal-for-clergy Expository Times during his professional life, and his alleged 'theological liberalism' sometimes got him into trouble with conservatives/fundamentalists as General Superintendent [GS] of the Baptist Union of Victoria. Memorable quote: 'The best thing you can do with some people, Rowland, is leave them alone!' Tom facilitated some excellent counseling seminars based on Transactional Analysis theory.  Theologically he taught us the value of learning to 'live with ambiguity'. 

2. Then Alan Marr joined us six months later as, initially, youth pastor, and later convenor of Community Ministries – including responsibility for Robinson House, and half-way and ¾-way houses for homeless people. Alan Marr's heart was with the disadvantaged and he preached some memorable sermons on Social Justice. After about six years with us he left with a small tribe of people to form the Westgate Baptist Community: an attempt to combine six struggling Melbourne Western suburbs churches into one. He eventually became an outstanding GS of the Baptist Union of Victoria. Over the years he visited the displaced people on the Thai-Burmese border I think about 25+ times. 

3. Robert Colman was next. Alan Marr and I had an interesting discussion before we approached Robert. He’d be good; yes we needed someone like him particularly with his evangelistic and musical gifts; but would the 'bean counters' agree that we can afford a fourth pastor within just a year-and-a half? So we decided to invite people to join in a ‘team-support’ arrangement for just one year, and then see where we were financially. The extra people who came brought their money with them and we were able to provide for Robert’s support from the budget, and also add more staff, and engage in a major building program. 
Robert was a very gifted actor/singer - but also an outstanding evangelist, and an outstanding Christian. He soon took over the organization of the worship services and music at BBC, and led us into years of singing 'praise songs' which, from the feedback I'm now receiving, was a significant gift to people searching for a spiritual home without boring 'liturgies-as-usual.'

4. Bill Hadden was an Irishman - the 'gentle type' he assured us. 
Bill was a veteran Baptist pastor and joined us in a half-time appointment to care for our seniors. He loved nothing better than visiting elderly people and sitting there until they stopped talking! I've never known another pastor with a gift like that: certainly I don't have it.

5. Peter Ashley
took over as Youth Pastor for a couple of years after Alan Marr moved to Community Ministries. My recollection of Peter's modus operandi was seeing him regularly sitting on the steps at the Holland Road site chatting earnestly one-to-one with young people.

6. Rod Denton came to replace Peter Ashley as youth pastor. His day-job had seen him become an outstanding corporate leader in Adelaide (managing a housing development for AMP Insurance as I recall). But he'd also been a driving force among Baptists in South Australia in terms of denominational youth events. Rod's commitment to 'mentoring' led him to form a group of co-leaders, and about the time I left BBC there were 700 young people listed as being committed to our church: 350 of them in small 'discipleship groups'. He is still a 'discipler'... these days working with Salvation Army officers...

7. Harley Kitchen came at the same time as Rod. He's from a 'solid Baptist family' and was appointed as a generalist pastor. Harley was a humble, gentle man, and had a significant quiet ministry amongst us. Later he was senior pastor of Heathmont Baptist Church steering that church in a strategic building program. 

I remember the church members' meeting where we asked our people for their approval of these two appointments. The inevitable question was asked, 'Can we afford two extra pastors?' I remember being quite categorical: 'Yes we can!'

8. Hal Bissett was appointed as Alan Marr was preparing to leave, to oversee the work of Robinson House and our Emergency Accommodation program. Hal had a 'heart for the poor' and his work with colleagues Carol Fricke and others established a significant ministry. 

9. Just before we left for Vancouver  Kevin Forbes joined our team, and when we'd gone he became acting senior pastor. He'd been serving as an associate pastor at the Ringwood East Baptist Church, and had developed a 'healing ministry' there. He's often said, 'Rowley used to tell me we'd work together one day, and we did!' Kevin 'kept the ship on course' until my successor as senior pastor, Stuart Robinson, took over. 

We invited two of the church's administrators to join our pastoral team meetings: Ralph Wilkins and Bert Waddell.

Sometimes on our Team Retreats we'd dedicate a whole segment of a day to one of us at a time. Listening, gentle prompting, then laying hands on the one who shared and praying for them. On one of these Retreats the neighbours from the Stuchberry's country cottage phoned them to say they thought there was a wild party going on! We must hasve been having a good time!

A great team: my thanks to each and all of them, and their wonderful spouses - especially my own wife Jan, who did an incredible job hosting new attenders' lunches, managing children (our fourth and last - Lindy - was born in our first year at BBC), generally providing hospitality to lonely people... 
Moral: ‘The corporate just shall live by faith’. 

However... Who should preach, and how often?

I had the strange notion that we should trust our so-called lay-leaders with this one: after all, they have to suffer our preaching week by week. And they may have better discernment as a group than I did as an individual. So on a leaders’ retreat 60 of them filled in a hypothetical ten-week roster for the three Sunday services. I gave all the responses to my secretary and she filled out the operational roster. We lost one of our preaching pastors over that exercise: he’d been accustomed previously in solo pastorates to preaching most Sundays, and as preachers multiplied on our team his opportunities went backwards a bit... A real pity... 


And an example where our faith was not as strong as it should have been
The land between our Holland Road site and Canterbury Rd. – except for one block - came up for sale but our faith didn’t stretch that far. We made the mistake of giving the congregation the pros and cons of the purchase instead of providing a firm lead from the top!
Subsequently the church paid something in the order of $13 million to relocate and build - on an excellent site in Burwood East. We now know that God had something else in mind, and we’re in it today!

We tried to listen to people. Everyone - well, most attenders - filled in a Care Card each Sunday, with prayer requests, feedback, and questions. On my desk by 11 am Monday mornings I had up to four foolscap pages, single-spaced, with all this valuable information, and in the following Sunday's news-sheet we responded to a lot of it (and elders, pastors and deaconesses were detailed to follow-up people pastorally).  


We began a bookstall and a cassette library. I heard myself commending - often - those committed Christians who read as much about their faith, as they did other stuff - even if they were tertiary students. 'Why not a book a week about the Christian faith?' etc. Grateful thanks to Ilma Torrode, Eric Wilkinson, Bert Waddell and others who did a faithful ministry in this area...


The New Members' classes were good times of preparation-for-membership and for fellowship. (At one memorable church members' meeting where upwards of 50 new members were on the agenda, we decided to scrap the old method of 'visitors' reporting on each, otherwise we would have been there all night. We formed a Membership Committee which could handle all this - with the extra bonus of heightened confidentiality)...


A couple of insightful ‘broad-brush’ responses on Facebook:
Jan Newham: 'At a time of social and political turmoil, when so many of society's institutions were challenged (feminism, Whitlam, the Pill, anti war protest, sexual revolution, drugs, rocknroll etc) and the young people pushed all the boundaries, God used this to challenge the Australian church to be a 'unity in diversity', to relax some of the rules which were cultural rather than biblical, and to start to reach out to the needy who were out of place in comfortable middle class proper church.'
Christine Jones: 'It was a church which embraced change rather than feared it. We learnt a new way of worship with Scripture in Song and similar being intertwined with the best of hymns; a special place was given to social justice issues esp. the poor and homeless; families of all 'types' were welcomed - single parents, divorcees, people of varied sexual orientation; disabled people were prioritised; and all of us were given a sense of value and place. This allowed God to create a time of unusually wonderful harmony and a great sense of belonging. Here all people of all backgrounds were truly community in the best sense. A diverse yet harmonious pastoral team were each encouraged to work in their areas of greatest calling and passion and their gifts and abilities helped all of the congregation feel supported and cared for.'


A good lady wanted to tell the church God had repaired her teeth with pure gold fillings.

I said 'Let's get a Christian dentist to check them out first'.

One quick look at them, and the dentist took me aside: 'Rowland, they're amalgum fillings, they're old, and very poor quality'.

She didn't get an opportunity to talk to the church, but she and I prayed together after this, and I thanked God and commended her for her openness to whatever the Lord wanted to do in her life...

Win-win: she became a stronger person/Christian out of this...


When the church auditorium was extended the question arose: how shall we clean this larger space each week? Easy solution: pay someone. Better: roster families with kids and others - four family-groups each Saturday - to do it (and, in a larger church, provide an opportunity to get to know each other). It generally worked well.


There were some 'stand-out' occasions. Like the time we invited a Jewish rabbi (John Levy) and an Arab Christian to debate the The Yom Kippur (Ramadan) War (1973). The Arab brought his friends who constantly heckled the rabbi. (Tom Keyte: 'If they're Christian Arabs, I wouldn't choose to meet the other kind!').


And there were many 'stand-out' people. Not many would have known Graham Tyson, who passed away last year (2013). Here's the excellent eulogy his son wrote. 


We weren't ready to have open forums on the issue of homosexuality, but I organized some private seminars at our home where we listened to the stories of gay people. That, remember, was the 1970s: I don't know of any other Baptist Church which discussed this issue back then.


I remember experiencing goose-bumps as the evening congregation sometimes spontaneously began singing along with the orchestra before the evening service began. The two songs I most associate with BBC days are our Benediction ('Now Unto Him') which we sang after every evening service, and, towards the end of our time there as we prepared to sell-up and go overseas, 'Because He lives I can face tomorrow'.


Mike (an elder) and Robyn Simpson invited me - twice - to meet their neighbours. The statistics (our previous experience at St. Thomas' Kingsgrove, Sydney, was very similar): 20 personal invitations to individuals/couples would result, on average, in 14 of them saying 'yes, we'll be there' and 10 (an excellent number for a room-discussion) turning up. My role, essentially, was to talk about why I'm a Christian. Another stat.: one person or couple on average would start attending church: which happened in the Simpsons' case...


I had only four regrets leaving BBC.
[1] As mentioned above, we should have bought the property between our site and Canterbury Road: several acres for future development.
[2] I should have been more committed to leading the congregation into an Open Membership position. A few outspoken 'heavies' were against it. See the article on our website for my position on this question.
[3] I would have liked a woman added to the pastoral team, but one of our pastors vetoed that idea.
[4] The fourth, and more serious regret, was that in those heady days I said yes to too many interesting committees and projects and ministries, and should have been more present for our two eldest children. The pain continues - in them and in Jan and me - to this day...

Music: Out of the blue the Harris family migrated to us from the Salvation Army. Owen had conducted the SA Staff band, and soon he was involved in leading our choir. But I think his outstanding contribution was to form an orchestra, which included anyone he could find in our suburb who'd been a member of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra etc. I still have goose-bumps as I recall 'Crown Him with Many Crowns' in Collins St. Baptist Church during one of our annual Victorian Baptist Assemblies.


I want to honour a couple of special people without whose help I could not have survived. Bruce Torrode was for a time our church treasurer. Most years I'd hand him my personal 'tax file' and he'd sort through the receipts and hand me a finished 'tax return form'. Ralph Wilkins took over later as my personal assistant, spending hundreds of hours managing my personal affairs to free me for other things. We left him to look after our stuff (including selling a car or two) after we migrated to North America. Thanks Bruce, Ralph.


Most pastors relate to some special, humble people, whose horrific personal stories meant they were very needy - even sometimes quite demanding. We'll call her 'Jane': she'd had nine, I think, major medical operations, and had a dysfunctional home life (her children in drunken episodes would swing their mother around the room by her hair). I talked with her - personally or by phone - as much as with anyone. Later I was there when her husband breathed his last, and also conducted the funeral of one of her sons who'd put a gun to his head... After I'd left Blackburn she'd phone me from time to time during drinking episodes...


WOMEN: Kath Timewell, then Marg. Taylor were wonderful secretaries. I used to have a little dictaphone with me all the time, and if I got an idea in the middle of the night or any other time I'd dictate it, and then my secretary would have her work-agenda for the day. When I visited newcomers to our church, I'd drive or walk away dictating suggested follow-up visits by a home-group leader, nearest church neighbour, deaconess etc. Some people got up to six of these follow-ups, and I heard many were quite impressed!

Those two secretaries were brilliant at realizing they were freeing me to do stuff others couldn't do. Once I remember saying to Marg: 'My morning is full of appointments, the last one being a game of tennis with_____. Would you mind taking this old tennis shoe, go to Forest Hill, and buy a new pair for me? Thanks!'

We had two women on the Elders' team - Claire Wilkinson and my wife Jan: quite an innovation in our fairly conservative denomination. Jan also was the first woman I'd heard of to baptise anyone in an Australian Baptist Church. And she became one of our earliest 'ordained' women pastors, with three of our churches subsequently benefitting from her pastoral ministry.

Women and men volunteers were involved all over the place in helping others. One very special gift to me were the two hand-written handbooks with every member's and adherent's names, addresses etc. in them. I've used them for prayer and reference to this day. Thanks Estelle! 


We held a special evening service on one occasion for blind folks. In preparation, a few days beforehand, I blindfolded myself, borrowed a cane, and went by train from Blackburn to Melbourne-town...

Questions I asked them later: 'When buying a train-ticket, how do you distinguish between various denominations of banknotes?' 

And: 'How do you know when walking on a Melbourne CBD footpath that you're approaching a cross-street?' Answer (by a blind humorist): 'The screech of brakes!'

Blind people who attended that night - there was a large group of them - whom I met later couldn't remember my (spoken) sermon, but they deeply appreciated my identification with them, and talked a lot about my stupidity in pretending to be blind without some training!!!


The church sponsored many ministries (too many to list exhaustively here). Among them - 

*A booming Sunday School 

*Boys' and Girls' Brigades

*Scripture classes in local schools

*Christian Endeavour (which soon morphed into small Bible study groups) 

*A worshipping group which met for several years in Vermont South: the hopes of some of them to plant a church did not come to anything

*Support for the local Blackburn High School's Interschool Christian Fellowship

*We had teams in inter-church competitions - netball, cricket, football, tennis 

*A team of men regularly visited Pentridge prison 

*For some years we wrote and broadcasted 'Dial-a-prayer' on radio (Sue Nicholls wrote many of them) 

*There were several cohorts of people who studied the Scriptures with the help of the Bethel Bible series 

*I was Victorian spokesperson for Festival of Light: I now have some mixed feelings about all that 

*There were two women's Bible study ministries: Bible Study Fellowship, and Know Your Bible 

*Of course there was a daytime and evening Women's Fellowship: plus a 'Drop In' which one of our deaconesses, Sally Glanville, ran 

*And a men's group, which faded out after a year or two, except for special occasions with a visiting interesting speaker

*We helped a nearby Baptist Church - Surrey Hills - when they were without a pastor

*A group of us had an idea about buying a hill somewhere to serve as a Prayer Mountain/retreat: actually some of us went to inspect a property up in the Warburton Valley somewhere, but it all came to nothing (unfortunately) 

*Many 'solos' attended an adult Singles club (led by Betty McCann and others) 

*Some families provided accommodation for homeless people (one young lady who came to live in our bungalow eventually married our son Paul) 

*We bought the half-acre property next-door to the church with a small house on it. Eventually that whole area provided valuable parking space. If I recall the value of the purchase was $22,000!

And much, much more... 

Some random personal memories/reflections

* I felt truly supported by my confreres, the fourteen 'ordained' Baptist ministers in the BBC membership.

* A guy named Arthur Blessitt traveled around the world carrying a cross (a wheel at the foot-end made it easier). When he left Australia Jan and I bought the car - a Holden Station-wagon - which had followed him.  

* Early in our ministry I said to a lady at the church door: 'When's the Big Event?'. She replied: 'Oh that's my shape all the time!'

* I've occasionally suffered from debilitating back pain. Once after being bedridden for a couple of days, Pam Simpson and Vivienne van de Graaf visited our home and prayed for me. I was healed instantly. 

* We Crouchers moved houses half-way through - from 13 to 27 Holland Rd. One night at #27 Jan and I heard an audible voice in the middle of the night: someone was kneeling at the foot of our bed praying aloud. She was a neighbour with mental health issues: how she got into our home - we have always been careful about locks-at-night - I'll never know. 

* I can remember only two people whose membership was revoked, due to what I might call an 'unrepentant liaison'...

* The congregation harboured some astonishing stories: eg. Max Potter's adventures in the 'Battle of Britain': how he survived I'll never know. 

In the 15-20 years after we left BBC, about 3-400 families and individuals left the church (another story, which is not appropriate to opine about here) and I meet these members of the 'BBC diaspora' in churches all over the place. A common (fervent) comment: 'We're realizing more and more what good times those Holland Road/ Blackburn Baptist days were!' And yet, the Lord led many others to join the church. Alleluia!



Here's a sample of the kinds of emails/letters I've received from many people over the years, during and after our time at 'BBC'. I've reproduced them here with the writers' permission, but decided to remove names and a few other identifying details.

It would be good to add something about the encouragement of the attenders / church folk / believers in their giftings. The encouragement of diversity and the culture of 'anyone can do it', according to those I've interviewed, resulted in a somewhat chaotic and huge range of ministries, including pioneer social ministries for the homeless etc, organised and run by volunteers (ie unpaid). An egalitarian approach, and an advertisement for the 'believer priesthood'. The challenge to look out for the marginal people was taught and modelled by the pastors. Also important was that the congregation was always challenged to accept each other's differences, eg charismatics and traditional mission-minded Baptists. Diversity was not scary but celebrated.

+ Dear Rowland,

I don’t know if you’ll remember me or my family … but I wanted to write and say thanks for all you did for us many, many years ago. My name is _ _ _ _ . My mother _ _ _ _ joined Blackburn Baptist back in the late 70s – early 80s after my father, who was pastoring _ _ _ _ , resigned the church and took up with another woman. You and your wife were incredible to my mother and her three children (_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ). As I recall, the church gave my mother a loan to purchase a house with a ridiculously low interest rate of something like 2%. I remember being at your home fairly regularly for meals. The church was wonderful and we loved being part of it. Mum was part of a great cell group – led by the Costellos. In short, Blackburn Baptist, in those days and under your leadership, with its love and generosity … saved our lives! Mum remarried (_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ ) while at Blackburn. They are still happily married and living in Brisbane where they attend an AOG church. I became a journalist with Brisbane’s Courier Mail before taking up a position as youth pastor with an AOG Church. I am currently Senior Associate Pastor at _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ . _ _ _ _ and _ _ _ _ are both living in Melbourne and attending an AOG church. Anyway … it’s been many years since we were at Blackburn under your leadership, but we still talk of those days and the love and grace you showed our family at an incredibly difficult time. I just wanted to say thanks.

+ Hi Rowland, Yeah, if you wish to publish the email, that's fine.
Dad is on his third marriage! Actually, his third wife is lovely and I'm very pleased that he seems to have found great happiness in that relationship. He keeps a Bible by his bed and would still say that he is a Christian. But he certainly isn't attending a church anywhere. Ironically, his wife is very soft towards the things of God. I have no doubt that at some stage they will both make a commitment to the Lord. I often marvel at the fact that our family (mum, myself and my sisters) are all passionate about God and very much in love with the church. I look back and think how easy it would have been for us to become extremely cynical about church and the ministry. But we love it ... and I'm certain that it is in no small part due to the wonderful love and support we received from Blackburn when my parent's marriage broke up. Kind Regards, 

I'll always remember the way you treated me with respect when I was a young teenager, always had time for my thoughts and ideas, it was very valuable to me. For some reason, I also have a memory of my sister lending you a copy of Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot'. Perhaps it represented a broader view of the world to me, I'm not sure. I'm no longer part of the Australian Baptist or Christian world... 

+ Great uncle Rowland, You are something of a legend in our family's mythology. I imagine that you will remember _ _ _ _ _ _ and his family from your days at Blackburn Baptist. I am his oldest son and I am a little older than your Amanda (I believe I danced with her at her yr 12 school prom) and I represent part of your impressive legacy. You see, you apparently had the good sense to introduce my Dad to Jesus and he had the good sense to bring the discovery to me and I had the good sense to believe it.
Sitting down today to prepare a sermonette (for a retirement ministry my wife and I run) I stumbled across the John Mark Ministries’ website and saw your name. So I thought I would drop you a line and let you know that your labours have produced a plentiful harvest in three generations of our family. I attach a recent picture of my wife (_ _ _ _) and two kids (_ _ _ _ _ _ with a third on the way). We are all deeply in your debt. Keep up the good fight. Your (spiritual) great nephew, 

+ Dear Rowland and Jan, Just a thank-you note for the good things that happened at Blackburn Baptist. They were busy busy days for young families and energetic church-men and -women...
God bless you,


I asked Facebook friends to respond to the questions I’m supposed to answer this Sunday - 'What was your focus at that time?' and ‘What was God doing at Blackburn Baptist Church back then?’

They can have the last word here: 

Suzi Chambelan: God was making church a great place when you were Senior pastor tho I was 14; didn't know much about God or Church it was the best time in the over 10 yrs I was there. You were great Rowland. From a kids point of view who didn't know God he was using the CRE ladies from Blacky Baps; Robert Colman who brought 'Jennifer' to the school; we all heard God was a good God; Robert made us laugh; we knew Blacky Baps was a good church coz of these CRE teachers; I went to Blacky Baps to try'n find God at 14 coz of these amazing ladies. I thought if I'm gonna find God I'll find him at Blacky Baps so I walked up the road; found him there.

John White: I think is was a such good period because the leaders facilitated and allowed people to get involved. Involved people is the catalyst for a great church. Different Pastors with different interests there were a good variety of ministries appealed to a range of passions that people had.

Mark Wilkinson [Pastor Werribee Baptist Church, Victoria]: I like to say, "I had a spiritually privileged upbringing". You Rowland, Alan Marr, Robert Colman, then Kevin Forbes and Rod Denton and then Stuart Robinson - great services; great youth leaders; great training. I was amazingly blessed!!

Robert Sherwin:This was a memorable time as Sandy and l had just come over from Canada and we were introduced to a really vibrant and 'alive' church. We experienced scripture in song which l then shared with my Canadian church family and they too were richly blessed. There was such an organic group of pastors who ministered with different gifts. Great praise and worship and almost all you hoped church could be. A very purpose driven church with great leadership.

Leighton Breen: I was 12. I remember Blackburn Baptist in one word. Ooooo!

Bob Simpson: My great lesson was that people had freedom to try something new. If you failed, there was no judgment, just encouragement to try something new. If there was success, it usually started a lasting movement for good. Great people with vastly diverse interests, great leadership, great commitment. I remember the outstanding young men in my Sunday school group. I remember the football club. And cricket. I remember Pentridge visits. I remember the start of the stamp club that is still funding good works. I remember growing through grief. I remember friends made through our small group; still going after all these years. So much in the fabric of my life.

Steve Noolan: BBC in 1980 was awesome.

Sharyn Ogden: it was a time of the move of the Spirit in the house. I joined the church in 1979 and the "movement" was strong then.....

Peter McKinnon [author of The Songs of Jesse Adams]: A time of liberation! Of being encouraged to challenge boundaries and creatively bring the Christian story alive by the most richly talented and diverse ministry team I have ever encountered, before or since.

Patricia Tse: Hi Rowland, you jog back good sentimental grateful memory of your loving leadership at BBC that you (your congregation too) assisted us a Chinese pastor's family of 4 to settle down nicely in Melbourne in 1979; our various ministries among Asian refugees; immigrants, thus founding the Melbourne Chinese Baptist Church etc. later. So much to say & can't thank God enough!

Elsa McMillan: The Spirit of God was at work amongst the church. Some of us were refugees from painful experiences at other places of worship and God led us to BBC. Hearts were filled to overflowing, loving friends were made for life and thanks to many but especially Robert Colman we learnt how to Praise The Lord.

Jan SparkesWonderful days of acceptance and spiritual growth under the leadership of an amazing pastoral team. Whenever we meet friends who are part of the diaspora of those days we comment on how blessed we were to be part of that time. The friendships formed in the Russ and Ann Costello home group, the social justice awareness from Alan Marr's input, the music led by Robert, the friendship of Kevin and Judy Forbes (who became our community Neighbours) the many friendships our sons made and the wives two of them married, have all been a great blessing throughout the years. And of course thank you for agreeing to marry us Rowland in 1976 (despite our past background). It was that absolute acceptance and love that ministered to our lives. Jan (Clack, Read, Sparkes)

Ad mairem Dei gloriam
'For the greater glory of God'...

Rowland Croucher

September 13, 2014



Growth/decline of church membership always tells a story. In Australian Baptist Churches 'membership' is taken seriously, so it's very rare that the numbers of members at any given time are higher than attendances. Here's 
BBC/Crossway membership stats for its 54 YEARS until 2007. (The 1-, 2-, 3-, etc. figures are 'years old'):

Total Members: Foundation members 37, 1- 50, 2- 71,

(George Ashworth pastor): 3- 83, 4- 81, 5- 94, 6- 96, 7- 118, 8- 131, 9- 142.

(David Griffiths pastor): 10- 168, 11- 215, 12- 235, 13- 258, 14- 267, 15- 303, 16- 309, 17- 344, 18- 338, 19- 340.

(Rowland Croucher senior pastor): 20- 379, 21- 443, 22- 505, 23- 532, 24- 534, (a plateau reflecting a year of relocation to a High School during building extensions), 25- 608, 26- 635, 27- 676, 28- 772.

(Interim period after the Crouchers left): 29- 732.

(Stuart Robinson senior pastor): 30- 721, 31- 764, 32- 743, 33- 786, 34- 736, 35- 709, 36- 709, 37- 743, 38- 645, 39- 651, 40- 649, 41- 664, 42- 660, 43- 668, 44- 712, 45- 770, 46- 858, 47- 966, 48- 1068, 49- 1187, 50- 1281, 51- 1283, 52- 1293, 53- 1379, 54... 

I don’t know the figures after that year. But just yesterday (10/9/2014) I got this from the current Senior Pastor, Dale Stephenson: 'For your own encouragement, over the past 4 years somewhere in the vicinity of 700 people have witnessed to faith in Jesus by being baptised. The Church membership is a record high (last time I checked around 1800) and generational renewal continues with 967 distinct children coming with their parents over a 4 week period. On one weekend recently we had 798 children present on one Sunday. Last weekend we had an attendance of 4200 and I anticipate that it will be a very full house for the 60th Anniversary.'


For pictures etc. of the Crossway 60th Anniversary visit





Some random notes to be incorporated somewhere:

*Social Justice: based on Jesus' three headings in his diatribe against Pharisees: Justice, Mercy, Faith. We meet 'Jesus in disguise' in the persons of marginalized people every day...

* '


snoolan said...

We fondly remember our time at BBC. We lived in Melbourne for 12 months in 1981, newly married and coming from a small country church near Adelaide.
After trying some smaller churches, we found that a big church could be a loving and sharing home.
Rowlie was big part of that and it has been a great part of Christian walk.

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