The history of this congregation dates to 1848.
On the 8th of May that year, a group of 21 people left the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, uncomfortable with the closed-mindedness of the majority of the congregation, and founded a new community of faith dedicated to the proposition that membership should be open to all who wished to attend – of whatever denomination. They were free-thinking, liberal, dissenting, non-conformists. They brought with them strong religious convictions and the habitat of regular worship. They were Baptists of the free English tradition, without the taint of fundamentalism.
Without seeking the honour, the North Adelaide Baptist Church, which they established, became known as the most liberal Baptist church in Australia, a label that the congregation has always been proud to own. Interestingly, however, for part of their early history they were know as North Adelaide Congregational Church – perhaps reflecting some discomfort with how the “Baptist” label was usually perceived.
In 1850, they built a chapel in Lefevre Terrace seating 350. When that proved too small, they acquired the acre of land in Tynte Street on which the current church was built –– the new building being opened in November 1870. The foundation stone of the Lefevre chapel can be found at the entrance to the current church.
The Church building is described as “Venetian in style” and the Church’s plan dimensions of some 75 feet by 46 are in the “golden section” or ratio that many believe makes for an outstanding acoustic. When opened in 1870, the Church seated 600, and all of them had an unimpeded view of the preacher.
In 1876, the church acquired its first organ, which was installed against the southern wall (the opposite end to the present organ). At the time, it was the largest pipe organ built in the State. In 1890, a new organ was built and was placed in its present position in the Church. With the largest pneumatic action of its day in Adelaide, it was equipped with a mains water driven bellows. An electric motor replaced the water driven bellows in 1929. Rebuilt, enlarged and altered over the years, it is the privilege of this church to hold in trust one of Adelaide’s finest church organs, now consisting of a three-manual instrument of 53 speaking stops and 2,456 pipes.
National Trust Councillor Deborah Morgan comments:
“Places of worship are often the most significant and most beloved heritage buildings in any community. We are delighted that the North Adelaide Baptist Church community has decided to entrust their built heritage to the National Trust for its future preservation and public use.
We are honoured and humbled by the generosity of this gift and excited by the possibilities for continuing its public use and preserving its magnificent built form for future generations.”
Deacons of the North Adelaide Baptist Church say that “Our church community is looking forward to the realisation of the National Trust’s vision for this historic property. Our 10am Sunday service will continue as usual, along with our other activities during the working week. The building is also [normally] open to visitors from 11 am to 1 pm on Wednesdays.”
In recent years The National Trust has been working with a range of faith based to convene an annual conference on regenerating places of faith. The acquisition of the Baptist Church provides an opportunity to manage the transition of a nineteenth century treasure into a sustainable twenty-first century future.
The Trust looks forward to the work of preserving the extraordinary built legacy of the North Adelaide Baptists and continuing their cultural traditions and service to the community.