The Illawarra Pastors Network arose in a context of an increasing awareness of the need, and a desire, to see the Kingdom of God impacting the Illawarra Region in a more significant way.
At the same time, there has been a greater awareness worldwide of the Church coming into the fullness of what God intended as we move towards the Coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ as King of King and Lord of Lords.
Faith of Steel
For a good summary of the history of the Christian Churches in the Illawarra Region, set within a framework of the history of the region, see Stuart Piggin’s book, “Faith of Steel”, published by the University of Wollongong Press in 1984. This publication came about at the request of the Wollongong Ministers Fraternal as a contribution to the City of Wollongong’s Sesquiecentenary in 1984. Stuart, at the time, was lecturer in History at the UOW.
The Development of Regional Groupings or Activities:
Wollongong Council of Churches
For many years the main inter-church body in the Illawarra was the Wollongong Council of Churches. This was a body which originally had ministerial and lay representatives on it, and sought to oversight areas of common interest among Protestant churches in areas such as religious education, media, hospital chaplaincy etc.
By the 1970’s, the Wollongong Council of Churches had basically become just the ministers fraternal of the Central Wollongong area Protestant churches.
In view of the lack of a representative regional body, moves were made in the early 80’s to set up a new body called the Illawarra Churches Association,modeled on the successful Newcastle Churches Association. This was a body of denominationally appointed representatives from the major denominations, both Protestant and Catholic. It’s role was to oversight, through various ‘Commissions’ the areas of Chaplaincy, Media, and Education. With the formation of this new body, the original Wollongong Council of Churches was disbanded as such, and the members became the Wollongong Ministers’ Fraternal for clergy in the Central Wollongong area. (Other regional Ministers Fraternals existed for clergy in areas other than the Central Wollongong area.)
After a few years, however, interest in the new body was not sustained, and it was disbanded. By default, some of its responsibilities were either taken up by the Wollongong Ministers’ Fraternal, or simply let go.
For example, the area of television responsibility was maintained by the Wollongong Fraternal which oversaw a roster for the ‘Epilogue’ (later called ‘Reflections’) at the end of the daily programme on WIN Television (the only local station at the time). The roster was based on two days for Catholics, two days for the Anglicans and two days for the “other denominations”.
With the government programme of amalgamation of television and the incoming of Prime and Capital Television into the region, WIN suddenly dropped the daily ‘Epilogues’. This action highlighted the lack of a regional approach by the churches in the area of media, and at the instigation of the Wollongong Ministers’ Fraternal a regional media body called the Illawarra Christian Media Association was set up, with representative from the churches appointed. For a number of years this body oversaw the production and scheduling of television ‘spots’ on all three regional stations. The Rev Neil Brain carried much of the responsibility and it was only at his move to a parish in Culburra that the organization ceased to function (and, again, the churches of the region is without a voice in the media).
Illawarra AD2000 & Beyond
In the early 90’s, a number of factors refueled interest in combined church activities. A number of pastors in the northern Illawarra were meeting regularly for prayer. News came of a move to have an international witches gathering in the Illawarra, and this news sparked calls for concerted Christian action and prayer. The Rev David McGrouther, at the time pastor of the Thirroul Baptist Church, was one of the key leaders with the passion to see churches working together. Around the same time, David Bartlett had attended a conference in Sydney called ‘Reaching Cities for God’ with Argentinean pastor, Ed Silvoso. David sent out a mailing to all pastors and ministers in the region drawing attention to the material of the conference, and this began the monthly mailing of the ‘Pastors Link’ to all pastors and ministers in the region. It also connected David to David McGrouther and brought together a number of leaders in the region with a heart to impact the region for Christ. Around this same time, ‘Global Marches for Jesus’ were being held around the world, along with the Easter Celebrations led by organizations such as Fusion.
These various interests led to the formation of “Illawarra AD2000 & Beyond”, under the leadership of David McGrouther. This organization coordinated events such as the Global Marches, held all night prayer vigils at Easter, put on training days aimed at reaching and began the monthly Pastors Prayer Breakfasts. Along with this, in 1995, David Bartlett had stepped out of his position as pastor of the Congregational Church, Wollongong, to take up a role working specifically with pastors and ministers, under the informal banner of ‘Pastors Link Ministries’.
In addition, other networks were formed under the banner of Illawarra AD2000. An Industry Network (with a publication ‘Industry Link’) developed, along with a Women’s Network and an ‘Illawarra Houses of Prayer’ Network, as well as ongoing monthly prayer nights of the lookout at Sublime Point and in other places.
A sense of excitement was in the air among Christians across the Illawarra. However, the same sense of excitement did not seem to flow among the church leaders and it was apparent that unless leaders were enthusiastic about working together there would be a limit as to what impact could be made on the region and what could develop as a result. It was particularly apparent that leaders of the larger churches in the area were content to work separately and saw no need for combined activity. David McGrouther challenged the leaders of some of the larger churches on what they were doing to impact the region, and not just to build a large church. As a result, a group was formed, known as the ‘300 Club’. It consisted of leaders of churches with over 300 members who met together every two months for a meal, discussion of church leadership and some prayer. The group was a very diverse group covering Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and the relationships developed in this group and levels of trust and understanding attained has been a significant move for the Kingdom’s development in the region. It was this group which took the initiative, and at the instigation of the Rev Bruce Clarke from Figtree Anglican, of inviting the evangelist, Greg Laurie, of Harvest Crusades, to conduct a combined churches crusade in the newly built Wollongong Entertainment Centre in 2000. See more below on Harvest 2000.
Before Harvest, however, it seemed that the goals of Illawarra AD2000 & Beyond were not being met, and David McGrouther moved on to take up the position of Senior Pastor of Swanston Street Church of Christ in the City of Melbourne. It seemed to the remaining team members that official organization needed to be closed down. A scripture at the time that was felt relevant was ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds’ (John 12:24). So, on 21st November 1997, Illawarra AD2000 & Beyond was closed in the hope that the various networks and activities would continue through the informal relationships that had been developed during the phase of Illawarra AD2000’s life.
Harvest 2000 saw around 90 churches from the Illawarra and Shoalhaven combining together for four nights of outreach in the Wollongong Entertainment Centre with Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusades. For more details see the full Harvest report page
Illawarra Prayer Network
At the time of planning for Harvest 2000, Ross Holmes, an AOG pastor from Queensland, had felt led to move to the Illawarra. Ross came with a burden for prayer and immediately became involved with getting prayer meetings happening for Harvest 2000. After Harvest, Ross continued to organize Combined Churches Prayer Gatherings on a quarterly basis. These meetings were held at various larger churches around the region and on occasions were attended by a couple of hundred people. The informal Illawarra Prayer Network became the banner for ongoing combined prayer in the region, with a weekly ‘Prayer House’ set up, and meeting at Coniston United Church.
Illawarra Pastors Network
The Illawarra Pastors Network was formally formed in June 2000 with David Bartlett as Convenor. Under the banner of ‘Pastors Link Ministries’ since 1995, David had felt this was what the Lord had called him to do – ‘to step out of the boat’ and work just with pastors and ministers. Pastors Prayer Summits were begun in 1998 and David had continued to network with pastors, being supported by people who felt the vision was worth supporting. For a number of reasons, at the end of 1999, David felt he was being called back into pastoral ministry and accepted a call to a church in Sydney. However, the denominational authorities resisted the call and a period of six months went by with no clarity as to how what David would do. At the 2000 Summit held in June, however, it became clear to the pastors and ministers present that David’s role was important. The pastors present issued a call to David to continue doing what he was doing, and pledged to support the work. The call led to the formalization of the Illawarra Pastors Network with David becoming an employee of the Network, supported by gifts from churches, pastors and other interested people.
For some time, there had been a growing sense among the leadership of both the Illawarra Pastors Network and the Illawarra Prayer Network that what was lacking in the region was a leader with a heart for unity, a vision for impacting the Illawarra, and the leadership gifts to bring about the next phase in what the Church in the Illawarra might accomplish for the Kingdom of God.
With Scott Hanzy taking up the position of Senior Pastor at the Gateway City Church, it was apparent that Scott had the qualities required to give a lead to the church in the region. At a Pastors Prayer Summit in 2003, Scott shared his heart and the pastors/ministers present affirmed that “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them”, and prayed for Scott to follow on with the vision. The vision of reaching Illawarra through the areas of influence in the region, the ‘gateways’, came into being. Scott began to bring a group of people together to pray and think about how the vision might be implemented.
From this initial coming together, a link was formed with the ‘government’ gateway. Scott met with the Lord Mayor of Wollongong and began to seed ideas of how the Church and the Council might work together. The result of this connection led to the Lord Mayor inviting pastors/ministers to a series of breakfasts and to the gathering together of a group of senior Christian Leaders to look at calling a night of combined prayer for the region. Thus came into being the first ‘Rise Up’ gathering held in November 2003.The Lord Mayor had asked the Anglican Bishop of Wollongong, the Rev Reg Piper, to call this group together, but as Scott had begun the process, he became the driving force behind the first ‘Rise Up’ and it was mainly Scott’s passion and vision that led to the vibrant and positive night of prayer.
Rise Up Illawarra
Held 3 November 2003 and 29 October 2004
Following the success of the first ‘Rise Up’ gathering in November 2003, there was felt the need for an ongoing movement of churches working together. The initial committee of leaders was later formalized into the Boards of Rise Up Illawarra Incorporated. In March 2004, plans were in place for the churches of the Illawarra to ‘Rise Up & Serve’ – by getting out into the community on a Saturday morning, working with the Clean Up Australia movement, and cleaning up parks and beaches of the Illawarra. A Combined Churches Festival was held in the afternoon, but sadly, it rained and was not able to be as effective in reaching out into the community as was envisaged. A huge amount of work was undertaken by a great team of people, again under the leadership and vision of Scott.
The Rise Up Board continued to meet and arranged for a second ‘Rise Up’ gathering in October 2004. Although a large number of people attended, it was felt to lack the passion and impact of the first ‘Rise Up’.
The Rise Up Illawarra Inc. Board continued to meet spasmodically over the next couple of years, but could not clearly come up with any ongoing vision and, finally, the organization was formally closed in 2007.
Since the cessation of Rise Up Illawarra Inc., the Illawarra Pastors Network has continued to foster the sense of unity across the region, through the pastors prayer breakfasts and the pastors link. The leadership of the Illawarra Prayer Network has been taken on by Derek Thompson, fostering prayer for the region. Derek has also formed an organization called ‘Five Islands Christian Ministries’ and brought the Illawarra Prayer Network under that banner, and making possible an ‘umbrella’ structure for other entities to work under.
The above is an attempt to set out some of the history of combined church activity in the Illawarra, and no doubt comes with some of my bias, but also with some of my sense of longing. Your comments and corrections are invited! – David Bartlett