A fire incident in the 114 year old Brookton Uniting Church in late February, caused extensive damage to the interior of the historic and unique building.
This story by Wendy Hendry follows a visit to the town to meet with members of the congregation to learn more about the church, and community after the fire. This article was originally published in the June 2023 edition of Revive Magazine.
Standing at the entrance of the Brookton Uniting Church was a slightly confronting experience. A fire incident in the 114 year old church in late February, caused extensive damage to the interior of the historic and unique building. Looking into the worship area the charred remains of the jarrah pews stand in place forming an aisle to the front of the church. Half of the cross remains hanging on the wall. The floor is covered in rubble and broken glass where the beautiful stained glass windows shattered from the heat of the fire. However, the building structure still stands tall, and you can imagine how charming the church would have looked only a few months prior to my visit.
As I arrived at the church in the small wheatbelt town of Brookton I was greeted by Carol Bond, the Chair of the church council, and shown around by her and other members of the congregation who generously gave their time to meet with me. As we walked around the perimeter and peered inside, they described what was once in place with pride and a clear fondness for their piece of history. I was told of the quality wool carpet that covered, and it seems, protected the jarrah flooring; of the old Bible that was found relatively unscathed under the pulpit; the discovery of some of the metal engraved plates that were recovered from the plaques around the interior walls; and the relief that the church archives were stored off site.
The foundation stone reads ‘Brookton Methodist Church – This stone was laid by Mrs R.L.S Crawford, 14th Jan, 1909’. The Crawford family were vital to the planning and building of the church back in 1909, along with many others who raised funds for the church through fondly remembered events such as the Annual Strawberry Fete and the Annual Chrysanthemum Show which became features of church activity. In the early days the Minister, Rev R.R Fleming, was stationed in nearby Beverley. His visits to Brookton involved a long horse ride and an overnight stay on the Crawford family farm ‘Milroy’ before accompanying the family to church on Sunday morning.
One member of the congregation I was delighted to meet was Ken Hall who recently had his 100th birthday. Ken is a long-term resident of the area, with many memories of the place over the years. Ken recalled as a young boy he would ride his horse about 5km into town for Sunday School and showed me where he would tie the horse to a tree in the church grounds. Ken is still a part of the worshipping community.
Coral Hall, another long term member of the congregation, showed me through her collection of memorabilia and photos, sharing stories of Sunday School anniversaries and church fetes and the more recent Centenary Celebration in 2009.
Since the fire the congregation have been well supported by the small community of Brookton and surrounds with messages of kindness and support being passed on to the members, along with offers of space to store equipment.
As with many small rural congregations their services are often lay led with the occasional visiting Minister or Lay Preacher to lead them in worship. The congregation share regular worship services with the local Anglican church, with the first and third Sunday run by the Uniting Church, and the second and fourth Sunday with the Anglican church who have a visiting Priest. The congregation are now temporarily meeting in the local CWA Hall for their services on the first Sunday of the month, and the Anglican community have offered for them to run the third Sunday service with them in the Anglican church worship space. It’s clear that in times like this small communities can really come together. As Carol reflected with me, they are all worshipping the same God.
The congregation are hopeful to restore the church to its former charm, which at the time of writing was still a decision under assessment with many factors to be considered. In the meantime the congregation will continue to gather regularly as a worshipping community and we hold the congregation in our thoughts and prayers as they work through the process.