8 December 2023

Upper Beaconsfield’s tiny congregation to celebrate towering faith

St John’s Upper Beaconsfield members will celebrate its 100th anniversary in October. Picture: supplied.

Jenan Taylor

22 September 2023

An isolated church in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges plans to celebrate its parishioners’ resilience and deep faith at its upcoming birthday.

St John’s Upper Beaconsfield will mark its centenary with a service in which members will sing their favourite hymns, and recall their major projects, achievements, and trials.

The Ash Wednesday bushfires are certain to be among them.

Priest-in-Charge the Reverend Shannon Lee said the church lost some of its members, and the building itself was razed in those terrible fires.

Ms Lee said the catastrophe demonstrated the small congregation’s steadfast resilience and towering trust in God.

That strength resulted in a church that connected, provided support, healing and love to the wider community, she said.

Read more: Church still heart of village after 120 years

Long time parishioner Joan Medwin remembers Ash Wednesday and its aftermath all too well.

As St John’s ruins smoked, its then vicar, the Reverend Roger Rich threw himself into providing pastoral care to the village’s survivors and fire-fighters, Mrs Medwin said.

The remaining congregation members rolled up their sleeves and helped recovery and relief efforts at the community hall.  

Mrs Medwin said when the church set about rebuilding, the local residents pitched in, enthusiastic to see St John’s, the only place of worship in the bucolic town, stand again.

Construction was completed within a year, and the new church was able to open debt free because of the donations that came in from almost everywhere, she said.

Then Southern region Bishop John Wilson described the new building as “a symbol of Christian faith in the One who shared our common life and who died and rose again for our sakes” in historical records.

Bishop Wilson also described his doubts about whether the tiny but determined congregation could support a full-time priest of its own at that time.

But it was one of his joys to see St John’s people able to demonstrate their strength of faith and financial ability to do just that, the bishop concluded.

Read more: Christ Church’s rich traditions will be focus of 150th celebrations

Mrs Medwin said the church was also where the idea for the first independent ecumenical Christian school in the outer south east of Melbourne was born.

“It was conceived by the little congregation right here at St John’s even before the fires. A lot of work went into that, including how to get it up and running, financially, ” she said.

Beaconhills College opened in 1982 with only 34 students. Today it is a co-educational private school with campuses in Pakenham and Berwick, and about 3000 enrolments from Early Learning to Year 12.

Ms Lee said another key outward facing project, was the St John’s Op Shop.

She said current members worked side by side with community volunteers in the op shop, and sometimes supported local residents with clothing and other goods, when needed.

Church warden Rosz Smith said despite emerging form the pandemic only recently, the op shop performed well.

Ms Smith said as well as supporting the church, it allowed the parish to start contributing money to community projects.

Read more: Community choir to mark 19 years singing gospel truth

This included initiatives at the local primary school and the scouts group.

Ms Lee said St John’s always had a regular column in Upper Beaconsfield newsletter, the Village Bell, and its members kept up the church’s presence at local festivals through stalls.

She said the church hoped those efforts as well as the op shop would go from strength to strength, and continue for many years yet.

“We want to see God glorified and the community blessed, so we will continue to serve, love and welcome with warmth,” Ms Lee said.

 St John’s Upper Beaconsfield celebrations will take place on Sunday 29 October.

Ms Lee said Bishop Paul Barker would preside, and that anyone and everyone was welcome to attend.

To find out more, phone 5944 3862.

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