The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Australia is a small denomination consisting of six congregations in three of the eastern states of our country. Three are in Tasmania where the denomination originated from and three are on mainland Australia. One of these is in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, and two in Queensland, the most northern state. One of these is in Rockhampton and one in Brisbane. These three congregations all have full time ministers occupying their pulpits.
In the three Tasmanian congregations there is one minister in Winnaleah and the Launceston and Burnie congregations are vacant. There are about a hundred miles separating each of these congregations with Launceston being in the middle. The Winnaleah congregation in the northeast of the state consists of about six or seven families with a few young growing families in their membership. The Launceston congregation which is in the central north of the State is the largest of the three in Tasmania and has around fifteen families in it. It is always good to be in this congregation because there are so many young families here and we can see that God is here blessing the church in the line of the covenant and that one day there will be a heap of youth here in our church. There is also in Launceston a church school which has a full time teacher who teaches around fifteen students from ages six to thirteen.
The Burnie congregation has a total membership of twenty seven; this consists of two elderly couples, a single lady, a family of five, two families of three and a family of eleven of which I am a member. We, having no minister, usually have sermons from the PRC recorded either on video from the Hudsonville congregation or on audio from one of the other congregations. We also have a minister from one of the other congregations visit us every two or three months. Our worship service is conducted in much the same way as that of the PRC with the preaching of the Word being the main part of the service. In our churches though we do not use the Psalter used by the PRC but sing from the Scottish Psalms which is a versification of the 150 Psalms verse for verse from beginning to end.
Our normal church attendance in Burnie is around 15 to 20 people, as quite often it is hard for older people to make it and also it is hard for people to come faithfully when there is no live preaching from the pulpit. We also have a midweek Bible study where we study through a book of the Bible, usually following a study guide from a PRC minister, e.g. Prof. Hoeksema’s Studies in Acts. Our Youth consists of 7 people aged from 14 to 21, five of whom are from our family; so the people of our age who we mix with in our church are mainly in our family. Having recently been for a vacation in the USA with my brother and sister we could mix with a lot of people our own age. This is the area of Church life which is so contrasting and we were very glad that we could fellowship with people of our own age and make a lot of friends in the PRC. You also have a great number of church activities which you can participate in and a plentiful supply of speeches and lectures you can attend. I hope that none of you and your friends take any of these things for granted, but that you show your gratitude to God and one another for the gift of the preaching of His Word and the fellowship of His saints.
Tasmania is a lovely island about 350 miles across the top and is in the shape of a heart. It is a mountainous island with a lot of natural rainforest and waterfalls. The weather is also different as we do not have the extremes that you experience in parts of the USA. In our winter we have no snow along the coast but only in the mountains; at night the temperature can get down into the 30’s and warmer days up to the 50’s. In summer the temperature gets up to 70-80 degrees in the day and we have no humidity. The pace of life is also slower and everyone seems in general to be much more easy-going and friendly. Tasmania is a great place for a vacation so if anyone is planning one, young and old alike are most welcome to come and visit us here and can be assured of finding warmth and friendship here.
Our church is small and this can sometimes be hard. We constantly face a struggle for zeal. Being so small makes it hard for everyone individually and as a group to stand fast in the Lord. If we lose one member we feel it. Over the past five years we have lost a fair few younger members of our congregation as they have married and left our congregation. Each time this happens it makes it harder for the rest of the congregation as we seem to be getting smaller and smaller and quite often it is only our family that is there. We are reminded though that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, there He is in our midst. We are learning as the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 27:14 to “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart; wait, I say, upon the Lord.”
Our size and lack of growth also makes it hard for us to get a full time minister. The Lord has in the last five years blessed us with three ministers for short periods of time. Prof. and Mrs. Hoeksema were in 1988-1989 in Burnie for 8 months. Rev. and Mrs. Woudenberg from Kalamazoo were with us in our summer of 1991 for four months. Also in January of this year Rev. and Mrs. Miersma from New Zealand PRC were in our midst for 8 weeks. We thank the Lord for these times and these people for their time with us as we really did experience a blessed and fruitful time under the instruction of these ministers.
Our church is in a city of around 20,000 people and is one of a handful of churches in Burnie. Burnie is not a community of churches as are areas of Grand Rapids or South Holland, but is a city separate from God and living in darkness. Thus we as Christians share with the church across the length of the earth the responsibility to bear testimony to His name. We must do this in the way we walk so that the people we come in contact with at work and in this world may see us and though they may mock yet the Lord knows the way of the Righteous but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Our calling as Christians in this world wherever we are is the same, to stand together in unity for this is blessed (Psalm 133), and to stand as Psalm 1 puts it, not in the way of sinners and not in the seat of the scornful, but to make his law our meditation and to delight therein and then like a tree planted by the water we shall not be moved.