History of the Adelaide Unitarian Church

On 11 July 1854, a meeting of the Unitarian Christians of South Australia was held in Adelaide, called by public advertisement. Twelve people were present. A resolution was passed ‘that the time had arrived for the formation of a Unitarian congregation in Adelaide, and that it was desirable to raise a subscription in order to guarantee a salary of 400 pounds per annum to a minister for three years’. A further sum of 200 pounds was collected to pay the minister’s travelling expenses.

A request was sent to the British and Foreign Unitarian Association in London to select a pastor. Their choice fell upon the Reverend John Crawford Woods, B.A., of Newport, Isle of Wight. He and his wife arrived in Adelaide on 19 September 1855 after a stormy voyage of 123 days. They stayed for a time at Hazelwood, home of the Francis Clark family.

On the following two Sundays, Mr. Woods held services in private houses, first at Hazelwood, then at the home of Mr. E.M. Martin, Osmond Terrace, Norwood. On Sunday, 7 October 1855, the first public Unitarian service was held at Green’s Auction Mart near King William Street, Adelaide. The auctioneer’s rostrum served as pulpit, and it was said that about 200 people attended.

The congregation soon planned to build a church. Land in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, was given by William Everard, and the first stone was laid on 23 December 1856. The bluestone church, with its octagonal tower, was something of a landmark. The first service was held on 15 July 1857. The Sunday School building was commenced in 1863, but before that, in 1859, the Juvenile Library was begun, with 120 well‑chosen books from England.

Membership numbers have fluctuated through the years, peaking at 747 in 1881, diminishing to the present just over 100.

Although the majority of members have been drawn to the Church as a result of their own enquiry, some descendants of the original families still attend.

In December 1922 a manse was purchased at 7 Trevelyan Street, Wayville, during the ministry of the Reverend George Hale.  The purchase price of £850 took considerable effort to raise as it was during the Depression years. Mr. Hale took a voluntary cut in salary at this time.

Unfortunately, by the 1960s the church at Wakefield Street was growing too expensive to maintain on prime city land, and the slate roof and woodwork required major repairs. It was decided to sell the property.

The Reverend Allen Kirby was the moving spirit in arranging the sale of the old church and the Wayville manse, and the purchase of land at 99 Osmond Terrace, Norwood, for the erection of a meeting house and adjoining manse. The congregation solidly supported him in spite of their deep‑rooted attachment to their original church. The last service at Wakefield Street was held on 14 February 1971. A government office block, the Wakefield Tower, now stands on the old church site.

During the six months that it took to build the new church, services were held in the Norwood Masonic Hall.

The new building is modern, comfortable and adaptable to all Church activities. It has a garden courtyard and the five, much loved, stained glass windows from the Wakefield Street church have been preserved to make a striking feature of the northern wall. The organ was also transferred from the old church.

The first service at Osmond Terrace was held on 3 October 1971 and was attended by the Mayor of Kensington and Norwood. The many invited guests included friends and supporters and also descendants of the early Church members.

In November 1989, a memorial plaque was placed on a front pillar of the Wakefield Tower in Wakefield Street, Adelaide, to commemorate the site of the old church.

Over a period starting in 1997 and finishing in January 2004, the Church established itself as a more visible presence in the Adelaide metropolitan area. It won The Community Event of the Year in 2001, and nine of its members began offering weekly radio shows at 9.30 Sunday mornings on Radio Adelaide, 101.5 FM.  During this period, the Church received a grant from the International Fund for Unitarianism to air these shows beyond Adelaide, and for a while they were broadcast nationally on the Community Broadcasters Satellite. The Church also received a grant for teaching English to refugees in an effort to help to assimilate them into Australian life and culture.