What image is conjured up in your mind, I wonder, when you hear the name Saint Barnabas?
For those of you who have come from Sydney, you might visualise the iconic church of Saint Barnabas on Broadway which was destroyed in a devastating fire several years ago, and now rebuilt in a modern style. Or if you come from somewhere else, you will probably have worshipped in a church or visited a church dedicated to the patronage of Saint Barnabas at some time or another.
For those of you who have been here in this Parish of East Maitland for many years, your minds probably wander – when you hear the name ‘Saint Barnabas’ to Victoria Street, the location of one of our former daughter churches.
This year, in our cycle of worship, we are taking time on four weekends to give thanks for the ministries of four of the churches within our Parish from which faithful ministry has taken place in the past. In April we celebrated the Feast of Saint Mark, and Deacon Wendy led us in giving thanks for the ministry of the Church at Eastville, and the ministry that continues in that building now that it has been moved to this site and has become our ministry centre. Later in the year we will celebrate the Feasts of Saint Luke and Saint Egwin, and remember with thanks the churches at Buchanan and Tenambit. There simply isn’t space in our calendar this year to celebrate St Andrew in honour of the Church and ministry at Largs, which was founded from this Church and later became part of the Parish of Morpeth, and we will find a way to do this at another time.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Barnabas, and give thanks for the many years of worship and ministry of the congregation that gathered in Victoria Street. If you are a more recent arrival here, and cannot visualise Saint Barnabas’ Church, there is a depiction of the building in the artist’s impression of our proposed stained glass window to honour all of the ministry that took place in and from that place, alongside an image of the Saint himself, who was the Patron of that Church, on the inside cover of today’s liturgy booklet.
Saint Barnabas’ Church was established as a mission congregation within this Parish to meet the needs of residents in the vicinity of Victoria Street Railway Station, who – before the benefits of sealed roads and cars – found it difficult to travel to Saint Peter’s. The foundation stone was laid in February 1917 (99 years ago) and the building was dedicated for worship in April of the same year. It is interesting to remember that the church was erected in anticipation of world peace, and the plaque that was added after the building was paid for, and following the end of the First World War, gives thanks for the blessing of peace following that war, and stood as a symbol of thankfulness for that peace within our local community.
But that wasn’t the first Saint Barnabas’ Church in this local area. Some of you will remember hearing stories of the first Saint Barnabas’ Church in Horseshoe Bend in our neighbouring Parish of Maitland. It was from that church, after it was closed, that the original altar and some of the other furnishings were given as a gift to our Saint Barnabas Church, and I have wondered whether the altar that now stands in the Saint Barnabas’ Chapel here in Church, which came from Victoria Street, had in fact originally come from Horseshoe Bend, but it seems likely that it was replaced at Victoria Street at some point.
After many years of faithful ministry, and huge changes in church participation and transport, the Sunday School at Saint Barnabas’ Church was closed in 1979 and the church itself ceased to be a place of regular worship in 1985, and was sold in 1989 and converted into a private residence. This has been the fate of many of the smaller neighbourhood churches across Australia.
The proceeds from the sale, together with monies raised from the sale of the tennis courts on this site, and some blocks of land on the St Egwin’s Church property in Tenambit, were used to purchase a house on Chelmsford Drive in Metford, which was to be the centre of a new evangelistic ministry to that community following a recommendation by a Diocesan Commission led by the Assistant Bishop of the time that a new experimental pastoral area be established from the parish. The new pastoral area was in fact never brought into being, and the area remained within this parish, and for some years the house was used to accommodate members of parish staff before it was rented out and finally sold a year ago. And at that point the monies from the sale of the house were placed into the Saint Peter’s Endowment Trust, so that the funds from the sale of Saint Barnabas’ Church continue to play their part in supporting ministry and mission in this Parish into the future.
But the legacy of Saint Barnabas’ Church doesn’t just live on in financial terms. It lives on in our chapel of prayer, within this house of prayer, at which the Eucharist is celebrated and Morning and Evening Prayer are said day by day, under the beauty of the stained glass window that was also brought here from Victoria Street; and most importantly it lives on in the disciples who heard the story of Jesus in the Saint Barnabas’ Sunday School, and who came to know the good news of God’s saving love for them in the worship and teaching of Saint Barnabas’ Church.
That is why the ministry of Saint Barnabas’ Church lives on long after the building was closed. It lives on the lives of those of you here who were nurtured by that Church in your youth, and in the lives of the many others who have no connection with us now, but who were formed in the Christian life in that place, and who we hope have passed that good news on to their children, and perhaps also to their children’s children.
And why would we be surprised that this was so? After all, the ministry of the original Saint Barnabas the Apostle himself has lived on for the last 2,000 years. It is extraordinary that we even know about him in Australia nearly 2,000 years after his death, but we not only know about him but place churches under his patronage, to inspire us in our ministry.
Saint Luke describes Saint Barnabas as an Apostle, and as a good man who was full of the Holy Spirit. And through him, we know that many were converted to the Christian faith. When we think of the Apostles, we usually think of Jesus’ inner circle of twelve men. We then subtract one for Judas, but we add one back for Matthias who replaced him. Saint Paul gets to be the thirteenth Apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles, and then there is the Apostle Barnabas. In some senses he is the odd one out. Unlike the other Apostles he was not with Jesus during his ministry, and unlike Saint Paul he did not have a dramatic encounter with Jesus after his resurrection.
But he was singled out by the Early Church as worthy of the name Apostle, originally in the earliest Christian communities, and then in the Gospel of Luke, and then later by the Early Fathers of the Church, because he was a prolific preacher and teacher, and one of the central characters in the growth of the Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The tradition of the Church teaches us that Saint Barnabas’s preaching resulted in the conversion of Clement, who went on to be one of the earliest bishops of Rome; and that Saint Barnabas gave his life for the faith in his native Cyprus. The word “apostle” simply means a “sent one.” It seems that wherever Saint Barnabas went, a train of conversions to the faith followed. That is the miracle of the Christian faith – it is spread by sharing good news. And, as Saint Paul teaches us, preaching requires a preacher, and a preacher cannot preach unless he is sent.
This is how it is that Saint Barnabas is numbered among the Apostles. Just as the Twelve were given authority from Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit, so too was Barnabas. And it was the will of God that this man who was filled with the Holy Spirit was indeed “sent out” as part of the mission of the Church; and we give thanks today for his godly example.
Today we also begin the process of consultation about the installation of the first two sets of six sets of windows that will be installed above us in the nave of the church and will permanently honour the memory of all of the former churches of this Parish and their Patron Saints: Saint Barnabas’, Saint Luke’s, Saint Mark’s, Saint Egwin’s, Saint Andrew’s and the original Saint Peter’s Church, the building that stood on this site before our current church. It is a very exciting project.
These first two sets of windows (in honour of St Barnabas and St Luke) have been designed, and paid for in full by generous donations, we have received approval from the State Heritage Council and the plans are now on display at the back of church for your feedback before they are forwarded to the Bishop who will make the decision about whether a Faculty is issued giving permission for their installation. I cannot think of a better day to begin this final stage of the approval process than as we gather to celebrate the Feast of Saint Barnabas together. We hope that the Saint Barnabas window will be in place later this year in time for the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Victoria Street Church next year.
And we pray today that we may be inspired by the example of Saint Barnabas, and the example of the members of the Church that bore his name on Victoria Street, to be people who know that the Kingdom of God has come near, and by word and example point others to Jesus, our Saviour and our Lord.