The Rev James Blaikie passionately supported overseas missions and encouraged Iris Seymour to go to Mymensingh in Bangladesh in 1888. It was part of a revolution in missionary activity.
In 1854 Elizabeth Sale, the wife of a Baptist Missionary in India was invited to a Zenana, the closed women’s quarters of a Hindu household. This opened a whole field of mission work that was closed to men. In 1867 the Baptist Missionary Society in London set up a Zenana mission and in 1872 Hanna Martin, the wife of the minister at Collins St established a Victorian auxiliary of the Zenana mission. This auxiliary supported two Indian Zenana Missionaries, one in Calcutta, the other in Delhi.
In 1882 Ellen Arnold and Marie Gilbert from South Australia had begun mission work in Bengal. Arnold and Gilbert built a house in Faridpur and in Jan 1884 they moved in. But Arnold’s health failed and she had to be repatriated. The sea voyage worked wonders and she arrived home well enough to tour the country publicising the mission.
In 1885 she returned to Bengal (Bangladesh) with four other women: Alice Pippin from South Australia, Ruth Wilkin and Marion Fuller from Victoria and Martha Plested from Queensland. These women were dubbed the ‘Five Barley Loaves’, when they were commissioned in South Australia.
In 1888 Iris Seymour joined them. This was the same year that Fuller and Wilkin opened a school, the Victoria Mission Girls School for Hindu girls in Mymensingh. Iris worked as a Zenana missionary until 1899 when she was appointed the head mistress of the school. She held this position for 24 years and won the respect of all, including government and educational authorities. The school had a hostel for 30 girls and is still functioning today.
Iris returned to Kew in 1919 and was an active member until her death in 1937, aged 76. She had been a member of the church for over 50 years.
Amy Moore was an OMF missionary who was equally significant. She began services for the newly arrived Vietnamese boat people in Richmond in 1978. Merryl Smith took over in 1980 and in 1981 the Rev Nguhen Huu Tin was appointed as an assistant pastor at Kew Baptist to lead them. This congregation is now led by Pastor Khoi Doan and is a significant part of our church.
Yet it all began with Amy chatting up Vietnamese tram conductors on her way to town!
[pictured above: the KBC Choir from the 1890s]
When Joseph Foy died in 1879 there were no locally trained ministers so the church recruited a man with a tremendous reputation from Mansfield Nottinghamshire, Rev Henry Marsden. He was man of action, a graduate of Spurgeon’s college who in his six years at Mansfield had grown the congregation from 40 to 200. But there was a downside. He applied to join the Baptist Annuity Fund in 1879 but was rejected on medical grounds and advised to move to healthier climes. So he left for Melbourne three weeks later. In May 1880 he was snapped up by Kew and set about building a new church on Cotham Rd and attracting a much larger congregation. But his health failed and he died 18 months later, in 1882, aged 30, before the new church was completed.
The deacons, of whom Courtney Walrond was now the oldest serving member, then appointed James Blaikie, another outstanding preacher from Spurgeon’s college. Blaikie moved into Marsden’s new church and while here founded the Christian Endeavour Society that was so significant for the next 70 years. In 1892, the Rev J B Gillison succeeded him, but like Marsden he was in poor health and had to resign in a little over a year. These three men shaped the pattern of worship for the next 100 years.
The focus was on preaching as reflected in the design of the present auditorium with the pulpit up front and central, the communion table and the baptistry underneath, and the choir and pipe organ on the side. With universal education everyone could read, so hymnbooks could be used.
But by the end of the century things had begun to change. The pulpit was abandoned in the late 1990s when Ruth Sampson could not get up the stairs to preach. The hymnbooks were supplemented with an overhead projector in the 1990s and were removed from the pews around 2010. The choir was disbanded around 2012.
So we are exploring new territory as we build a new auditorium to provide a space for worship. Will we have a media booth with a sound system and overhead screens? Will we refurbish the baptistry and make it a feature at the entrance to new space? Will the pipe organ and the pews be removed? I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.
Worship is the heart of Kew Baptist.