Celebrating Nine decades of the Diocese of Willochra - to 2005

Back to History and Present Directions 

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1915-1925: Bishop Gilbert White was enthroned on 28 July 1915 and resigned in 1925. He gave strong intellectual and pastoral leadership to the church which was ‘homespun and poor…” (Hilliard). The Bishop ‘spent most of [his] time travelling around scattered congregations, over dirt roads by mail-van or motor car, by train or coastal steamer, conducting confirmations, celebrating Holy Communion, and preaching to congregations in schoolrooms, public halls and woolsheds.’ There was concern that Anglicanism was weak in rural areas, and that Anglicans were passive, relying on the presence of a priest for worship. Bush Church Aid began work in the Diocese in 1921.The Church Mail Bag Sunday School began and continued to provide children’s lessons until 1978.
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1926-1935: Bishop Richard Thomas was an outback pastor who cared deeply about the problems of people in the bush and was happiest travelling alone to visit isolated people. During the Depression, Bishop Thomas made some extreme political statements. Bishop Thomas often preached on the need to care for God’s creation and plant trees to avoid erosion. Several Bush Brotherhoods were welcomed to the diocese and they became active and influential. Women were first admitted to synod in 1933.
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1936-1945: World War II and the beginning of the conservative Playford era. Sunday School enrolments and church attendance had peaked in 1933 and then declined until the upsurge caused by post-war immigration. The Brotherhood of St Stephen (1927-1939) injected a new spirit of enthusiasm in the diocese. Bishop Thomas was an uncompromising Anglo-Catholic, a poor administrator, and after World War II became increasingly vague and eccentric.
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1956-1965. The Primate appointed Thomas Jones as the third bishop. He was a moderate evangelical with experience in rural Australia and considerable managerial ability, who made a lasting impression on the Diocese. He reorganised the administration, initiated mission work at Leigh creek, raised money for the Diocesan Centre, now Camp Willochra, and brought to completion the plan for Willochra Home at Crystal Brook.  He established fruitful links with the Diocese of North-West Texas (USA). Church life revived, local men offered themselves to the priesthood, and the first ordinations since 1940 were held.

Diocesan Centre, now Camp Willochra, 1966

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1966-1975:  Diocesan boundaries were redrawn in 1967 and  21 parishes and missions on Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and the Mid-North were transferred permanently from Adelaide so that Willochra trebled its number of churches, clergy and communicants, making it more viable as a diocese. The Primate appointed Bruce Rosier as bishop in 1970 after the resignation of Bishop Jones and the synod’s failure to elect a bishop. The Diocesan Centre (now Camp Willochra) was well-used for youth work and the youth program, Camp Conqueror.
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1976-1985: Bishop Rosier was an unassuming, wise and faithful pastor of the people, and an enthusiastic supporter of lay ministry and interdenominational co-operation. He was a keen naturalist and scholar and expressed a deep love for the land as well as its people. The Province of South Australia came into existence in 1973 and during this decade an effective structure emerged which included co-operation of the three independent SA dioceses in clergy training, Christian education, and transfer of clergy between diocese, and clergy stipends and superannuation decisions.
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1986-1995:  After Bishop Rosier’s resignation, the synod elected David McCall as Bishop in 1988. He blessed the new Jubilee Wing at the Diocesan Centre. The new Church Office in Gladstone was purchased. Bishop McCall realised that drastic changes needed to be made to face the crisis of rural decline and the ministry structures in place which were so dependent on clergy. Bishop McCall addressed the problem of long-distance travel by travelling by plane, flown by his pilot wife.
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1996-2005:  After research into North American responses to ministry needs in remote areas, Bishop McCall introduced the Ministering Communities model of ministry and out of necessity formed three Ministry Districts in Southern Flinders, Eyre and Wakefield. Knowing that this model was a huge change for Anglicans he gained the support of the National Home Mission Fund for the Diocese’s first Ministry Development Officer, Garry Weatherill. Lay education and lay ministery were further encouraged. On his election as Bishop of Bunbury, Garry Weatherill was elected and consecrated and installed as Bishop in February 2001. Bishop Weatherill is a native Willochran, a large genial man, an excellent preacher who loves his people. Under his leadership the Ministering Communities in Mission model has gained wider acceptance – The Ministry District of Lower Yorke Peninsula came at the request of the parishes; lay ministry teams have been established in many small congregations; regular weekly worship takes place in most centres whether there is a priest present or not; and there is acceptance of the concept of local clergy of whom there are six.
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We look forward to the decades to come!
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An important addendum ……..
As this Diocese (and others) struggle with the lack of clergy and the search for other patterns of ministry, it is interesting to note a factor that may not be exclusive to this part of the world but tends to be forgotten. The emerging current problem is not new to Willochra,  even before its inception.
Read the histories or hear the stories of people in this part of the world, and you will find that almost every Church, congregation and Parish was brought into being by lay people determined to have their Church at the centre of their community. Whether the area is close to Adelaide or rather more distant, lay people gathered for worship in whatever accommodation was available, from hotels, Court- or Custom Houses, or private homes. From those gatherings, many of the Churches were built, as huge cost to the locals, and many of those buildings are still used for worship. The present writer is proud of the fact that his great-grandfather was one of such people on the West Coast, and the story can be repeated almost endlessly.
So is it a case of back-to-the–future or simply yet another stage in the movement of the Faith? Only time will tell, but there is certainly little reason to be dispirited about it all.