Toowoomba Assembly of God – Qld.

The Toowoomba Assembly of God was the largest and oldest pentecostal church in the Darling Downs of South West Queensland. 

The Church had a long, wonderful and interesting history.

In 1921 two women came to Toowoomba with the message of Pentecost.

Their names were Florrie Mortomore and Bessie Couldry.

Quite a number of folk received the baptism of the Holy Spirit under their ministry which were the seeds of the first Pentecostal church in Toowoomba.

In 1927 a gifted young evangelist from South Africa by the name of Frederick Van Eyk held very successful meetings in Toowoomba.

He had a powerful ministry in evangelism that drew large crowds and a lot of positive and negative publicity in the town.

During these meetings 39 people were baptised in water and scores were healed.

Many received the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

As a result of his ministry and the seeds that had previously been sown by Florrie Mortomore, the first organised meetings in Toowoomba were started in 1927 under the banner “Apostolic Faith Mission.”

Later there was a split in the group and some changed their affiliation to the newly formed Assemblies of God of Queensland.  

Mr. J. Larsen was the first pastor. Just one year later, C.B. Swenson was called to be the Senior Pastor in 1928.

Over the years the Assembly has had many colourful, inspiring, experienced  and distinguished Senior Pastors W.H. Akehurst, Henry E. Wiggins, E.M. (Ted) Irish, A.T. Davidson, Tom W, Whiting,  J.D. (Bill) Wilkinson, Aeron Morgan, Bryn Barrett, Jeremy Griffiths, Fred Evans and Ted Evans.

In the early days of the Church there was much opposition and criticism from the mainline Churches as the young Pentecostal church started to take shape.  

Pastor C.B. Swenson worked tirelessly to see the Church established.

He was truly a man of God, who until his death in 1982 worked zealously for the Lord in Toowoomba and in the Darling Downs.

During these early years scores of people were baptized in the Spirit and the Assembly was firmly established in the Word.

Faithful Assistant Pastors also served, among them were Doug Clark, Alec Thompson, John Kelly, David Parker, David Bonsor, Ken Herschell, Paul Allen, Victor Onions & Russell Harper.
 
During that time the church grew and developed, moving premises several times.
A Bible school was formed and a radio program commenced.

During Pastor Bryn Barrett’s 12 years of ministry from 1974 the most significant change was the purchase of five acres of land on Spring Street, and the erection and opening of an auditorium to seat 300.

This major relocation to the southern suburbs of Toowoomba was one of faith and foresight, expanding the growth potential of the assembly far above what could ever have been realized in the city premises.

In January 1987 Ps Jeremy Griffiths was appointed as senior minister of the church and another chapter of growth began.

The Church auditorium was redesigned internally to facilitate up to 600+ people and the vision of the church to build a retirement village called Yukana was commenced.
It was an exciting time of development.
 
In 1992 Pastor Fred & Betty Evans were appointed as Senior Pastors.

They came from a background of many years of experience in pastoring in Queensland and South Australia’s largest church, Paradise Assembly of God.
 
They had also served prior to that for 15 years as missionaries in Papua New Guinea.
 
During their term of service the Yukana Retirement Village project was completed and a further six acres of land was purchased adjacent to the church property and the Yukana Village.
These projects were completed debt free, in part due to an internal banking system owned by members of the church called MAGI (Members of Assemblies of God Incorporated) which provided low interest loans to the Church.
 
No finance was needed to be borrowed from secular banking institutions thus saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in high interests.
It was during their tenure in Office that the 75th Anniversary of the church was celebrated.
 
Below is a personal account of the Toowoomba Churches growth from 1993 – 2004 as told by Pastor Fred Evans.

Our years in Toowoomba were perhaps the most challenging yet most rewarding of our ministry vocation.

The Toowoomba Assembly of God Church was one of the oldest pentecostal churches in Australia.

It was a conservative congregation yet loyal to its pentecostal heritage and very supportive of  the cause of Christ in World Missions.

As my wife & I had a long history in the Assemblies of God & also having served as former AOG Missionaries, the congregation quickly embrased us & got behind our leadership.

Historically it was known as a church with a strong conservative governing Board of elders.

The Toowoomba church from its rural conservative financial base had over many years accrued valuable property in the City.

Steady leadership and wise financial planning by the Board, enabled the church to build a sizeable sanctuary and today owns and operates a large retirement village, by the name of “YUKANA” which means “Praise” in aboriginal vernacular.

The Constitution dated back to 1927 and was in need of a major overhaul.

Over a three year period I slowly introduced a  new Constitution which was recommended by the State Conference.

It was eventually voted upon by the membership and adopted by the congregation.

The new constitution gave significantly new powers to the senior pastor & board to manage the affairs of the church more efficiently as it grew.

When I was appointed Senior Pastor in 1993 the retirement village was half built and it was my privilege to see the project completed.

The church treasurer Murray Kuskopf  was the visionary behind the project and was duly appointed the first Manager of the Yukana Retirement Village.

Under his prudent leadership, with the support of a committed Church Board & Management team, he successfully completed building the Yukana Retirement Village.

Murray Kuskopf continually encouraged me to look to the future and buy land for the church, which we did.

Four acres became available ideally situated adjacent to the Retirement village and later another two acre block with house became available adjacent to the main auditorium.

I was indebted to Murray for his management skills and integrity in handling the church’s business and finance.

He is a good  man and totally committed to the Assemblies of God movement and its message.

He retired leaving a wonderful legacy and a healthy bank balance for the ongoing development of the Yukana Retirement Village. I honour him!

Someone else I would like to honour who served tirelessly for the church in Toowoomba was Victor Onions.

“Pastor Vic” as he was affectionately called, was an experienced minister who had pastored a number of churches in Australia as a Senior Pastor, prior to coming to Toowoomba.

His experience was greatly valued by the Church community when he accepted the role of Assistant Pastor.

Pastor Vic had a strong pastoral gift which was ably suited to the role of Pastoral Care.

For many years he and his wife Maria served faithfully in this capacity visiting and counselling church members who needed spiritual support.

He was much appreciated for his tireless effort in  ministering to the aged in the Yukana retirement village and was the chairman of the Yukana management committee until his retirement.

Ps Vic & Maria were great team players and always sought to work in harmony with the vision of the church.  

He  became the most popular Marriage Celebrant on the pastoral team which took a great burden off my shoulders.

I thank them for their years of faithful service.

From a senior pastors perspective I want to honour the service given to the church by the office secretary Mrs Pamela Smith.

Pam served as my PA or personal secretary for over ten years.

She was a faithful & reliable assistant and ably organised the events of the church as required and kept the pastors office functioning smoothly.

I thank her for her dedication and commitment to the cause of Christ.

Another leader that served well during my years at Toowoomba was Ps Russell Harper whom I inherited from Ps Jeremy Griffiths.

He along with his wife Nicky were respected as Youth leaders and they served the young people of the church enthusiastically.

Russell was a popular leader amongst the young people & adults alike!

I saw in him the potential for great things and a long ministry future.

He was appointed associate Pastor during the mid term of my tenure.

This was to facilitate his training to become a Senior Pastor.

He had a good pentecostal pedigree and gifted with what is called “people skills.”

I encouraged him as much as possible in the overall work of the ministry.

After leaving Spring Street, Russell went on to pastor a number of churches including the large Assembly in Bendigo, Victoria.

Today He and his wife Nicole, are the Senior Pastors of an ACC church at Chermside in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

Spiritually the Toowoomba church was thriving.

Sunday services were charged with the love and presence of God.

The pentecostal Gifts of the Spirit 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 were encouraged & frequently exercised by congregational members.

The vocal gifts of tongues” and “interpretation of tongues” & prophecy were a regular occurrence and feature in the life of the church during the communion services.

Prayer for the sick was also a weekly practice amongst believers.

I can remember the tangible feeling of buoyant spiritual energy flowing through my body & soul as I walked each morning from my nearby home to the church office.

The Holy Spirit’s anointing was upon the church and as a result, people loved to come to Worship.

The church was blest with many “core” members as I call them.

Foundation members who faithfully served the church and other christian organisations in the Toowoomba community.

It was a missionary minded church that for decades had supported the cause of Assemblies of God World Mission.

The Sander family is one that comes to mind who sacrificially and to this day continue to support the work of the Lord.

For me it was a pleasure to be their Pastor and I embraced the responsibility of leading this wonderful rural and historic Assembly of God Church.

The love of God and the unity of the Spirit was evident amongst us.

The churches in the City of Toowoomba were also experiencing wonderful unity as we regularly met for prayer and fellowship every Friday morning.

Pastor Ian Shelton of the Toowoomba City Church was instrumental and passionate about bringing us together as the Church of the City.

I too felt the need to pursue unity with my brethren and was acutely aware of the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21.

The spirit of church unity continued to grow and began to have a significant influence in Toowoomba, especially amongs’t the youth.

The Spring Street church had a very successful ministry to University students called “Students for Christ”.

Ps Simon Tinkler and Ps Shane Brigg proved to be very dedicated Student leaders and served in this capacity full time. I thank them.

Youth Leaders Ted Evans & Lyall Shelton of the Toowoomba City Church, formed a nexus in bringing the youth groups of the city together in powerful unity.  

They called it “City Youth“.

They met in down town Toowoomba each week in an old upstairs Billiard hall which was known as “The Corner Pocket“.

The youth of the City loved it!

Looking back it could be described as a mini revival amongst the youth of the City.  

The excitement and presence of God in those meetings was palpable.

Ted and Lyle worked together as a team and were an example to the broader church that leaders can work together without fear of loss.

At the time there was a strong sense of unity amongst the churches of Toowoomba but it took the City Youth to demonstrate how it works.

The Spring Street Church was blest to have Ted Evans who not only served as a Pastor but was gifted as a worship leader and capable musician.

His unique gift was used of God to lead the Church into realms of powerful Praise and Worship.

Congregational participation in Spirit filled Worship was a highlight of the Sunday Services, which often resulted in the exercise of the Gifts of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 which is a rarity these days.

To this day, many folk remember with fondness the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit in those pentecostal meetings of the 1990’s and long for those days again! 

The Toowoomba Church had an extensive World Missions vision which reached into many parts of the world with significant impact.

Particularly in Evangelism and Church Planting.

A Bible Training Centre was resourced and established in Lucknow, India under the auspices of a Church planting mission organization called Empart.

If you would like to know more about this church planting organization click on Empart.

The Toowoomba church also made a substantial commitment to building a Community Learning Centre in Madagascar.

This project was completed in 2008 under the visionary leadership of a member of the Church – Andreas Helwig.

To see a full coverage of this project click on Project Madagascar, it will surprise you.

Similarly in the Philippines, a Children’s home was built by the Spring Street church to facilitate the ministry of missionary Margaret Pashley in Leyte, and so it goes on and on.

On the home front a daughter church was planted at Willaston on the western perimeter of Toowoomba with Pastor Warren Peters as its shepherd.

Each year the Church committed substantial resources in community events such as the Lights of Christmas that attracted thousands of visitors to the church.  

A major musical production was presented to the City of Toowoomba each year in honour of Christ.

It was called “The Royal Command Performance to the King of Kings”.

It was held at the Empire Theatre and attracted a great deal of interest.

As the church grew I had a vision to build a large Convention Centre in the front of the church property.  

My motive was to provide a Convention venue for the City as well as providing a larger auditorium for our growth.

After prayerful consultation by the Ministry team and Board, we decided to go ahead with plans of the proposed Convention Centre and present it to the church membership for their endorsement.

During this time a small group within the church expressed strong opposition to the project and stirred up dissent amongst the retirement village residents.

This concerned me greatly.

After a prolonged process of transparently sharing the vision with the church, I finally presented the project to the membership for a vote as required by the Constitution.

A secret ballot was taken and over 67% of the membership voted in favour of building a new Church and Convention Centre.

I felt however not to proceed with the project as I was seeking at least an 80% vote.

Although I thought I handled this reversal with objectivity, inwardly my private world of disappointment was intense.

The prolonged stress and subconscious negative emotional state, started to take its toll upon my health and my world seemed to be falling apart with self doubt.

Subsequently I was diagnosed as suffering with clinical depression.

Compassionately the Church Board gave me three months leave of absence on full pay.

Betty & I went to South Australia to stay in the beach house owned by my brother Ps Andrew Evans, at Goolwa.

The next few months were the darkest days of my life as I battled depression, hopelessness, despair, failure and the dark night of the soul. During this time my son Pastor Ted Evans took charge of the church and did an excellent job maintaining the growth of the church with the ministry teams support.

I am grateful to him for his faithfulness and loyalty which is a priceless quality in team ministry.

Upon my return to duty I slowly recovered.

Unexpectedly God sent along a fellow missionary by the name of John Harrop.

John had studied at Harvard university in America and was well equipped to professionally walk me through my journey of despair.

I will be forever grateful to him for his wisdom and  compassionate support.

He was like an “angel from God” to me.  

During my recovery I found myself in the unusual position of ministering to many in the congregation who suffered from depression of one form or another.

I was surprised to find so many good people silently suffering with this misunderstood illness.

Someone said to me “now we have a pastor who understands our private pain“.

My eyes were opened to a vast ocean of mental & emotional needs within the church and community.

This was not a matter of “demonic activity” as some would assert but a ‘burn out’ of emotional energy.

Isn’t it like God to bring forth good out of something sad.

I was grateful to God for the loyal ministry team He gave me during my years of service in Toowoomba from 1993 – 2004.

Some of the people who stand out in my mind are Ps. Martyn Harris who was a tower of strength.

He not only was the treasurer, but he managed the financial affairs of the Church  and the Yukana Retirement Village which was going through a leadership & staff crisis at the time.

Elders Ted Hitzke and Franz Haenan were others who gave me unwavering support and encouragement during my years in the Toowoomba church.

They were very effective elders, counsellors and my personal confidants.

It was indeed a privilege to work with these faithful leaders who fulfilled the role of PRESBUTEROS – elder, an older man, a leader in the church who harmoniously sowed the Word of God into the community tirelessly and sacrificially.

Our unity had a positive effect upon the city resulting in substantial church growth and a feeling of being a church built upon good foundations and a “safe place” to be.

It was a place where the vocal pentecostal  gifts of the Spirit were publicly encouraged & practised with openness & power in the Sunday services.

The supernatural manifest presence of God was greatly desired and with it healing and blessing was received by the people.

People often commented at the wonderful manifest presence of God in the services.

By the end of my tenure as senior pastor, over 1200 people called Spring Street Assembly their spiritual home.

It was the largest active rural congregation in Queensland and at the time the second largest Assemblies of God church in the State of Queensland.

The Toowoomba church had become a lighthouse in the community and surrounding district.

Not only did it provide a service to the Toowoomba community through its aged care ministry in Yukana, but for many years produced a free Christmas variety programme at the Empire theatre called the “The Royal Command Performance to the King of Kings.”

It was produced by Tim Gray a gifted musician & producer, who grew up in the church.

The Royal Command Performance attracted large crowds for a number of years and sadly only ceased production when it became too expensive to produce.

I was greatly disappointed at this turn of events as was the producer! 

Later it was decided to produced a Christmas Lights spectacular to take its place.

During the Christmas holiday season the church property was lit up with thousands of coloured lights.

Its property became a light display of the story of Christmas.

Hundreds of cars and buses would drive through the church property to view the lights and leave a gold coin donation for Missions.

Peter Ship who was the manager of Yukana at the time, was responsible for the creation of the Christmas Light display.

I thank him for his creative genious.

Prior to leaving office, my son Ted Evans was nominated for the position of the Office of Senior Pastor.

He was duly elected by a substantial majority of the membership and became the new Senior Pastor.

He had a strong call and pastoral gift upon his life, as well as an envied ability in music & leading congregational worship which was a great asset in his tools of trade.

Prior to his election which occurred in 2004, he served for many years as Youth Pastor and grew the youth group to being the largest in the city.

Later he became my associate and was a tower of strength to me during my year of the “dark night of the soul”.

His steady, positive, loyal and non aggressive nature endeared him to many in the congregation.

As is the practice of retiring pastors, Betty & I had decided to leave the garden city of Toowoomba upon our retirement.

Although we had grown to love this city and its people and had built for ourselves a comfortable home, we felt it was in the best interest of the congregation to give them space to connect with their new pastor and allow him to establish his own credentials.

We left the church in good shape with potential for greater growth than it had ever seen in its history.

.Our farewell service was held at the Empire Theatre in down town Toowoomba.

Over 1200 people of the church family and community leaders had gathered to express their appreciation & love toward us, including former pastors who had served on the team.

Pastor John Lewis was the guest speaker but had little time to address the congregation due to the length of the celebratory proceedings.

When I was called upon to respond I felt very apprehensive and struggled to express myself as I was feeling deep with emotion.

I felt incredibly humbled and grateful to have had the privilege of leading this significant “Light House” church of over 1000 communicants in the Toowoomba community.

I thanked all those who had supported me in ministry but failed to mention my dear wife Betty who was my greatest supporter, which I regret to this day!

During the farewell speeches I was overwhelmed when it was announced that the Church would give us as a farewell gift, the church’s new car.

It was a very generous gift of the near new Nissan Maxima Car valued at $23,000.

The car proved to be a blessing during our retirement years and was used for ministry purposes travelling over 235,000 klm around Australia before eventually being retired due to its age. 

Our 45 years of full-time service had come to an end.

I was proud to be able to hand over a larger congregation than when I arrived.

The memory of its wonderful people that would fill the church auditorium with praise and worship each Sunday will remain a positive memory in my heart & mind.

It was a pentecostal church and I thank God for the privilege of leading it during those years of growth. 

In December 2004 we sold our home, packed our Nissan car and left the city for good leaving behind a vibrant church family.

Looking back, we have very fond memories of our years of ministry in Toowoomba and this large historic Assembly.

Some wonderful friendships were formed and the future of the Church was bright with a great vision for growth.

I like to think that by God’s grace we not only saw the church grow substantially but were able to preserve its rich history that went back over 75 years.

The Church was left in a very healthy state both spiritually and financially.

It was enjoying the largest regular attendance in its history and continued to practice its Pentecostal distinctive.

I would like to thank all the members of the church community for their love and support, during my last years of full time ministry!

After our departure the church continued to grow under the leadership of Pastor Ted Evans and was ministering to over 1600 people on its data base who called Spring St Assembly of God their spiritual home.

It was on the verge of taking giant steps forward to expand the vision.

It was engaged in multiple services and was negotiating the purchase of land to build a larger auditorium for the growing congregation of over 1200 attending regularly.

We give all the glory to God for the privilege of being called to lead and shepherd this great Australian Rural Church into the 21st Century – the Toowoomba Assembly of God.

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Postscript: The post modern Toowoomba Assembly of God has been redesigned and is now known as “Metro”.



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