Future of Anglican country churches under a cloud in Singleton Parish

Once the centrepiece of our thriving rural villages churches are now often the only buildings left - a stark symbol of what has been swept away in our changing environment.

Out west of Singleton at Doyles Creek stands the timber St Paul's Anglican Church and its well kept cemetery the resting place for many of the local families who once toiled in the district's 13 dairies.

"The church was our regular meeting place when Doyles Creek was home to all those dairies and the families working and living here," said 85-year-old Pat O'Hara.

Mrs O'Hara has lived all her life in the district surrounding Jerrys Plains including 66 years at her current home 'Stoney Point' in Doyles Creek. She raised her six children on the dairy she ran with her late husband Neville and in addition to farm work she wore out three kombi vans driving the school children each day for many years to and from Doyles Creek to Jerrys Plains.

In between all this hard work she made time to clean St Pauls a place very close to her heart and one she remembers as being packed with families keen for a cuppa and a catch-up after the service.

The front gate is dedicated to her late son Tony and her husband and members of his family are buried in the cemetery. Mrs O'Hara is sad to think her place of worship could be sold along with all its memories now that the church is deconsecrated ( June 2019) following its placing by the Singleton Anglican parish into recess in 2008.

At Jerrys Plains itself the National Trust classified St Jame's is also likely to be sold which has resulted in local residents organising a public meeting to be held on Monday, July 15 at the Jerrys Plains Community Hall at 6:00pm.

FUTURE: St James' Church, Jerrys Plains is acknowledged as one of the John Horbury Hunt's best country churches and the local community do not want to see the building sold.

FUTURE: St James' Church, Jerrys Plains is acknowledged as one of the John Horbury Hunt's best country churches and the local community do not want to see the building sold.

No regular services have been held at St James since it was placed in recess in mid-2017 but the community is angry that their church, like so many rural churches throughout the country, is to be sold off.

The Newcastle Anglican Diocese said in a statement:

Since May last year the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle has been reviewing its church buildings recognising that some of its churches are not being used in the same ways they once were. The Church of St James Jerrys Plains has not been used for services since 2017 and has maintenance and WHS issues.

The community was advised recently of the proposal to formally close and sell the site. If that decision is made by the Bishop and the Diocesan Council the proceeds of sale will be used to support ministry in the Singleton Parish, ministry in other parts of the Diocese and assist with redress funding.

Those organising the meeting on Monday night argue their church should not be lost to the community who since it was built have worshiped in and maintained the building.

"Our family have dedicated stained glass windows in St James and other families also have generational ties to the church," said Ian Moore.

"But those keen on selling the church never informed us about a meeting they organised to discuss its future we only heard about that meeting held at Warkworth last month on the grapevine.

"St James is important to our community and surely as members of that congregation we should have been advised about any plans to sell-off our heritage."

The Parish of Jerrys Plains was established in 1844 and the foundation stone for the existing St James' Church was placed on November 9th 1875 by Catherine Pearse wife of William Pearse of 'Plashett' in the presence of Bishop Tyrrell. The Church was designed by celebrated architect John Horbury Hunt who also designed many famous buildings including Christ Church Cathedral.

St Pauls Doyles Creek

St Pauls Doyles Creek

St James' Church is acknowledged as one of the John Horbury Hunt's best country churches. It was built by Oliver Saunders. Whilst this Church building was dedicated to St James on November 11th 1879, it would be finally completed debt free and consecrated by the Bishop of Newcastle, the Rev. Dr. Pearson on November 12th 1885.The Parish of Jerry Plains and Singleton were amalgamated becoming the Parish of Singleton -Jerrys Plains in 1979. The Church is an intricate part of the Jerrys Plains Historic Precinct.

St Pauls' cemetery at Doyles Creek.

St Pauls' cemetery at Doyles Creek.

Mrs O'Hara remembers those grand days in Jerrys Plains when the minister had to ride a pushbike to her family's farm near Moses Crossing and pick-up a horse to visit parishioners in Doyles Creek, Lemington and Warkworth.

When Jerrys Plains was its own parish Mrs O'Hara said the village was thriving.

"Jerrys Plains had a butcher, general store, bakery, post office and a two storey hotel - you could get just about everything you needed in the village," she said.

" I remember the minister Mr Kemp riding his push bike to visit parishioners who mostly worked on the district's dairies. Now I doubt there is a dairy left in Jerrys Plains - we were the last to dairy in Doyles Creek and we left in 1980s."

Mrs O'Hara isn't keen on leaving the district as she finds Singleton way too noisy and busy. She still drivers herself to town when required but prefers the peace and tranquility of Doyles Creek

The present St. Pauls was built between 1910 and January 29th 1911 when it was dedicated by Bishop Stretch the Church of St Paul. It was built by Albert Frederick Stokes of Jerrys Plains with donated timber that was milled locally.

The Church stands on land granted by the Government for a church and rectory. The Church was considerably refurbished in 1981 by way of the Barry Family donation.