It’s a time that is gone now, but what a time it was. In its day, Victoria’s capital, fuelled by the 1850s gold rush, competed with London, Paris and New York as the wealthiest cities on earth. Grand theatres, the finest restaurants, luxury hotels, gold plated architecture and beautiful gardens gave rise to the moniker “Marvellous Melbourne”.
And marvellous it was. Dame Nellie Melba performed on its stages. The greatest sportspeople competed in its stadiums. The first ever AFL game was played between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College at Richmond Paddock in 1858. The first ever Ashes test match was played next door at the MCG in 1877. International investment flowed into its real estate and enterprise. It’s attractions drove population growth to what at the time was the nation’s capital.
These historical aspects of Victoria’s history are well documented, but there are others which are less known. Victoria also has a deeply interesting spiritual history. Long before the Pentecostal revivals in Wales in 1904 and Los Angeles in 1906, it is reported that a small group of people in Portland had been baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1870 (Chant, Fourth Edition, 1997). Later, Good News Hall (previously Temperance Hall constructed 1874) at what was then 104 Queensberry St, North Melbourne was opened on New Year’s Eve 1909 with an all night prayer meeting under the leadership of Mrs Janet Lancaster. It would become the birthplace of the Australian Pentecostal movement.
Mrs Lancaster in turn was involved in the seeding of key ministries in locations such as Sunshine and Parkes and invited Smith Wigglesworth to Australia in 1921-1922. Her work eventually resulted in the creation of the Assemblies of God, the CRC Churches International (CRCCI), the Apostolic Church, the Christian City Church (CCC) and independent churches such as Waverley Christian Fellowship in High Street Road, Wantirna South, the largest Pentecostal congregation in Victoria.
Pentecostals share the belief that prophecy, healings, tongues and interpretation all occur in our day; that ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is a spiritual ‘filling’ experience, distinct and separate from receiving the Spirit upon conversion; and that Spirit baptism is evidenced by the receiver speaking in an unintelligible language.
Janet Lancaster was a methodist from Melbourne, Victoria. She was convinced by an English pamphlet, entitled “Back to Pentecost,” to seek baptism in the Holy Spirit as her own experience similar to the first Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. She had also become convinced that the Bible promised healing through faith while studying the topic of divine healing.
Describing their activity as the “Pentecostal Mission,” meetings regularly included tongues-speaking, prophecy, “tarrying” for the gift of the Holy Spirit, laying on hands and anointing the sick, and “dancing in the Spirit.” Many miracles were claimed to have occurred. Members also made attempts at casting out demons and claimed to having seen visions.
In 1910 Janet Lancaster began a periodical, entitled “Good News,” which became a free monthly magazine that was circulated around Australia to as many as 3,000 readers per month. It contained sermon material from the Good News Hall and also many reprinted articles from overseas Pentecostal newspapers and magazines. The Good News Hall also printed and circulated many thousands of tracts containing their teaching. In this way Janet Lancaster and the Good News Hall became a major way in which Pentecostal teaching spread throughout Australia.
Material from overseas Pentecostal churches, in the form of newspaper and magazine articles, was used considerably in the Good News Hall. Eventually Pentecostal teachers from overseas were also invited to visit Australia. Wigglesworth’s visit stressed healing and had a significant influence in many States, most of all South Australia, where he left behind the first Pentecostal group in that State. In this way the influence of overseas Pentecostal movements had a large effect on the formation of Pentecostalism in Australia.
In 1926 Janet Lancaster also brought out Frederick Van Eyk, a Pentecostal evangelist from South Africa, who helped the Good News Hall to become an Australia wide movement. He changed its name to the ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’ and appointed himself as the evangelist of the new movement. He travelled widely, holding meetings in various parts around Australia and planting churches.
In Queensland Van Eyk planted a whole group of churches. In South Australia Lancaster herself visited the first Pentecostal group formed in Adelaide in 1921 to encourage its growth. In New South Wales William Jeffrey, who had been influenced by the Good News Hall and corresponded with Lancaster, built in 1919 the first Pentecostal building in Parkes for a group he pastored. In Western Australia in 1926 Van Eyk organised a small group and left behind a church that later divided into a group that became the Apostolic Church in Perth, a second that named themselves the Elim Foursquare Church and another that became the beginnings of the Assemblies of God in Perth. In this way the Good News Hall under Janet Lancaster and the Apostolic Faith Mission under Frederick Van Eyk became the pioneering origin of the Pentecostal movement in Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia.
The AOG is the largest Pentecostal denomination in Australia: by the end of the 20th century it had over 180 churches in Victoria. It’s key founder was Melburnian Charles Greenwood, who helped establish the Richmond Temple in 1925 in a disused theatre at 343 Bridge Road, moving to 10 Griffiths Street in 1989.
Today, the impact of Mrs Lancaster’s work has partly faded. The various iterations of the Pentecostal and charismatic renewals are apparently over: many (but by no means all) of the churches which they seeded have lost influence or fallen into doctrinal error. Inevitably, that loss of influence is reflected in the broader Victorian state.
Those opposed to the Church seek to purge all memory of what was once a Christian state. Their recent efforts include attempts to remove the reading of the Lord’s prayer in Parliament and aggressive attacks on independent Christian schooling.
The concept of territory is pivotal in scripture, the ultimate example being Israel. The most spiritually significant locations are always subject to the most brutal attacks. The home of Luther produced Hitler. Azusa St was countered with Hollywood. Lancaster’s Good News Hall was at one point taken over by a communist group in the 1940s called Friends of the Soviet Union. Victoria in 2022 is without doubt Australia’s most unchristian state. As we study history, the tactics of the enemy are predictable and boring.
But there is the faintest sniff of revival across the West for those have the gift to sense it. A few weeks ago Roe vs Wade was overturned. Trump’s presidency was a remarkable event which has emboldened the conservative church. Could this be the beginning of something greater? Could the wells of revival that once burst open in California, Wales and even Victoria break open again?
I just think they might.
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Peter Bain is a Melbourne based businessman. He holds an economics degree from Monash University.