There’s a church in there
In profile: Pastor Barry McMurtrie is building a church ‘ anyone can come to’
THE last time Barry McMurtrie was asked to help a struggling church he was aged 53 and on top of his game.
That was in 1994, when a Church of Christ on the edge of Los Angeles recruited him from Wollongong to give them new direction.
Now 69, semi-retired and recovering from a stroke and his first cyclone, Dr McMurtrie has taken the helm of another work in progress.
Churches of Christ in Queensland, a co-operative of 70 or so independent local churches, has appointed him pastor of t he Church of Christ in Townsville.
Renowned in his church as a lateral thinker, he has vindicated his supporters by negotiating to buy the vacant German Australian Club for use as a community centre.
The club, in the throes of downsizing, has given the church limited use of the chalet-style building beside Aitkenvale Park, until the sale is finalised ( see separate story).
Not that Dr McMurtrie is the Church of Christ’s only innovative leader.
In 2007, his Townsville predecessor, Pastor Hedley Ally, relocated the congregation from Pimlico to the former Escape Nightclub, in Flinders St West, intending to serve expected growth in the inner-city as the Powerhouse Community.
‘‘ It was a great experiment,’’ Dr McMurtrie said this week. ‘‘ It just did not work.’’ He and his wife, Gay, moved to Townsville a couple of years ago, following their two sons who had settled in the North during the past six years.
The McMurtries lived on the Gold Coast after returning from the US to Australia in 2007, but relocated to Townsville while Barry was recovering from a stroke that had partially paralysed and blinded him.
Dr McMurtrie answers to Barry, pastor or doc – he has a Doctorate in Theology from Andersonville Baptist Theological Seminary in Camilla, Georgia, US, and an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Hope International University in Los Angeles.
He and Gay lived at Corona, on the edge of Los Angeles, from 1994 to 2007.
While t here, t hey built t he Crossroads Christian Church from 800 to 6000 members.
His call to Corona recognised growth in the Wollongong Church of Christ from 100 to 1000 members during his 10-year leadership.
‘‘ We have grown in every place we have been with uncluttered, non-judgmental churches,’’ he said. ‘‘ Most people believe in God but have trouble with his retail outlet.
‘‘ Seventy per cent of Australians say they believe in God but cannot see how giving up one and a half hours on a Sunday can make any difference to your life.’’
A former David Jones store merchandise purchaser and the son of a Wollongong steelworks’ superintendent, Dr McMurtrie says he has honed his down-to-earth theology since joining the ministry in his late 20s.
‘‘ When I went to theological college I was pretty narrow-minded – a lot of God’s concern seemed centred on sin and evil. In ministry I began to realise life is hard and people need to be freshened up by going to church.
‘‘ I really believe that belief in Christ is meant to make a person happier and more peaceful.’’
He says 50 or so people have been coming to his 9.30am Sunday services at the Australian German Club but does not see himself playing a numbers game.
‘‘ We are a church anyone can come to,’’ he said. ‘‘ We are seeking to be a different kind of church, aiming for the unchurched, not the churched – there are plenty of other churches in Townsville for people who want to find them.’’
OPEN: Pastor Barry McMurtrie at door of his new ‘ church’, the old German Club in Aitkenvale