There’s a church in there

In pro­file: Pas­tor Barry McMur­trie is build­ing a church ‘ any­one can come to’

Townsville Bulletin - - NQ Life - By Ian Frazer

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.’’

Photo: EVAN MOR­GAN

OPEN: Pas­tor Barry McMur­trie at door of his new ‘ church’, the old Ger­man Club in Aitken­vale

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