Below is a brief overview of the histories of the early Christian Churches in Australia during the 18th and 19th Centuries. For a more detailed outline use the links provided.


Formerly the Church of England but renamed in 1981. On the First Fleet the Reverend Richard Johnson was a licensed chaplain. He was responsible initially for 1,100 convicts, soldiers and settlers. He performed his duties for 6 years until in 1794 he was joined by the Reverend Samuel Marsden who would serve the colony for the next forty years.

The Anglican Church of Australia, formerly known as the Church of England in Australia, is a Christian church and an autonomous church of the Anglican Communion. It is the second largest church in Australia, after the Roman Catholic Church.

In early Colonial times, the Church of England clergy worked closely with the governors. Richard Johnson, a chaplain, was charged by the governor, Arthur Phillip, with improving "public morality" in the colony, but he was also heavily involved in health and education.

The Church of England lost its legal privileges in the Colony of New South Wales by the Church Act of 1836. Drafted by the reformist attorney-general John Plunkett. The act established legal equality for Anglicans, Catholics and Presbyterians and was later extended to Methodists.

By 1945 the Church of England as it was called remained the largest denomination in Australia.

In 1985 the general synod of the Australian church passed a canon to allow ordination of women as deacons and by 1992 the general synod had approved dioceses to ordain women to the priesthood.

Roman Catholic

The first Catholics to arrive in Australia came on the First Fleet in 1788. They were mostly Irish convicts. About one-tenth of all convicts transported to Australia were Catholic, and half of these were born in Ireland.

Fathers John Joseph Therry and Philip Connolly, both chaplains appointed by the Government in London, arrived on 3 May 1820. Their arrival can be regarded as the formal establishment of the Catholic Church in Australia. Their salary was £100 per year paid for by the Government. Father John Therry was involved in the establishment of St Mary's Cathedral.

The first Catholic bishop in Australia was John Bede Polding who arrived in Sydney in September of 1835 and served for a total of 42 years.

By 1833, there were about ten Catholic schools in the country. From this time until the end of the 1860s, Catholic schools received some government assistance under a variety of schemes.

The establishment of Catholic religious orders can be seen in the form of the Sisters of Charity, the Good Samaritan Sisters which was founded by John Polding in 1857 and the Sisters of St Joseph, founded in 1866 by Father Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop. The Sisters of the Good Samaritan, were in fact the first congregation of religious sisters founded in Australia.

The first Pope to visit Australia was Pope Paul VI on November 30th 1970.


Methodism, also known as the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related denominations of Protestant Christianity teaching Wesleyan-Arminian theology, which derives from the life and teachings of John Wesley. George Whitefield and John's brother Charles Wesley were also significant early leaders in the movement. It originated as a revival movement within the 18th-century Church of England and became a separate denomination after Wesley's death. The movement spread throughout the British Empire, the United States, and beyond because of vigorous missionary work, today claiming approximately 80 million adherents worldwide

The Methodist Church of Australasia was a Methodist denomination created on 1 January 1902. Five Methodist denominations in Australia – the Wesleyan Methodist Church, the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christian Church, the United Methodist Free and the Methodist New Connexion Churches came together to found a new church.

The church ceased to exist in 1977 when most of its congregations joined with the many congregations of the Congregational Union of Australia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia to form the Uniting Church in Australia.However there are still a number of Methodists Churches in Australia especially in Queensland.

Wesleyan Methodist

Methodism is a movement of Protestant Christianity represented by a number of denominations and organizations worldwide. The movement can trace its roots back to John Wesley an eighteenth century British evangelist who was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian. He formed the Methodist movement with help from his younger brother Charles who penned much of the hymns of the Methodist Church.

The Wesleyan Church has over 469,000 adherents in over 5,000 churches worldwide.

The first Methodist minister Reverend Samuel Leigh, arrived in Australia in 1815 on board the Hebe, with the first Methodist Church being erected in 1817 by John Lees on land donated by Lees in Castlereagh, Sydney.

Leigh was referred to as a 'Wesleyan minister'. The governor quickly wrote to the British government that although Leigh's conduct was examplary, they only wanted Church of England ministers in the future. However, the government did grant Leigh land for a chapel in Macquarie Street, Sydney. It was completed in 1819. By the 1820s further groups of Methodists were active, with Sunday schools, a Bible society and support for missions to Polynesia. By 1836, however, British Methodism was disillusioned with the work in the Colony and the heavy demands that it placed on their resources for limited returns.In 1855 the British conference granted autonomy to a separate body comprising churches in colonies in Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Various branches of Methodism in Australia merged in the 20 years from 1881, with a union of all groups except the Lay Methodists forming the Methodist Church of Australasia in 1902. The Church merged again with the Presbyterian Church and the Congregational Union of Australia in 1977 to form the Uniting Church.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia was officially formed in 1946 under the leadership of an Australian minister, Kingsley Ridgway. Several districts were formed around the country one in Victoria, one in New South Wales, one in Queensland (in 1982) and one in Northern Queensland in 1993. The Church saw increased growth in the 1980s, particularly in Queensland, much of this as a result of the church planting strategies of the Reverend Don Hardgrave.


Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.
Robert Browne, who is considered the 'Father of Congregationalism,' was born around at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England about 1550, preached his radical ideas about the true nature and glory of the Christian church. He held covert meetings where, he explained his doctrine of the church and attacked the bishops and the clergy of the established church. He was arrested in April 1581 and imprisoned.

Many Congregational churches claim their descended from the original Congregational churches on a theory of union published by Robert Browne in 1592. In Great Britain, the early Congregationalists were called separatists or independents to distinguish themselves from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians. Some Congregationalists there still call themselves "Independents".

In Australia the Fellowship of Congregational Churches is a small group of evangelical Churches found in five Australian states but mostly in New South Wales, the remnants of the Congregational Church in Australia. In 1977, most Congregational churches in Australia belonging to the Congregational Union, joined the Uniting Church. Only 27 churches in New South Wales remained out of the Uniting Church and continue as Congregational churches. Therefore the Fellowship of Congregational Churches is only 30 years old.


The Uniting Church in Australia was inaugurated on 22 June, 1977. It was a union of three churches which had already existed in Australia for nearly two centuries. These churches were:

  • The Congregational Union of Australia
  • The Methodist Church of Australasia
  • The Presbyterian Church of Australia

The Uniting Church's beliefs are drawn from the Bible and from the Apostles' and Nicene creeds. The Church also takes heed of the Reformation Witness in the Scots Confession of Faith (1647), the Savoy Declaration (1658), and of the preaching of John Wesley in his Forty Four Sermons (1793).

The Church is governed by a number of non-hierarchical inter-related councils that each have responsibility for various functions or roles within the denomination. The meetings of councils include:

  • Congregation (local)
  • Presbytery (regional)
  • Synod (state)
  • Assembly (national)

The UCA is a non-Episcopal church, that is, it has no bishops. The leadership and pastoral role in the UCA is performed by Presbytery as a body (meeting). However, many members appear to understand the 'Chairperson of Presbytery' or the 'Moderator' of the Synod as exercising this role. This position may be occupied by an ordained minister or a lay person. In many Presbyteries there is also a 'Presbytery Officer' who may be ordained or a lay-minister.

Church of Christ

The denomination claims to "concentrate on the essential aspects of the Christian faith, allowing for a diversity of understanding with non-essentials."

The Churches of Christ in Australia is a Christian movement in Australia. It is part of the Restoration Movement with historical influences from the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

Church of Christ is one of the smaller denominations by membership figures in Australia.
The Churches of Christ in Australia goes back to 1845. In one instance an immigrant from Britain Thomas Magarey who had been converted in Nelson, New Zealand in the first Church of Christ congregation there, joined a Scottish Baptist group in Adelaide who had abandoned their denominational name. He left that group after his dissatisfaction with them and by 1846 a chapel was built. As the year 1865 arrived there were five Christian churches in South Australia, with a membership of 253.

The Churches of Christ were established in Sydney in 1852 by Albert Griffin. The first Church of Christ in Melbourne met in the tent which formed the home of John Ingram and his wife in Prahran in 1853.

In Queensland a small group met in Albion, Brisbane in 1871, however it was not until 1 August 1882 that C.M. Fischer and T Geraghty established the first Church of Christ at the Zillman Waterholes (now Zillmere, Queensland ).


At the beginning of the 17th century, dissenting Christians fleeing persecution escaped to the Netherlands, settling in the Waterland area. When one of the congregations came to generally Baptist views, the pastor, John Smythe, baptised himself and then other Church members who were willing to receive baptism as adult believers*.
Some members of this congregation returned to England in 1612 under the leadership of Thomas Helwys, who was soon imprisoned for writing a tract calling for complete religious toleration. Despite the setback, this group, known as General Baptists, grew quite strongly*.
Around 30 years later, members of a Congregational church in London reached similar views and began practicing believers' baptism. Unlike the earlier group, these Baptists were Calvinistic, and became known as Particular Baptists*.
In the wake of the Wesleyan Revivals, some Methodists also adopted Baptist views and formed a revitalised wing of the General Baptists*.
All three came together in England during the 19th Century.*

The Baptist Church in Australia began in Sydney in 1831 over 40 years after the British penal colony was first established, when the first Baptist service of worship was held on the 24 April. It was over forty years after the British penal colony was first established. It was not until 1835 that the first church was established in Hobart Town by Henry Dowling, a strict Calvinist. John Saunders, sent by the Baptist Missionary Society of England, formed a church in 1836. The first state Union was formed in Victoria in 1862. The national Baptist Union was founded in 1926 by representatives from existing state unions.

The first preacher was John McKaeg and the first baptism was in Woolloomooloo Bay in 1832.

In South Australia, church services were held from 1837 but the coming of Rev Silas Mead in 1861 marked a new and enlarged identity for Baptists in Adelaide. He established the Flinders Street church, which was a model for many others and numerous suburban churches were commenced by his people.

The first Baptist services in Melbourne were in 1837 while it was still part of New South Wales. Reverend John Ham arrived in 1843 and formed the Collins Street Church. The discovery of gold in Victoria during the 1850s brought a boom growth to Victoria. Baptists shared in this growth, forming a Baptist Union in 1862.

* Supplied by Rev Peter R Green


The first Lutherans to come to Australia in any significant number, were immigrants from Prussia, who arrived in 1838 with Pastor August Kavel. This period in Prussia was marked by a persecution of Old Lutherans who refused to use join the Prussian Union, under King Frederick Wilhelm III. On 23 and 24 May 1839, Kavel convened a meeting of the elders of the three Prussian settlements at Klemzig, Hahndorf, and Glen Osmond. At this meeting, the constitution of the new Australian Lutheran synod was adopted.
In 1841, a second wave of Prussian immigrants started. with the arrival of Pastor Gotthard Fritzsche. He settled with the migrants in his group, in Lobethal, and Bethanien.

Relations with the earlier Prussian settlers was initially quite harmonious, however this was to change. In 1842 Pastor August Kavel in an attempt to consolidate the settlers into one localized community, strongly urged the settlers in the early settlements at Klemzig and Hahndorf to relocate to the newly settled Langmeil. Many of the settlers in these towns refused, and an underlying tension arose between these communities and Pastor Kavel.

At the synodical gatherings of 1844, and 1845 the subject of millennialism was discussed. Kavel who had developed millennialistic views, was preaching on the subject. Fritzsche disagreed with millennialism, and had the subject discussed at these gatherings. No resolution was reached by the end of the synod in 1845. This disagreement between the two pastors divided the Lutheran community.
At the synodical gathering at Bethany, on 16 and 17 August 1846, the most significant event took place. The subject of millennialism was once again tabled, and as the discussion became heated, Kavel and his followers left the synod. They went to nearby Langmeil and had their own synod gathering there, while the remainder continued with their synod. The followers of Kavel formed the Immanuel Synod, and those of Fritzsche the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of South Australia renamed to Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia (ELSA) in 1863.

After Kavel’s death (1860), and Fritzsche’s (1863), the Immanuel Synod, and ELSA were able to reconcile some of their differences. This resulted in a “Confessional Union”, but not an organizational merger.
ELSA continued to coexist independently with the other Lutheran synods until 1966. It underwent a name change in 1944, to Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia (ELCA). One group did break away from ELSA in 1904, and became a district of the Ohio Synod, of the United Lutheran Church in America. This group called themselves the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Australia auf alter Grundlage (ELSA a.a. G) (auf alter Grundlage – on old basis).

In 1856, a new independent synod, Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Victoria (ELSV), with Pastor Matthias Goethe serving as president, was founded to serve the Lutheran congregations in Victoria.

In 1860, the year of Kavel’s death, a group broke away from the Immanuel Synod. This break away group developed a union with the ELSV, that was called the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod (General Synod).
In 1874, the Immanuel Synod also developed an affiliation with ELSV. ESLA was opposed to the practice of ELSV to call non-Lutheran pastors, so the Confessional Union they had with Immanuel Synod was dissolved. With this event the Immanuel Synod renamed themselves, the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Synod (ELIS).

The ELIS in 1884 broke ties with the General Synod, because of this same practice of calling non-Lutheran pastors. When this event occurred in 1884, a small group from ELIS choose not to break away, and they organized as a separate synod named Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Synod auf alter Grundlage (ELIS a.a. G).

On 27 August 1956, the UELCA and ELCA both adopted the Theses of Agreement, which set the stage for the merging of the two organizations. The final merge occurred in Tanunda, South Australia, at a joint synod held on 29 October to 2 November 1966. The merged organization was named the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA).

In 1973, the Lutheran Church of Australia published its first hymnal, the 'Lutheran Hymnal', revised in the mid-1980s into the present hymn book, the Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement.


The Church’s name comes from the Greek word presbuteros, which is the word for an elder or a mature Christian leader in the New Testament.

The roots of the Presbyterian Church trace back to John Calvin, a 16th-century French reformer. Calvin trained for the Catholic priesthood, but later converted to the Reformation Movement and became a theologian and minister. 

Calvin dedicated a great deal of thought to practical matters such as the ministry, the church, religious education, and the Christian life. He was somewhat coerced into leading the Reformation in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1541, the town council of Geneva enacted Calvin's Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which set forth regulations on issues related to church order, religious training, gambling, dancing, and even swearing.
Second in importance to John Calvin in the history of Presbyterianism is John Knox. He lived in Scotland in the mid 1500's. He led the Reformation in Scotland following Calvinistic principles, protesting against the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, and Catholic practices. His ideas set the moral tone for the Church of Scotland and also shaped its democratic form of government. The Presbyterian form of church government and Reformed theology were formally adopted as the national Church of Scotland in 1690. The Church of Scotland remains Presbyterian today.

Presbyterian Christianity came to Australia with the arrival of Presbyterians from different Presbyterian denominations in Great Britain at the end of the 18th century.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia was formed when Presbyterian Churches from various Australian states federated in 1901. The churches that formed the Presbyterian Church of Australia were the Presbyterian Churches of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. These state churches were (and still are) incorporated by separate Acts of Parliament (i.e. by the respective State Parliaments) for property holding purposes. (These Acts are known as Property Trust Acts).

The oldest church building in Australia is in fact the Presbyterian Church at Ebenezer, New South Wales.  Built in 1808 by Scots Covenanters who came on the ship Coromandel in 1802, its first Communion Service was conducted by the Rev John Dunmore Lang in 1824.  A controversial figure, Dunmore Lang played a significant role in the establishment of the Church of Scotland in Australia, a protestant denomination that followed the Presbyterian form of organisation.

Eastern Orthodox

The Orthodox Church is one of the three main Christian groups (the others being Roman Catholic and Protestant). Around 200 million people follow the Orthodox tradition. The word 'Orthodox' takes its meaning from the Greek words orthos ('right') and doxa ('belief'). Hence the word Orthodox means correct belief or right thinking.

It is made up of a number of self-governing Churches which are either 'autocephalous' (meaning having their own head) or 'autonomous' (meaning self-governing).

The Orthodox Churches are united in faith and by a common approach to theology, tradition, and worship. They draw on elements of Greek, Middle-Eastern, Russian and Slav culture.

The Orthodox Churches share with the other Christian Churches the belief that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and a belief in the incarnation of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. The Orthodox Church differs substantially from the other Churches in the way of life and worship, and in certain aspects of theology.


The Apostolic Church is a Christian denomination that came from the Pentecostal movement. The term "Apostolic" represents the denomination's belief that it follows the teachings of the twelve apostles who followed Christ. With roots in the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival, it seeks to stand for first-century Christianity in its faith, practices, and government.

It is a worldwide Christian denomination in the Anabaptist tradition. The Apostolic Christian Church practices credobaptism, closed communion, greeting other believers with a Holy Kiss, a capella worship in some branches (in others, singing is with piano), and the veiling of women during services. The Apostolic Christian Church only ordains men, who are authorized to administer baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the laying on of hands. Not every Apostolic Christian Church practices the veiling of women; however, it is seen in most.

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