AJ Waldock and the BUNSW

Looking back through 177 years of Baptist history in Australia, there is no shortage of stories of renewal. One of the best examples is the story of AJ Waldock and the Baptist Union of NSW (BUNSW).In 1886 the Baptist Union of New South Wales celebrated its Jubilee. Although, “celebrated” was not exactly the right word. Its Annual Report that year reported that, despite New South Wales being the oldest and most populous colony in Australia, there was only one colony with fewer Baptist members – Tasmania. At the turn of the century, after 69 years of ministry, there were only 37 Baptist churches in New South Wales, and 2,841 members. However, over the course of the next three decades, the denomination produced a stunning turnaround, and by 1940 there were 126 Baptist churches with 10,233 members.

1. Appoint visionary leadership
In 1904 the Union appointed a young man to lead the Home Missions Society. His name was AJ Waldock. Previously, Home Mission Secretaries had been just that: secretaries or administrators. Waldock reinvented the role and began travelling to every corner of the state. By the end of his first year, the number of mission stations grew from nine to thirteen, the number of preaching stations had doubled to forty, and the number of workers in the field grew to twenty-two.

2. Commit to an effective strategy
Waldock was not just an energetic activist. He was a strategist. He produced a strategy paper for the 1905 Assembly titled Methods of Home Mission Work. His approach was direct and uncompromising. He wrote, “All too long has our denominational expansion been left to haphazard and chance. We need a fixed policy and a determined plan; we need a method in our work that will give some guarantee of a going forward all the time.”

3. Stay on target
Waldock argued that the primary role of the Society was not to prop up struggling churches. He wrote, “Too long the [Home Mission] Committee has been the benevolent institution of the denomination – the asylum of aged and infirm Churches…” The primary purpose of the Society was church planting and evangelism. It needed to establish new churches that grew to healthy independence and were then able to reproduce. Struggling churches would only be supported if funds permitted.

4. Partner with key leaders and churches
CJ Tinsley was the other key figure in the resurgence of the BUNSW. Australian born, he trained at Spurgeon’s College London. He returned to take up leadership at the newly constituted Stanmore Baptist in 1901. For the next thirty years Tinsley was “a blaze of evangelistic fire and fervour” at Stanmore and among the Baptist churches throughout the nation. In 1912 he became President of the Union. The denomination was already advancing under Waldock’s leadership in the field. Tinsley challenged them to go further. “We must preach or we will perish; we must evangelise or we shall fossilise; we must be a missionary force or we shall become a missionary field.”

5. Partner with major donors
Right from the beginning Waldock’s vision for expansion was supported by a small group of major donors led by Hugh Dixson and William Buckingham. By 1925 Dixson had contributed £11,000, and Buckingham, £3,000.

Lessons for today
As we consider the challenges facing the Baptist church in Australia today, what can we learn from this story of renewal and growth? Certainly, we live in a different time and context, but the example left to us by these leaders from the past provides valuable insight and wisdom as we approach our future.

“AJ Waldock and the BUNSW”.