Scots Church Adelaide was originally called “Chalmers Free Church”, named after the Rev Dr Thomas Chalmers who established the Free Church of Scotland. It was built by a group of prominent Adelaide citizens, early immigrants to South Australia, who supported the Free Church of Scotland movement. Determined to establish a Free Church in Adelaide, this group called the Rev John Gardner from Scotland. He arrived in Adelaide in March 1850 and immediately he and the group set about purchasing the land on the corner of North Terrace and Pulteney Street, and building a church there. The foundation stone for the new church was laid on the 8th of September 1850, six months after the Rev Gardner’s arrival.
The church building was officially opened for worship on July 6th 1851. The tower was added in 1858. In 1865 the three branches of Presbyterianism established in South Australia, the Free Church, the United Presbyterian Church, and the Church of Scotland, united to form one Presbyterian Church in South Australia. They became part of the Presbyterian Church of Australia at Federation in 1901. And so Chalmers Free Church became Chalmers Presbyterian Church.
In 1929 the Flinders Street Presbyterian Church and Chalmers Church amalgamated under the new name of “Scots Church”. The two buildings were still used for worship, Flinders Street for morning worship and North Terrace in the evenings. The Rev Norman L. D. Webster, BA was called to Scots Church from Christchurch, New Zealand, to become the first minister of Scots Church. A new building was planned for construction on the North Terrace site. This plan was deferred due to lack of finance and then World War II intervened. In 1955 the matter of a new church was again raised and postponed. The Flinders Street property was sold in 1956 to the YMCA, and all activities were transferred to North Terrace. A hall complex was built on the west side of the church with a hall, Sunday School rooms and offices, partially funded by the sale of the Flinders Street property. Blue stone saved from Flinders Street was used for the facings of the building. The current organ in Scots Church North Terrace and the stained glass windows on the western side were also transferred to North Terrace from the Flinders Street building.
In February 1960 the Rev David Hodges BA, BD of Bairnsdale Victoria was inducted into Scots Church, and during the next few years a progressive program was developed with emphasis on church extension and a new “approach to youth program”. The Rev Ian Tanner BSc was appointed an Associate minister in1963, and later in 1965 was inducted as Collegiate Minister. In 1965 “Sunday Night at Scots," with contemporary music and bands, was introduced. 300-500 young adults attended. This event was later changed to “Friday Night at Scots”. An outreach program for disadvantaged young people was later established in the form of a drop in centre called “Room 12”. It employed two social workers.
During this same period, Scots’ outreach program included the oversight of the Golden Grove Church, and supported the development of the Para Hills Parish. It also established the Finchley Park church by building a hall and supplying Deaconess Lilias Walkley. Morphett Vale's John Knox Church was also given assistance.
The Rev Dr John Seymour, who was called to Chalmers Church in 1916, stimulated the formation of both Scotch College and Presbyterian Girl’s College. The church has had a continuing relationship with Presbyterian Girls College (now Seymour College). It supplied the school with Chaplaincy, and the girls attended worship at Flinders Street, and then at Scots. Rev Seymour was also instrumental in the amalgamation of Chalmers Church and the Flinders Street Presbyterian Church.
In 1977 Scots Church became part of the Uniting Church in Australia. Its minster, Rev Ian Tanner was elected the first Moderator of the South Australian Synod, and later President of the Uniting Church in Australia. In 1986, Scots Church was placed on the South Australian State Heritage List. It is the second oldest church building in current use in the City of Adelaide.
In 2011, Scots Church celebrated its 160th anniversary since its opening as Chalmers Church. In 160 years, Scots Church, and Chalmers Church before it, has seen many changes. The building itself has seen additions, alterations, renovations and repairs. But the physical changes to this building have always reflected the life and commitment of its members. The people of this church have remained steadfast in their faith and determination to be a witness to Christ in this place.
The book The History of Scots Church Adelaide: 1851 – 2001 can be referenced here.
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