“The arrival of the guests on Sunday, 21 January 1906, was an event of some note in the neighbourhood. They made their way along the narrow gravel lanes, and the parked vehicles – a car or two, a horse and trap or two, and a clutch of bicycles reflected an aspect of the times. The hosts, David and Alice Rossiter, welcomed them to their commodious home, secluded on a three acre property in the new(ish) Johannesburg suburb of Illovo.”
(Stuart Vaughan in A Century of Grace)
About twenty people gathered for the first service that marked the birth of what became known as Rosebank Union Church. Attendance at Sunday services grew steadily from that day. Thus began a pattern followed over the next 111 years.
Within a month the group moved from the Rossiter home to a local school hall and then they acquired their first church building – the Tin Tabernacle – a wood and corrugated- iron structure that cost the sum of ten pounds, and twice that amount to dismantle it in Germiston, move it to Rosebank by ox wagon, and re-erect it on the corner of Cradock and Tyrwhitt Avenues in Rosebank!
Five years later (on the 21 June 1911) the group was ready to constitute itself formally as a church. Although the church had Baptist roots, the thirteen foundation members decided that in the interests of unity and appeal to the wider community, the church should be a “union” (interdenominational ) church. This was a rather novel idea at that time, but the decision to “major on the majors, not the minors” has proved to be wise and a rich blessing to the city of Johannesburg and beyond.
In 1925 the Tin Tabernacle was replaced by the first “proper” building, erected on the same site. It became known as the Lantern on the Skyline (probably because it stood out above all the other buildings in Rosebank) and The Spanish Church (because of its style). Rosebank Union Church met in this building until 1977 when they moved one hundred metres down the road and occupied their third building on the corner of Cradock and Bierman Avenues. This church seated 570 people and was constructed at the cost of R475,000! It was on this site that Rosebank Bible College, founded in 1973 by American missionary Monty Sholund, took root and flourished.
As the character of Rosebank changed, as more church families began to move north, and as space constraints became an issue discussions began in 1994 about possible relocation. A string of divine providences over the next years resulted in the sale of the Rosebank property, the acquisition of the Hurlingham property, and the erection of the fine facilities Rosebank Union Church now occupies at one of the most strategic intersections in the city — and, amazingly, directly opposite Rosehaven, the Rosebank Union retirement village, established years earlier!
A hallmark of Rosebank Union Church since its founding has been its emphasis on the Bible and the faithful exposition of the Word of God at the Sunday services. In 111 years Rosebank’s eight Senior Pastors have been committed to this glorious tradition:
- Rev W H Kinsey 1913 – 1918
- Rev J Edgar Ennals 1919 – 1942
- Rev J L Green 1942 – 1961
- Rev Gerald Griffiths 1961 – 1965
- Rev Sydney Hudson-Reed 1966 – 1977
- Rev Terry Rae 1978 – 1990
- Rev Ellis Andre 1990 – 2003
- Rev Leigh Robinson 2004 – present
Although the erection of buildings and the tenure of Senior Pastors provide us with markers on the time-line of history, the work of the church is the ongoing work of God through all his people. “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7). We are simply “God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9).
By God’s grace for 111 years we have:
- Preached God’s gospel
- Made disciples
- Taught the Bible (Rosebank Bible College)
- Sought to be salt and light in the community
- Campaigned for justice
- Sent missionaries
- Ministered to the poor (Roseact & Rays of Hope)
- Planted churches
- Cared for the elderly (Rosehaven)
As we stand at this milestone of 110 years in a country and a world facing great challenges, we look back and “praise him for all that is past” and we look forward and “trust him for all that’s to come.”
As we look forward we are given hope by Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:20-21:
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”