A Brief History of the Germiston Baptist Church
The First Fifty Years.
The city of Germiston, which is geographically situated in the very centre of Gauteng province, has a history that dates back to1886. In the early days of the gold rush, two prospectors – August Simmer and John Jack – struck gold on a farm called Elandsfontein. A town sprang up next to this gold mine; John Jack named it Germiston after his childhood home in Scotland. By 1921, Germiston had grown into a city, owing to the increasing mining ventures, industries, and commerce.
As early as 1902, towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War, a group of Baptists met to discuss the establishment of a fellowship in Germiston. In 1903, 14 people gathered at a certain Mr. Kemp’s home to establish the work under the leadership of Rev. J.B. Heard. The services were held in the old court house (known as Noah’s Ark). However, these services were often rudely disturbed by drunken prisoners in the adjacent cells, which made it necessary to find alternative accommodation. So, the growing congregation moved to a small tin shanty at the top end of town. Later, with the assistance of the Plein Street Church in Johannesburg, a building was erected in Victoria Street. By 1907, this venue had become unsuitable and a new building was built in President Street. The project was completed without the help of any external grants and the building was opened by Lady Fitzpatrick on 8 February 1908. The total debt was liquidated within three years.
Between 1910 and 1925, the church struggled in the face of many difficulties. These difficulties included World War I (1914 – 1918), followed by the International Spanish Flu epidemic (1918), and the Rand Revolt (1922). As a result, church attendance was drastically reduced; in the space of ten years (1913 – 1923), only two people were baptised. However, the Sunday school continued to sustain a steady witness with an average membership of 60.
By 1926, just before the great depression, circumstances had taken a turn for the better. The building, which could seat between 200 and 250 people, was filled to capacity for worship services. Over the years that followed, the membership numbers fluctuated. By 1939 (the year Rev. John R. Gartry became pastor), the membership list had once again decreased to a mere 27, while the Sunday School had decreased to a membership of 20. Over the following three years, the membership grew to 40.
Under Rev. Gartry’s initiative, the current site on the corner of Queen street and Angus street (a prime spot in those days) was purchased and the building, which can seat between 300 and 400 people, was designed. With membership figures so low and with a world at war, it must have taken an amazing depth of vision to design a church building of that size. The current building was completed in 1946, during the ministry of Rev. Lowden, at a total cost of 12 000 pounds.
To this day, the clock mechanism has never been installed in the church tower. During the final stages of the war, the ship carrying the mechanism was sunk by a German U-boat off the East Coast. The handless clock face on the outside of the tower is a testimony to the timeless gospel that is preached from the pulpit.
By 1952 the membership had grown to 128.
1957 – 2000
From 1957 – 1980, the church was pastored by the converted alcoholic – Rev. Clem Goetch. To this day, many long-term residents of Germiston refer to GBC as “Clem Goetch’s church.” His oft repeated words of testimony – “from the guttermost to the uttermost” – are well remembered. Clem Goetch was succeeded by Rev. Ed Bolton.
In 1984, Rev. Trevor Roberts took up the pastorate and began the process of reformation. Within a very short period of time, the church had moved from being non-confessional and arminian to being solidly reformed in theology and adopting the 1689 Baptist Confession of faith as their official statement of faith. This testifies to the teachability and “Berean spirit” of the church, which continues to this day.
In April 1989, the Reformed Baptist Association of South Africa (R.B.A) was founded at the church in Germiston. It was therefore fitting that Germiston Baptist should host the meeting that dissolved the R.B.A. in 2005. A new association, SOLA 5 (see website: http://www.sola5.org), was established in favour of the R.B.A.
Rev. Roland Eskinazi (present pastor at Goodwood Baptist in Cape Town) ministered at Germiston between 1992 and 1999. He was followed by the current pastor, Rev. Peter Sammons, at the beginning of the new millennium in 2000.
The Church Today
Although the church is not large and the area has become run down, we do enjoy a great spirit of unity in Christ. This is evident, despite our wonderful cultural, racial, social, and economic diversity. We truly are a church that is modelled after the Antioch prototype.
By God’s grace, we have survived the many changes that have occurred in the city and context into which we minister : from a small mining village in the midst of a civil war to an industrial town and from a bustling city to an area facing urban decay. GBC has survived two world wars, a severe Flu epidemic, the Rand Revolt, the Great Depression, and Apartheid. In all of these situations, God’s hand of preservation has been upon the church and He has used it as an effective witness and means of His grace in the East Rand.
As we travel through modern-day Germiston to get to the church, we cannot help but notice the urban decay, the signs of poverty, and a society losing self respect. However, this only gives us an increased appreciation for the precious gift of a loving, caring, united and happy local church that the Lord has given to us. It is a blessing to have a church comprising a rich diversity of races, cultures, economic classes, ages, and so on.
We are asked, from time to time, whether we have ever considered relocating to ‘better’ surroundings. The answer is that it would be impossible for us to do so, humanly speaking. Our current property is virtually unmarketable. So if the Lord wanted us to move, He would show us by making the impossible possible. However, as one member observed, we are like an oasis in a bleak landscape; who then would minister into this very needy area in which the Lord, by His providence, has placed us?
Praise be to God for His unfailing love and faithfulness to us over the past 110 years.
Soli Deo Gloria!