It was an event that attendees heralded as the end of an era: the decommissioning of the South Pacific Division’s (SPD) Mission Hostel, Wahroonga, New South Wales.
The decommissioning ceremony itself, held in the square between the old building and the new, this morning (June 21), was brief and fairly low key.
Almost all of the roughly 20 people who attended, mostly SPD staff, had spent time staying at the Fox Valley Road property, either as an expatriate missionary or as a missionary’s child.
During the simple ceremony, Dr David Thiele, recently returned from Pacific Adventist University, where he served since 2000, gave a brief history of the hostel, while Pastor Glenn Townend, SPD president, offered the decommissioning prayer.
“The Seventh-day Adventist Church understands itself to have a special responsibility to take the Gospel to the world,” began Dr Thiele during his address (in full here). “This task is taken as seriously in the SPD as it is anywhere else in the world, and the Mission Hostel being decommissioned today has played an important part in that task.”
Dr Thiele described some of the history of the hostel. Officially hosting its first missionary family in 1951, the hostel saw the addition of motel-like rooms behind the main building in 1968 and has also undergone a major refurbishment since then.
Dr Thiele departed slightly from his script to share the personal anecdote of his own son being married while they stayed at the mission flats with the family of the bride, who had flown in from America. With no home of their own, it would have been difficult to host, but the mission hostel provided a “home away from home” a sentiment echoed across the morning.
Dr Thiele ended with this statement:
“The decommissioning of the mission hostel should give us pause as we consider that we are still here; the task is not yet complete. But He who has led us thus far will continue to lead until the mission of the church is complete and ‘the church victorious will be the church at rest’.” (Dr Thiele’s full address will be uploaded shortly.)
Pastor Townend shared his own memories of staying at the hostel when he was a boy: the fond ones—growing up and exploring the bushland behind the property—and the not so fond ones—having an intense reaction to a smallpox vaccine.
He paid tribute to all the missionary families who have passed through—thousands of people. He also commended the job that they did in the Pacific, estimating that, while there were up to 400 expatriate missionaries in the field in the 1960s and 70s, now there are far fewer as local leadership, in both ministry and education, is strong.
He then prayed, including a moment of silence, with the opportunity for those gathered to add their own thanks and thoughts.
“We want to rejoice in the success of mission in the Pacific and we pray for it as well. And we want to see more happen here [in Australia and New Zealand],” Pastor Townend said.
"The future is uncertain when you have change, but be of good cheer, God is still in charge.”
SPD property manager, Roslyn Monteleone, shared how missionaries and other visitors to SPD will be accommodated in future. There are currently two two-bedroom units, one at 158 Fox Valley Road, the other at 145 Fox Valley, both of which will be used as transit flats. A third unit is currently being renovated.
The mission hostel will be demolished and medical consulting suites will be built on the site as part of the Sydney Adventist Hospital development.
It was easy to sense a deep attachment to the hostel among those gathered. Dr Jillian Thiele, David’s wife, who also lectured at PAU, shared that the mission hostel felt like the family home, after so many important experiences had happened there.
“Mission is not finished,” said Dr Graeme Humble, Adventist Mission and SPD field secretary. “There are just new ways of doing it; we are adapting to the times.”
Dr Humble, himself a former expat worker, said the event was nostalgic and he understands change is not always easy. “The future is uncertain when you have change, but be of good cheer, God is still in charge.”