STRONG, Charles (1844-1942)

STRONG, Charles (1844-1942)
preacher and founder of the Australian church
son of the Rev. David Strong, was born at Dailly, Ayrshire, Scotland, on 26 September 1844. He was educated at the Ayr Academy, Glasgow academy, and Glasgow university. After some experience as a tutor he became successively minister of the Old West parish church, Greenock, and the Anderson-street church, Glasgow. In 1875 he was called to the Scots' church, Collins-street, Melbourne. His ministry was successful and he became known as one of the leading preachers in Melbourne. His broad-mindedness and honesty of statement, however, led to his orthodoxy being suspected; in November 1881 attention was called in the presbytery to a paper on "The Atonement" which Strong had contributed to the Victorian Review, and a committee appointed to investigate the article reported that some passages required explanation. The charges appear to have been somewhat nebulous, one of his principal accusers said of one passage that "the words were perfectly harmless in themselves but conveyed an impression of unsoundness to his mind". Unfortunately much feeling was aroused. When later Strong associated himself with those who desired to have the public library and national gallery opened on a Sunday, and in the same year presided at a meeting of the Scots' Church Literary Association when Judge Higinbotham (q.v.) gave a lecture on science and religion, this feeling blazed up again. Strong at the meeting dissociated himself from some of Higinbotham's statements, and later on replied to them in a sermon. He was, however, charged with promulgating unsound and heretical doctrine and, weary of the strife, he resigned from the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, and as minister of the Scots' church. On the 14 November 1883 a large number of his friends met at the town hall to express their sympathy with Strong and to present him with the sum of £3000. On that evening he received a letter from the Presbyterian assembly inviting him to attend and disavow all complicity with the doctrines of the lecture and declare his faith. Strong who was on the eve of his departure to Europe declined to attend, and the assembly passed a motion declaring him no longer a minister of the church.
Strong returned to Melbourne in 1885 and in November of that year founded the Australian church. A large church was built in Flinders-street, Melbourne, and for many years Strong had a large congregation. But for various reasons, one of which was Strong's sympathy for the manual workers, the richer members of his congregation dropped away and a smaller church was built in Russell-street. There he ministered to the end of his long life, in his last years accepting no salary. He founded the first crèche in Australia at Collingwood, one of the poorer suburbs of Melbourne, was an earnest supporter of the Anti-sweating League, the Criminology Society, the Peace Society, and indeed of every movement for social reform. He was quite unselfish; it was characteristic that when an admirer left him £250 he immediately sent it to Dr Maloney for his milk for children fund. Still amazingly active in mind and body, he died suddenly at Lorne, Victoria, on 12 February 1942 in his ninety-eighth year. He married before coming to Australia, and was survived by five sons and two daughters.
His published works included Unsectarian Services for Use in Schools and Families (1888), Church Worship (1892), Christianity Re-interpreted and other Sermons (1894), and various separate addresses and sermons. From 1887 until his death he edited a monthly periodical known under the successive titles of Our Good Words, The Australian Herald, and The Commonweal. He received the degree of doctor of divinity from the university of Glasgow for his thesis upon the "Doctrine of the Atonement". He always claimed "that he was neither an iconoclast nor an innovator. Changes were taking place in modern thought and if he prepared his people for them it was that they might be strengthened in the faith".
The Age, 12 February 1942; The Argus, 12, 14 February 1942; The Commonweal, March 1942; History of the Scots' Church Case; Note to preface to Church Worship.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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