Lessons for us from the 1919 Pandemic
Rev. Edward Hobday Chooses to be Jesus' Hands and Feet
Back in 1919, the great Spanish Flu pandemic reached Tasmania. In an effort to control the spread, churches were closed, and church leaders requested to check on the health and well-being of people in their areas. So you might ask, what were Baptists doing in that pandemic situation?
Tasmanian Baptist historian Laurie Rowston gives an overview of what happened in Hobart, and how Baptists changed the culture of the day.
In 1919, after four years at Hobart Baptist church, Spurgeon College man, Rev. Edward Herbert Hobday (pictured left), was expecting to move on within the next 18 months. Over the preceding decades, the church had changed considerably from its early days. The "Bible only" Baptists had been replaced by a more "socially aware" congregation. This was brought about under the previous pastorate of Rev. F.W. Boreham.
F. W. Boreham, the best-selling Australian religious author of all time, did not spread a reactive or overly cautious faith. His theology was not radical, but instead a rational and intelligent approach to matters of belief and religion. He also drew crowds with his gifted speaking ability.
Rev. Hobday too, was not only an orator of some note, but also a social activist, filled with the social gospel thinking of the time. This inspired Christians to try to bring the whole community, as well as the individual, into line with the teachings of Jesus.
He believed our soul is saved so we may go out and save the world, physically, materially, mentally, morally and spiritually.
Rev. Hobday openly spoke of Jesus as a revolutionary. The outworking of this philosophy was dramatically seen at the height of the pandemic, which arrived with winter, 1919.
With the schools, churches, libraries, picture shows, skating rinks, billiard rooms, in fact all public meeting places closed throughout the State, Hobart was divided into 13 districts, each supervised by a minister of religion. Hobday was in charge of the North Hobart area.
He undertook "to visit every house and report on the needs of the sufferers in the influenza epidemic". In doing, he so soon discovered more than he bargained for. Hobday, as the Committee's chairman, drew attention to the disgraceful housing conditions of the poor. With moral outrage he delivered a scathing indictment on the landlords.
The pandemic had exposed gross social evils, but neither the government nor the public knew how to alter them, nor were they yet committed to do anything about them. However, Hobday let them know just that through the Mercury. The Ware Street Mission in North Hobart was set up by the church's response.
Pictured at left: Children from the Ware St Mission (newspaper clipping).
This is likely to be the Hobart Baptist Sunday School photo.
A Friend Indeed
The 1921 Mercury reveals the extent of Hobday's social concern. As President and Secretary of the Council of Churches, he canvassed through the newspaper and before the City Council an alcohol-free "dry" Regatta. Also, for the closure of the theatres for "Sunday Pictures" (so Hobartians could attend church instead). With other clergy he solicited support for the first batch of the Dr. Barnardo Boys, about to arrive in Tasmania from England.
Any man who was "down and out" found in Hobday a friend
Hobday also stood against the sale of intoxicating liquors from "liquor booths" at festival occasions; was on the executive of the Hobart Benevolent Society; and at a forum to discuss the objects of the Secondary Teachers' Association. Hobday took his stand against excessive individualism, holding that competition must give way to co-operation. He even had an input on where Hobart's War Memorial should be sited.
Any man who was "down and out" found in him a friend - not of the easy chair type - but one who was ready to appear for them at the Police Court, and use his influence to provide "mercy with justice."
Many had the chance, and used it, of making a fresh start as the result of Hobday's work. In fact, when one of the boys of the Hobart Tabernacle heard of Hobday's resignation in 1921, he said, "They will have to build another gaol now."
Success at Church
On the church front, Hobday also had some great successes. During his five years in Hobart, the membership was maintained, and his Literary and Debating Society had an attendance exceeding 100.
He also encouraged his congregation to attend the combined Council of Churches church services; his church monthly paper, the Baptist Church Chronicle, became adopted as the official publication for the Baptist Union of Tasmania; and the weekly church offerings amounted to a record 556 pounds (equivalent to approximately $39,000 in 2020).
Goodbye Rev. Hobday
This great bowling enthusiast, outstanding orator, elocutionist, and concerned Hobart personality was given a Town Hall farewell on November 24,1921.
The function was attended by the Lord Mayor, the Premier, church leaders, members of Parliament, Chamber of Commerce businessmen, and some Freemasons. Such was his acceptance in Hobart, that his portrait was printed in the December 1 issue of the Mercury.
The Rev. and Mrs E. Hobday
Lessons for Today Thanks to Rev. Hobday
WE CAN Make a difference
Hobday teaches us that individuals' skills, responding to the call of God with vision and leadership, can make a difference.
WE CAN Be responsible for the community
Hobday believed church members must have a certain responsibility as far as the national, social and civic life of the city was concerned to bring in the promised Kingdom of God. If they saw any problem, they were obligated to do something about it, even if they did not get instant success.
WE CAN Care for the vulnerable
Hobday also understood that the nation itself is accountable to God for how it treated its weaker, less-privileged members. He appreciated the truth that if people live below a certain level of human dignity, or material comfort, they may be hindered in response to the Gospel message.
Tasmanian Baptists in 2020
It is important to note that as a church we can retain our social vision. Baptist churches around the state are definitely rising to the cause regarding offering a welcoming hand to refugees, our work with the less privileged, and those on the margins.
Just as Rev. Hobday taught, wrote and encouraged, we have learnt to be Jesus' hands and feet, reaching out in love to Tasmanians across the state.
That idea of Hobday's persists today, 100 years later. As he said, "Our soul is saved so we may go out and save the world, physically, materially, mentally, morally, spiritually."
This article is an updated and edited version of Lessons for Today from Our Church 90 Years Ago published in Hobart Baptist's Tabernacle News and Views in 2011.
The original article is available on the Tasmanian Baptist website >>>