Returning to the story of the church we find the Preliminary Cooperation Meeting of Churches of Christ in South Australia was held on Monday 29th. March, 1875. The following churches were represented: Adelaide, Alma, Dalkey, Hindmarsh, Mallala, Milang, Mount Gambier, Norwood, Port Adelaide, Stirling East, Strathalbyn and Two Wells. The Willunga representative was not able to be present due to illness. The main reason for this conference was to work out an acceptable method to the churches on how to evangelise the Colony. It was proposed "That it is desirable to place one or more additional evangelists in the field to assist such country churches as need assistance, and to open up new fields of labour by the proclamation of the Gospel''. (1)
A number of speakers spoke to this proposition. John contended that the evangelist should go to the new fields in the agricultural areas where the population was moving. The problem of raising the money, he thought, should be left to an appointed committee who would not appoint an evangelist without being sure of getting the money to support him. He pointed out that the brethren at Alma were already supporting men in existing churches. The evangelist should be largely responsible for choosing where he should work and his efforts should not be hampered by the appointment of a large committee.
Thomas Magarey held a similar point of view. He did not want to bind the evangelist to any special field of work for twelve months. They should follow the Apostles' example; wherever their labours were blessed, there they worked on. Paul was not allowed by the Holy Spirit to go to a certain place he desired to visit, but was sent to another chosen for him. It was his belief that if there were "dead Churches" amongst them as some were saying, the brethren should not help that dead church to survive, but bury it out of sight, and not let it stand in the way of sending the Gospel elsewhere. An Evangelistic Committee of thirteen was appointed consisting of: Adelaide - P. Santo, W. Burford, Thos. Magarey, A.T.Magarey; Alma - John Lawrie; Hindmarsh - W.H.Taylor, W. Shearing, S.Kidner, J.Weekes, T.Harkness, F.Reeves; Norwood- Jas.Hales; Port Adelaide - G.W.Smith; Stirling East - Mr. Stoddard. (2)
In a later report of the Evangelistic Committee it was indicated that J. Colbourne had resigned as evangelist with the Hindmarsh Church and the Committee had resolve to support him in a general evangelistic work. Brethren Lawrie, S.Kidner, T.Magarey, P.Santo, and W.Shearing were appointed as a sub-committee to carry out all the necessary arrangements.
The second Annual Meeting of delegates of Churches of Christ in South Australia was held on April 17th, 1876, in Adelaide, in the Bentham Street Chapel. John Lawrie was appointed chairman. It was resolved that year that the Evangelistic Committee consist of P.Santo, S.Kidner, J.Lawrie, T.Magarey, T.Harkness, G.W.Smith and A.T.Magarey.(3) In October John presided over the evening meeting of the Alma Sunday School tea meeting. There were numerous such responsibilities that followed in other churches. The following August, 1877, T.J.Gore wrote concerning John that he
gave an excellent address upon the position we, as a people, take, touching more especially upon the errors which have corrupted the simplicity of the faith. We never fail to derive profit from his addresses. Brother Lawrie has been and still is, an eminently useful man. His influence for good is felt throughout the region round about. The Church at Alma is a great help to other churches round about. (4)
Gore then wrote in November that John had spoken at a meeting he attended 'on the great fundamental position we hold as a people'.
He is one of our Pioneers. He addressed us from that motto so familiar to Primitive Apostolic Christianity - "Where God speaks we speak and where He is silent we are silent". (5)
There is not much information of particular interest between the years 1877 and 1880, but when John was seventy years of age he records a journey among the brethren around the northern agricultural area. He pointed out that starting from the little chapel in a place called Hall there was a stretch of country southward to t he Wild Horse Plain, a distance of about forty miles, consisting mainly of mallee scrub, where the members of the northern churches had worked out a scheme of setting up churches to cover the whole area.
The churches involved in this joint venture were Balaklava, Alma and Mallala. They saw good and encouraging prospects for evangelism as all the surrounding countryside was taken up with settlers, and as the district had enjoyed its best crops in the past year, they expected not only for the population to be sustained, but to increase. Five churches were to be established not more than nine miles apart in order to conduct an extensive evangelistic outreach programme. John undertook this strenuous journey over a number of days to encourage the brethren meeting at various places and to gather support for this intended undertaking.
Towards Christmas of the following year John, at seventy-two, said he could not expect to live long "on this side of the river", and therefore felt he must make good use of the opportunities that were given to him. He said he had derived great comfort from passages such as "The Lord is my Shepherd" and he hoped all the fold of Christ would hear the voice of their Shepherd, and keep close to Him, speaking when he spoke, and when he was silent to be silent also.
The decision to hold the Ninth Annual Meeting of Churches of Christ at Alma in March 1883 was due to the high regard in which the churches held John and the Alma church. Twenty-two churches reported to the meeting and membership of Alma was shown as 111.
We missed from our meeting our aged Brother J. Lawrie, who was not able to be present. We may say, however, from the information of his numerous friends, to whom he is well-known as the writer signing himself "YZ", that he is now almost recovered from the accident which befell him some months since. (6)
Sometime in 1888, John was stricken with cancer and as time went on his illness became progressively worse. At the last he suffered little and calmly fell asleep suddenly on August 30th, 1888. Robert Harkness, his son-in-law wrote of this period,
I do not know of anything during his illness more noticeable than his great patience. He never complained, was always cheerful. He had no sentimentality in his composition, and I think some mistook this for want of religion itself; but I think he had a strong faith in the person and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ as anyone could have. (7)
I do not believe any doubts on the great themes of the gospel found place in the mind of our departed brother. As a man of faith he lived, and as a man of faith he died. On Friday, August 31st, we laid him to rest in the churchyard at Alma. In the presence of a large congregation which filled the chapel, Bro. Wm. Judd and the writer conducted appropriate services. The writer made a short address, and then we gathered around the grave, and with reverent hearts, placed therein the mortal remains of our venerable brother in the hope of the glorious resurrection. (8)
From 1893 Janet Lawrie (John's wife), lived with the Robert Harknesses until she died on January 12th, 1902, aged ninety. She had suffered a fall in 1896 which had restricted her movements but she was never idle. When not reading, she was always busy with her knitting and sewing needles. She showed the same cheerful, patient Christian spirit as she had throughout her whole life. The day after the family celebrated her ninetieth birthday, Janet had a fall from which she never recovered.
"Whatever her hand found to do she did it with all her might". There are two verses of an old Scottish ballad that speak her sentiments and which she acted out all her life -
Dinna speak unkindly words about the folk ye ken,
Never let a bitter ane, anither's ear gee ben;
Lifeless folk are faultless, but there's one without a flaw,
Kindly speak o' neighbours, then, an' aye work awa'.
Never say that ye're ill-used, though proud folk pass ye by,
Want a' sense mak's witless folk aft haud their heads aw'r high;
Dauner on ne'er fash yer thoom wi' sic-like folk ava,
Warsel on fu' cheerily an' aye work awa’. (10)
Gone home to the bright spirit-world,
To the regions of sacred repose;
Where the banner of peace is forever unfurled,
And the sorrows and cares of this sin-stricken world
No blissful inhabitant knows.
We wait for the Saviour to come,
When his dust from the earth shall arise,
And, radiant with glory, forsake the cold tomb
With the spirit united, to seek its new home
Eternally built in the skies.
Oh! Thou whom our spirits adore,
We acknowledge Thy wisdom and grace;
And for the bereaved Thy Wisdom implore,
While they journey through life,
till they reach that blest shore
Where sorrow and sighing shall cease.
A.E., Alma. (9)