The very first record of a Wesleyan Methodist Church in Port Pirie was of a small galvanised iron structure 28 feet square which was built in 1873. During 1875 a new church made of weatherboard was built on the corner of Alexander and Gertrude Streets in Port Pirie.
At the Annual Methodist conference in March 1912 it was unanimously agreed that the Port Pirie Methodist Church should become Central Mission and be run on Mission lines. The aim was for the Mission to make it the living centre of evangelistic effort and social service, in an endeavour to counteract the influence of the hotels, and to attempt to help men and women to better things in life. Rev.JC Hughes was the first Superintendent of the newly formed Mission. A group of volunteers who were concerned about the welfare of sailors whilst in port agreed to visit the boats on a regular weekly basis. In September 1912 Sister Annie was inducted as a Sister of the People. Her role was to work among the 4,000 inhabitants in the Port Pirie West area who were experiencing hardship. The existing weatherboard building was by this time inadequate for the mission’s needs and a larger building was envisaged.
During the years of the first World War the Methodist Church opened its doors for two hours a day to enable people to offer their prayers for the men on active service overseas. These were hard years in Port Pirie with unemployment high and typhoid fever prevalent. The missioners were able to utilize a hall to set up a men’s and women’s gymnasium to alleviate the idleness and planned activities for the underprivileged children around Christmas time.
1919 saw the continuation of harsh times in Port Pirie firstly with a Spanish Influenza epidemic in February and in May, a miner’s strike in Broken Hill causing 2000 men to become unemployed at the Broken Hill Associated Smelters. The length of the strike meant that the men of the town had to go elsewhere to find work. All the churches felt the strain as demands for clothing and food was high. Donations of leftover bread from a local bakery and clothing, both new and repaired from the Pirie West School were distributed through the Mission. The smelters restarted in January 1921. The limited resources were stretched further when excessive rains caused heavy flooding in March 1921. Unemployment remained high and the amount of itinerants passing through the town increased.
The Church Building Fund which had begun in the early 1900’s finally saw the new church built and hold its Inaugural Service on October 15th, 1922.
Assistance in the form of meal tickets was offered by the church during the years of the Depression. An unemployed single men’s camp was established with the missioners negotiating with the Corporation to provide 25 beds and the government to provide blankets. The camp was forced to close in February 1930 due to lack of funds and insufficient supervision but assistance given to single men between the ages of 20–30 years continued. As the Depression continued the number of men dependent of the mission rose to 100. Another initiative set up by the mission at this time was a cobbler’s shop. With leather obtained from the government one year saw the missioners repair 480 pairs of boots.
In August 1934 the breaking of the embankment saw the lower areas of the town flooded. Many of the Mission helpers despite facing hardship themselves distributed over 500 relief parcels and opened the doors of their homes to help the flood victims. The Central Mission was more involved in its relief work than any other church in Port Pirie at the time.
The outbreak of World War II saw the Church being needed more than ever. The war time evacuation plan saw the Central Mission become a relief depot in case of air raids. A train load of Asian evacuees were the first people to utilise these overnight arrangements. In January 1940 the Central Methodist Church was totally destroyed by fire. Inadequate insurance coverage forced services to be offered from the partially damaged manse.
The end of the war saw the need for the Mission to assist the soldiers adjust to civilian life once more. The following years saw the Mission introduce meal tickets for itinerants and needy local people as well as offering occasional accommodation and jobs around the manse for men seeking help.
Rev. Benn was the first Methodist Industrial Chaplain after the concept was introduced at the Smelters in 1966. When his family left Port Pirie in 1968 the Central Methodist Church was closed except for weddings and meetings and the manse was taken over as offices for the Superintendent and the Parish General Offices. The Central Mission complex was purchased by the Department of Community Welfare.
When the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian denominations amalgamated to become the Port Pirie United Parish, the name of Central Mission was retained because of the welfare component. Rev Norman’s foresight in 1970 saw the need for an “Opportunity Shop” to be established to supply clothing and goods for people on low incomes. The store was open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and was manned by volunteers under the leadership of Edna Zubrinich and Linda Fitzgerald.
In 1976 at the Annual Methodist conference, the Port Pirie Central Mission was declared an Incorporated Body enabling greater opportunity of receiving government grants and financial assistance from local community sources.
After his induction as Superintendent in 1976 Rev John Mauviel became aware of the need for emergency housing for deserted wives with children and a shelter for homeless men.
Initially one house was purchased. Soon there was a waiting list for emergency accommodation. Over the next three years eight more houses were acquired. Money was received from Morialta Trust Fund to provide hot water systems. The tenants paid a nominal rent which included a component for gas and power. The demand for housing was always greater than the supply. Two caravans were purchased and used in emergencies.
Permission was sought from the Department of Community Welfare to use the former Central Mission manse for a homeless Men’s Shelter to meet the growing need of itinerants calling at the mission as well as local homeless men.
Tennyson House was established as a community home for single girls. A care taker/cook was employed to care for the premises and the five other tenants.
By mid 1977 plans were well in hand for establishing a Crisis Counselling Service in Port Pirie under the auspices of Central Mission. Interested people undertook training and when qualified rostered on a telephone counselling service from 6pm to midnight. The service was expanded to a 24 hour counselling service and became part of the Australian National Lifeline programme.
In 1980 the Wayside Lodge men’s shelter was to be demolished and a new site was identified in the former Presbyterian manse. In October 1980 St Andrews opened its doors offering homeless men individual rooms with communal lounge and dining facilities.
The Mission’s services expanded to include a coffee lounge, Good News Book Shop, marriage counsellor and the appointment of a Housing Officer to look after the tenants in the mission’s accommodation.
A generous bequest in 1986 from the estate of the late Allan and Audrey Ward of Weroona Island made it possible to purchase a new Mission complex to accommodate the expanding services which included Family Support and later Alternative (Foster) Care and Tenancy Support. Around 1999/2000 a process was started to bring the Mission in line with a national identity. The Mission then became known as UnitingCare Port Pirie Central Mission.
The Mission’s offices at Ward House in Ellen Street were quickly being outgrown. Several options were considered and a new site was identified in Florence Street. By the start of 2001 all programs had moved and were operating from the new premises.
By 2002 a Memorandum of Agreement was established between the four Missions in South Australia – Adelaide, Bowden, Port Adelaide and Port Pirie. Common badging and Strategic Plans were developed and in 2003 UnitingCare Port Pirie became UnitingCare Wesley Country SA.
The launch of the new badging of UnitingCare Wesley was held in Adelaide in October 2003 in the presence of Her Excellency the Governor of South Australia, Marjorie Jackson-Nelson. The Missions in Partnership meet regularly to develop and provide mutual support in the areas of Information Technology, Business Excellence and Purchasing.