The United Protestant Association of New South Wales was founded in 1938 at a time when religious sectarianism between Protestants and Roman Catholics formed deep and bitter divisions.
It was within such a setting that a NSW Railway Manager, Thomas Agst with a passion to help children was confronted by the need to care for some destitute Protestant children. He and his wife, Rosetta, determined to take into his home seven children from three families who desperately needed help. He then took the cause to the local churches and by 1940 had purchased and established Rathgar Children’s Home in Grafton. With great passion, drive, and energy over the next decade he persuaded Protestants across NSW to open a further 12 homes for children. In his autobiography, he commented:
‘Sometimes I can hardly believe what was accomplished in those early days of the Association when the whole country was in turmoil with the war effort. However, something simply had to be done to help the girls and boys left destitute through the war and other causes’.
By the time Thomas Agst retired from UPA in 1962, he had established 12 Sunday schools, 12 Protestant Alliance Lodges, 95 UPA branches, 12 District Councils, 13 children’s homes, 92 cottages and flats for the aged, two homes for aged people, three opportunity shops and a printery, as well as crucial assistance for the Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria Associations. Some have now been closed and other ventures have been commenced.
Today UPA is made up of six Regions that have a healthy degree of autonomy, yet they are all bound together under the one mission and company structure and more widely focused on the provision of aged care services. A foundational principle used from the beginning was that the money raised locally would stay in the town. Local governance, management and administration are a core strength of UPA’s work.
With the inevitable fading of sectarianism. UPA now draws on its Protestant heritage for sound Christian values, which guide its work. Throughout UPA, whether as a volunteer, staff member, resident or client, people from all walks of life and all religions are welcome and valued.
“It has not been an easy task, there have been plenty of knocks with few bouquets” (Tom Agst, Protestant World 1951)