For some, it is a secret yet to be discovered. For others, it has simply always been there: where else would you spend your Easter and Christmas holidays?

Tucked into eight leafy hectares in the foothills of Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges, the Belgrave Heights Convention (BHC) is somewhat of an institution for many Australian Christians. And until recently, it never seemed to change.

The aged and open auditorium sprawling gently down a grassy slope; the crunching dirt and tan-bark floor; the rambling rows of wooden seats; the curved expanse of corrugated iron supported by massive wooden beams, and the perpetual banner that says it all: ‘All One in Christ Jesus’.

Belgrave

ANYTHING BUT CONVENTIONAL: A scene from Belgrave Heights revamped auditorium at this year's Easter event.

But take the picturesque drive to the BHC Centre today and you just might notice some changes. The auditorium - sometimes fondly remembered as ‘the old shed’ - has recently undergone a facelift as part of a multi-stage property re-development that began in 2003.

Converted into a modern, practical building accommodating 1600, it no longer looks like an ‘old shed’, but is fully enclosed, with heaters and ceiling fans, and fitted out with contemporary audio-visual equipment.

The dirt and tan-bark floor has been replaced by concrete and carpet, and the wooden pews have been swapped for comfy rows of padded chairs. Attached to the entrance is a large ‘Missions Marquee’ which hosts a range of ‘trade displays’ reinforcing the convention’s longstanding commitment to missions.

However despite the extensive renovations – funded by voluntary financial and labour contributions - the ambience of the BHC is preserved. The unique roof-line is unchanged, and the familiar ‘open-air’ atmosphere is retained by utilising ceiling-to-floor glass doors and windows along each side wall. When the weather is warm, the doors are flung open; when it’s inclement; the outside environment can be enjoyed - not endured.

While the property re-development continues with plans for upgrading roads and accommodation facilities, the mission of the BHC remains unequivocal: “to meet the hunger in the lives of people of all ages for the Word of God, serving the Church, by encouraging growth of spiritual life in Christ through the teaching application of the Bible".

BHC’s mission is carried out by its ministry: gathering ‘All One in Christ Jesus’ (the BHC motto) with convention meetings - held most popularly during summer and Easter - that include international and Australian speakers, Bible teaching, mission-awareness meetings, prayer, praise and music. 

Currently enjoying enormous popularity (try getting a car park, let alone a seat at the Easter convention), the BHC’s inception - interestingly - was not at Belgrave Heights but in an old marquee in the neighbouring township of Upwey.

"The Belgrave Heights Convention Centre is more than a landmark and more than an institution. For decades, its dependable ministry has impacted countless lives, and in the 21st century, its vision is all the more imperative: to see spiritually-mature Christians, whose faith and practice is anchored in the Bible, serving as Spirit-filled, pure, and powerful witnesses for Christ in family, church, community and the world."

The first ‘Keswick’-style convention (based on the established UK Keswick Convention) was held during the Christmas holiday period of 1918 when several hundred enthusiastic Christians - who regularly met during the holiday seasons for prayer and fellowship - gathered at the Upwey Union (now Baptist) Church.

So popular was this first convention, that right through the 1920s one was held each summer in a marquee behind the church. By 1930, the growing Convention needed to be moved to a larger location (now the site of the Upwey High School) where camp sites and a 1300 seat auditorium were soon constructed.

However in 1947, the Convention Council received notice that the land was needed by the state education department, so by 1950 - with its relocated auditorium - the former Belgrave Heights golf course became the new and permanent Convention site. 

Three years later, an Easter convention was added to the itinerary, and by 1956, the BHC was incorporated under the Companies Act limited by guarantee. The ministry continues today as interdenominational and evangelical, and is governed by a Council of people from different church backgrounds. 

While other annual events and festivals are held at Belgrave Heights, it is the Summer and Easter Conventions that are enormously popular with both campers and day visitors. At the recent Easter 2005 Convention, a total of over 17,000 people attended with an average of 1400 at each of the three daily meetings. There is no monetary charge for attending the BHC meetings, and many of the administrative, operational and renovation costs are simply a matter of faith. 

The Belgrave Heights Convention Centre is more than a landmark and more than an institution. For decades, its dependable ministry has impacted countless lives, and in the 21st century, its vision is all the more imperative: to see spiritually-mature Christians, whose faith and practice is anchored in the Bible, serving as Spirit-filled, pure, and powerful witnesses for Christ in family, church, community and the world. 

For more information on the Belgrave Heights Convention go to www.bhc.org.au.