Okay, I can’t say that I’ve visited a huge number of cathedrals, and those that I have generally have had some historical significance (such as St Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London – thought I’m not really sure if you can class Westminster Abbey as a cathedral, I suspect that it is actually an abbey) however from what I have experienced you generally rock up at the beginning of the service, engage in some Christian ritual, and then leave without actually talking to anybody (that’s what happened when I visited St Paul’s Cathedral on Good Friday, which is the best way to get into St Paul’s and look around without forking out any money, and since I’m an Anglican I reckon I can get away with it).
Anyway, St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral in Sydney doesn’t actually fit that mould (though considering that I have only worshipped at two cathedrals two different times probably doesn’t make me all that much of an expert). Sure, it has a very traditional service, and still has a choir, but the thing is that after the service has finished people stay around, have some morning tea (or supper if you happen to go to the evening service) and chat. Okay, I’ve been to a lot of churches where that happens (which is one of the things that I love about going to church, not simply worshipping God – you can do that anywhere – but meeting and spending time with like minded people) but not one that meets in such a gorgeous building (though Holy Trinity in Adelaide comes pretty close).
So, the main reason that I ended up coming here the first time was because of the dean Phillip Jensen. When I was at university I have had the pleasure of hearing him deliver talks on multiple occasions and to me he was one of the best Christian speakers that I had ever heard. Anyway, I asked my friend where he was teaching and he told me that it was at the Cathedral, so I made a point of going there not once, but twice. Mind you, that was the last time I heard him speak because when I returned to Sydney much more recently the first time he was off on a camp, and the second time he had retired (though Christian speakers rarely retire – they just go onto the speaking circuit full time). Mind you, that time I landed up in Sydney (I believe it was 2007) the APEC conference was on, so the city was literally in lockdown, and the Cathedral was rather empty. However that didn’t stop Phillip Jensen from delivering a whopping good sermon.
When I returned more recently (once in 2014, and then again in 2015) I discovered that the Cathedral actually has quite a large gathering and, unlike other cathedrals that I had visited in the meantime, many of the people stayed around for morning tea and a chat. My brother even managed to make a few friends there (as he tends to do when he comes to church with me – he loves going to church – in fact if you ask him if he wants to visit a new church his face will light up, he will become really excited, and then proclaim “yes please”). Anyway, while I could discuss what the cathedral has to offer, you can probably find that out from their website. Instead I’ll talk about a couple of things that I experienced here, one of them being the tour that they had after the service, and the healing service on Wednesday Night.
When the service began they pointed out that no photographs were to be taken, however they then went on to say that after the service we could go for broke. That was another cool thing about this place because many of the cathedrals and old churches that I have visited simply do not allow photography (though I wonder whether it has to do with it being a sacred site, or more to do with the fact that they want to charge people to buy professional pictures – mind you the Vatican and other churches in Rome don’t mind you talking photographs). They also told us that after the service there would be a tour of the place for visitors and people who are interested in joining the congregation. Okay, since I live in Melbourne joining the congregation is not an option, however I was more than happy to spend some time learning about the place.
So, after having a bit of morning tea I made my way to where the tour was to begin, which was in a little side room. A part of me thought that maybe I would be the only person on the tour (I always seem to think that) however it turned out not to be the case. The tour began at a really old Bible, and when I say really old I mean 1539 really old. That is why it sits behind a glass case. Sometimes I wonder if people open the case to turn the page, however I suspect that considering its age that probably doesn’t happen. Our guide told us that the reason they begin at the Bible is not so much to show off this really old, pre-King James Bible, but because being a reformation church (I don’t like using the world Evangelical these days because unfortunately, like a lot of other things, it has been hijacked by some very fundamentalist right-wing churches in the United States) their teachings are centred around that of the Bible. In a way it goes back to Luther’s three fundamentals – Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Scriptura, (Faith Alone, Christ Alone, and Scripture Alone). Okay, while I don’t consider them to be fundamentalist (that is take the Bible super literally) they do centre their worship around the teachings as they come out in the Bible.
St Andrew’s was founded in 1819 and consecrated in 1868, which was around the time when there was a movement in England to return the Anglican church to its Catholic Roots. As such when the Cathedral was built it had a huge crucifix up the front. The Cathedral then underwent its own revolution where it returned to the traditions of the reformation, so the congregation grabbed this crucifix and threw it into the Georges River (I believe). However there was this huge space up the front, so down the track, when the church began to drift back towards Catholicism, they built a frontispiece (pictured above). Now, the suggestion was that they don’t particularly like this frontispiece because it goes against the commandment about building images. However I tend to disagree on this point. One of the reasons is that I actually quite like religious art, and back in the days when there was a high rate of illiteracy, the art would be used to teach many of the parishioners the Gospel through the use of images. The thing is that the commandment is that you shouldn’t make an image and ‘bow down and worship it’. Look I can understand where they are coming from, and in this day and age, where there is a high literacy rate among people (and that most people who go to church tend to be quite literate), the need for images is not as necessary. However, that is a moot point because the Cathedral is heritage listed which means that they can’t actually remove it.
Anyway, our guide pointed out one of the major reasons why we should not be going around creating images from the Bible, and that was this one really odd carving of Moses. Basically he had horns. I have to say that I have never see an image of Moses where the guy had horns. Our guide explained that the reason he has horns is because of a mistranslation from Jerome’s Bible. Apparently when Moses comes down from Mt Sinai with the ten commandments the Hebrew says that he glowed with the glory of God. However, that word is also translated to mean horns, which is why they carved Moses with horns. Mind you, it is still really baffling because seriously, that is one massive mistranslation because the context is really clear and seriously, horns – it simply doesn’t make sense. As I have suggested, this is the only carving, or picture, of Moses with horns that I have seen, however if I wander around the Vatican enough I’ll probably find some other examples.
Oh, I mentioned about the building being heritage listed. Well, while I like the idea of heritage listing buildings, I have to say that it can be a double edged sword. Basically to do anything to the building you have to get permission, and that can be a real headache, especially if it is damaged due to a storm or a fire. While it would be really cool living in one of those old houses in Fitzroy, if they happen to be heritage listed then getting anything done is an absolute nightmare. In fact one of the really bizarre things about this is that in the Cathedral there are a couple of flags that date back to World War I – and they’re heritage listed – which means that you can’t take them down and wash them, or even mend them. As such these flags are in a pretty deplorable state. All I can say is what use is something being heritage listed when it’s only going to decay.
The next part of the cathedral that we were shown were the stained glass windows. I have to be honest and say that I love stained glass windows, and even if the carvings tend to put some Christians off, there seems to be a great respect for the art that exists within the windows. Anyway, in St Andrews the windows appear on two levels. The main windows all depict a scene from the Bible, and has our guide explained, these windows used to be used as aids for teaching the scriptures. However, he then pointed to some windows that were up near the roof (and were very difficult to see). These windows each depicted the lives of famous missionaries in the region. He even told us how when the first missionaries went to New Zealand they found that the Maoris were much more accepting of Christianity than the Aboriginals in Australia originally were.
Anyway, here are a couple of the main windows:
Here are some of the windows from the upper level, though they were much more difficult to take photos of than the lower ones (though getting a good photograph was hard enough – you would need a ladder, or even a cherry picker – to get a decent photo).
The final spot on the tour was a scale model of the Catheral, however before we got there we were also shown the baptismal font which was set upon marble that had been gifted from St Pauls in London, and we were then taken to a display of some of the early pastors that had come to Australia with the establishment of the colony. To say that being a pastor back then was a difficult task would be an understatement – the first church built was burnt to the ground. It was actually John Newton and William Wilberforce who pushed for establishing a church in the colony (obviously against the wishes of the convicts, but then again their opinion didn’t count – they were convicts after all). The first pastor gave up (because it was two hard) and the man who took his place was Samuel Marsden, who earned the title ‘The Flogging Parson’. The reason for this was because he wasn’t just the pastor of the colonial church, he was also a magistrate, so during the week we would be sentencing criminals to the lash. This is probably not all that surprising considering a lot of pastors were lawyers in their previous lives, and since this was a colony some people had to take multiple roles. Marsden ended up going to New Zealand as a missionary.
The third person to hold the position was William Cooper, who also pushed for the colony to cease to be an open air prison and to be recognised as a true colony.
The Healing Service
Anyway, St Andrews has more than just services on Sunday – on Wednesday evening they also have what is known as a ‘Healing Service’. I’ve always wondered about this, particularly since healing services, in my mind, are generally connected with pentecostal churches and involve some form of faith healing. I have to say that I have always been rather sceptical of these services, particularly with my more scientific rationalist mind – and anyway most of the teaching that I received when I was younger suggested that the miraculous healings disappeared with the apostles. Mind you, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in miraculous healing – it does happen – I just don’t believe it happens all that often, and anyway we are all destined to die in the end, so even if we might be miraculously healed of some disease, doesn’t mean that we will end up living forever, at least in this world.
Our guide, however, kindly invited me to the service, and told me that we generally pray for each other. Well, I was a little confused – was it a prayer meeting, or was it a service – I was leaning towards thinking that it was going to be a prayer meeting (and to be honest with you I prefer to pray with people that I know rather than with strangers – at least when it comes to personal healing). Anyway, I was going to find out on Wednesday. So, come Wednesday evening I made my way to the Cathedral, was once again warmly welcomed by the greeter at the door, and discovered that yes, it was a proper church service. However it wasn’t your typical Sunday service, it was a service specifically for people who were broken, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually, and it offered them a place to meet with people who were also suffering, and provided a refuge from the world outside.
One thing it wasn’t though was that it wasn’t a pentecostal faith healing service – rather the people leading the service were very pragmatic in their outlook on the world. The knew and understood that there were a lot of people out there that are hurting, and they opened their doors, not to provide answers, or make promises that could not be fulfilled, but rather to provide comfort for people in dire straights, and to provide people who were willing to listen, and to pray, and to help them put all their troubles in God’s hands. As I said, there weren’t going to be any answers, and we simply cannot give a reason as to why some people suffer and others don’t. Mind you, much of this is very relative because many of us don’t know what people are hiding when they go out into society, but what I can say is that this is a very cruel world, and if God isn’t intervening it is more likely than not because he is patient, and giving people time to repent, because if he were to intervene and end all the suffering, then some of us may be shocked to discover that we are in fact responsible for quite a lot of it. Sometimes the question of suffering should not be ‘why doesn’t God intervene’ but ‘what can I do so that my actions don’t add to the suffering of this world’.