When I was younger I remember being told multiple times that the first church ever built in Australia was burnt to the ground by arsonists. In a way that isn’t all that surprising considering that Australia started off as a convict settlement, and the reason that a lot of them were convicts was that they had proven to be disruptive towards the social order. In a way our pastors used this event as an example of how Australia is basically a heathen nation. Personally, I would be inclined to disagree because that rather overarching statement doesn’t take into account the rather conservative pockets that we find scattered across the country. Then again, Australia is a pretty urbanised country, and cities tend to be where a lot of these so called heathens end up congregating.
Anyway, during my various wanderings around the Rocks I had walked past this church, and everytime I had done so I was under the impression that the church that was burnt down was this church, or at least the one that was rebuilt after the original was burnt down. It turned out that I was incorrect and it was actually St Phillips that was burnt down all those years ago (in 1798). This church was built a number of years later after the congregation of St Phillips had outgrown the building. The church was originally called Holy Trinity, but these days it is simply known as the Garrison Church. The reason for this is because for a while it was also connected to the military.
These days it is now a part of the St Phillip’s Parish, having been amalgamated back in 2013. This no doubt has to do with the church being a rather small church, and it probably made more sense to share the administrative tasks. Actually, when I first wandered up here I wasn’t aware of the existence of St Phillips, and a part of me thought that the church for Sydney city was actually the Cathedral. Honestly, I’m still not all that sure how this all works, since while there is a Cathedral in Melbourne City, as far as I’m aware there isn’t an Anglican Church.
So, on my last trip to Sydney I decided to make an effort to actually visit the church. It was then that I discovered that the church wasn’t the church that I originally thought it was, and also that it was a part of St Phillips, but then again by actually visiting a church one learns more and more about the places. The other thing is that as I was sitting in the pews I suddenly realised how it has been quite a while since I have actually been into one of the traditional churches. Sure, when I went to church back in Adelaide, the church we were in was the oldest in South Australia, had stained glass windows, and memorials on the walls.
However, since I moved to Melbourne, I have either been going to Presbyterian Churches, which shy away from religious art, or St Judes, which basically meets in the dining room of a Bible College. Well, come to think of it, when I was in London I did go to Westminster Abbey, but I didn’t consider that a church service – it was more like mass. As for the churches I visited in Europe, one was in an old Church, but it was Dutch so there was no religious art, one was in an upstairs room in a Parisian building, and the one in London was also a more modern looking building. So. as I was sitting in that pew it did take me back years.
The problem is that lots of evangelicals really don’t like religious art, namely because of the second commandment which forbids making an image of God. However, I’m inclined to disagree because religious art played an important role in the medieval and early modern church. Okay, art also has this ability to project power, which is why wealthy people and companies like to have art in their foyers. As for churches, but having art created by the masters of their trade has the same effect. Yet, the Sydney diocese is a very traditional and conservative diocese and as such doesn’t particularly like the presence of the art in the churches – except that the Government has stepped in to prevent them from removing it by slapping the building onto the heritage register.
However, there is another problem with these heritage registers – the flags. I noticed a similar thing in the Cathedral where there were some flags that were over a hundred years old, but due to the church being on the heritage register nobody could actually do anything with them, especially wash them, which meant that these flags were pretty grotty. Mind you, considering their age, washing them would probably not be all that beneficial since they would most likely fall apart if anybody were to touch them. In another sense, it did add somewhat of an historical feel about them.
The thing with these flags is that they dated back to World War I, a time when parishioners who fought and died in the war would be remembered. These flags were originally errected as a memorial, and if you look at them you will notice that one of them is the English flag, and the other Australian. There are also flags representing the army and the navy (namely because the airforce was a part of the army back them). You will also find memorial plaques on the wall as well.
The plaques also stand out, and in fact I remember sitting in my church back in Adelaide staring at these plaques (instead of listening to the sermon). The thing with these plaques is that they were memorials for important people in the church, usually the former pastors. One of the plaques that always comes to mind from my old church was one out the front that proudly proclaimed the Reverend Richardson Reid, as well as a plaque for the original vicar. However, the problem with these plaques, particularly for those who weren’t pastors, sort of raises these particular people above the rest of the congregation, and in God’s eyes, every person in the congregation is as important as the other.
Another thing that stood out in the church, which in a way reminded me of my old church, was the stained glass window. In fact the window in the Garrison Church was almost identical to the one back in Adelaide, and as is typical with me, I spent some time examining the window from where I was sitting to try and determine what the artist was trying to portray, Okay, maybe I should have been listening to the service, but then again my attention is always attracted to beautiful works of art, such as this window. Here is a picture I found on the internet:
Basically the window is divided into three sections. Above two of them you have the Greek letters alpha and omega, which symbolises the beginning and the end. The alpha is over the left two panes, and these panels work together to represent Christ’s first coming to Earth – in a way it is the beginning of the new order that he ushered in. The right panel, signifying the end, has Christ suspended above the people, and this is his second coming, thus representing the end of this current world. Note that the people below have mixed reactions, some praising him, other cowering in fear. The fifth panel, which is between the two, has Christ standing there with somebody crowning him – this is not his death – that is the first two panels – this is his ressurection, where he became king and lord of the world – but it is only in the right two panels that he returns to claim that title that has been bestowed upon him. In a way it is a reminder as to why we come to church every Sunday.
I probably should finish off with the actual church services. Basically there are two, one in the morning and one at night. Also, it isn’t a particularly crowded church, which does have its benefits in that you simply don’t get lost in the crowd, and with these smaller churches it is actually much easier to connect with people – something that I have discovered when I have been to churches of a similar size. Mind you, I can’t say anything about the evening service, namely because I was only at the morning one. The other thing is that after the service they set up some morning tea, which is always a good indicator of a church that is focusing on community as opposed to simply tradition. While it isn’t a big church, it still had a quaint charm about it that I liked.
By Toby Hudson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11693949
The Garrison Church by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.