I had a marvellous experience this week. I met with a group of other musical directors from other Sydney churches at St Philip’s York Street. This was a lovely occasion in itself, to meet with other people who are doing the same sort of thing I’m doing at Wild Street, and to also share our experiences and knowledge and hear how others do church (for example, Bren and Ro’s experiences at St Paul’s Castle Hill, where they have around 1100 people attending over four services differs greatly from Huw’s at St Philip’s, where they have around 150 people attending over three services).
Although that fellowship was well worth the time, the highlight of the day for me was actually being shown around St Philip’s, the church, and learning a bit about its history. It’s a beautiful building, designed by Edmund Blacket and built between 1848 and 1856 (more about the building’s history here).
Huw led us down to “the dungeon” – first to see the strange little choir room (a most uninspiring space for a choir but good conditions for preserving boxes and boxes of choral scores that Huw has no idea what to do with). Then we went into a little locked storage room, and Justin, the rector of the church, joined us to chat about some of the things therein.
There was a case full of impressive silverware and a wall of photos and drawings of the past ministers of St Philip’s. But the things that took my fancy the most were the two books Justin brought out.
This is the King James Bible that Revered Richard Johnson brought over on the First Fleet. He preached his first sermon from it in 1788, and continued to use it as he ministered to the new colony. As Justin said, if you became a Christian in Australia, you could trace that heritage back to this very book. (I’m not sure why I opened it at Job to take the picture, it just fell open there…)
And this is the prayer book he used. Justin said “this is the only page with the splatters on it – what do you think they’re from?” The clue is in the contents of the page itself; convicts getting married would sign their marriage papers or register on the pages of the prayer book (presumably because they had no table or anywhere else to do it). We also had a quick look at the beautiful marriage registers from the 1800s, complete with people signing their names with Xs because they were illiterate, or being given permission to marry by the government, as they had no family here to vouch for them.
It was just an amazing connection through history with people who had worked hard and preserved the gospel, bringing it on a stinking boat all the way from England to this new, alien country, because it was important to bring God’s word to those who needed it. Working alongside criminals and the dispossessed to tell them how much God loved them when nobody else did.
I was struck by how much we have in Sydney now, the freedom to worship, the ready access to all sorts of resources, Bibles in multiple translations. And yet even though they might not be in the exact same circumstances as the convicts who came over on the First Fleet, the majority of people in Sydney still need to hear about God’s love for them, about him sending Jesus to die for them so that they didn’t have to be judged for their sins. It’s awe-inspiring to stand on the shoulders of men like Johnson, but also a reminder that there is still much work that God has set aside for us to do.
It’s exciting to see the people at St Philip’s working hard to reach people, especially in the CBD area. I’m praying for them to stand firm and persevere in a tough harvest field, and that God will bring them much joy.
Edit to add:
Just after writing this I did my Bible reading for the morning, and the passage was Luke 10:1-20, which seemed to tie in beautifully with what I’d just been reflecting on. Jesus equips and sends out 72 disciples to go ahead of him and tell people that the kingdom of God is near. They go out and come back with reports of great success:
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”(Luke 10:17-20 ESV)