My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 12 December 2014

Adelaide SA City of Churches - the Flinders Street Baptist Church

Into Jesus
In the city
 That is the proud mission statement on the cover of the welcome leaflet to the Flinders Street Baptist Church in Adelaide City of Churches. The trouble was, I had to gain entrance to the church before I could pick up the leaflet, and that was not particularly easy to do. Which is a shame, because the church is definitely worth a visit. 

I had walked past this church several times during my pilgrimage to visit all the churches of Adelaide SA. The board outside told me and other passers by that it would be open on Tuesdays between 1.00pm and 2.0pm for a free concert. That is fine if you want to sit through the concert, but hardly conducive to anyone who simply wants to look at the church itself, or take a few moments of silence for quiet reflection and prayer. OK - the board tells us that if we want to do that the church is open again on Wednesdays from 12 noon to 2pm - just two hours in six days each week (discounting Sunday when it is of course open for its weekly services - which are very well attended - 100 or so I was told).
This certainly seems a very busy and flourishing church judging by the same welcoming leaflet: a special program for children, called Buzz, during the morning service; weekly English language classes for those whose first language is not English; and several different home groups meeting regularly, such as the fellowship group, a book club, and groups focusing on the needs of youth and young adults. 
Now I did finally manage to make it to Adelaide during that Wednesday window of opportunity and had a most fascinating conversation with the person on duty, a former minister to the church, after which I was able to stroll around, take photos, and pick up the aforementioned welcoming leaflet, together with "A Brief History." But the atmosphere was hardly conducive to simply taking my own private time for prayer, meditation or quiet reflection, always conscious of someone at the front of the church on "security duty." And they claim to be a community which is "open and hospitable... which reaches out to others."
It is also a shame that the Brief History notes are not anywhere on the website - or not that I could find anyway. The church, which opened for worship in 1863, and is heritage-listed, is noteworthy for: its gallery or balcony installed in 1873 to cope with the 500 or so congregation plus 500 scholars in the Sunday School; a rather magnificent pipe organ, the baptistry designed and indeed used for total immersion baptism; its links with Global Interaction (formerly the Australian Baptist Missionary Society) as recognized by plaques in the church: and some interesting stained glass windows including a rather beautiful rose window under the balcony.
Some day soon, when I come to the end of my Adelaide Churches pilgrimage, I am going to have a rant about closed churches - so watch this space. And meanwhile if you would like to contribute to that particular debate, whether about the churches in Adelaide or anywhere else across the world, I would really love to have your comments. In fact please leave your comments anyway! I know that lots of you out there are reading this series - I would love to hear from some of you. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Adelaide city of churches - Market Place Church

I was standing at the junction of William Street with North Terrace, heading back towards the railway station, and I was getting very wet. When I went into the South Australia Museum in Adelaide, (definitely worth a few hours visiting), the weather had been dry and warm. Now it was pouring with rain.

Suddenly I was aware of someone close at my side, and I turned to look. She was a petite lady, pretty, with a wonderful smile, and she was sharing her umbrella with me! Now that sums up the friendliness of Adelaide which I felt throughout my visit there. "I could see you were getting wet", she said simply. And with that she accompanied me right the way into the station itself, until we were under cover, before saying goodbye and slipping away into the crowd; but not before we had managed quite a conversation about our respective families, our work, our lives.

During my few weeks in Adelaide, City of Churches, I set myself the mission of visiting every single one of those Churches within the central and North Adelaide areas - 24 of them according to the leaflet I picked up at one of them on my journeying. Today I had taken time out to visit some of Adelaide's other attractions, to give my church pilgrimage a break.
But it seems God had other plans - he wasn't going to let me off even for one day - because as I walked along that North Terrace from the museum I looked up and there on the side of a passing bus was an advertisement for  

Market Place Church
"Changing the World One Step at a Time" it proudly proclaimed," and making itself Church number 25 on my list. Now I didn't get a chance to pitch up to their Sunday worship, held at 9.55 am at Flinders Park Primary School with its offices, it says, within the inner metropolitan areas. So I'm not sure if it strictly comes within the geographical scope of my pilgrimage anyway. But if you are looking for an alternative to "conventional church", whatever that is, and you are in Adelaide, why not check them out. I quote from their website:

"We don’t claim to be people who have life figured out or have it all together, instead we are just a bunch of people who have a desire to journey together and discover the wonder and greatness of who God is.
We aren’t overly that precious about being traditional when it comes to Church meetings. We just love the idea of community, hanging out and allowing Jesus to set the scene." 
And their activities for kids and youth look pretty interesting as well. And if you're not in Adelaide maybe start something similar in your own town?

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Adelaide City of Churches - the Pilgrim Uniting Church

This is my continuing series on Adelaide City of Churches, relating my experiences in trying to visit as many of the city's churches as possible. Sadly these days so many are closed and a little effort is sometimes required to see inside them. But so often I found that the effort was richly rewarded.

I wanted to put these buildings on the map again, and whether your interest is in history of buildings, religion, spirituality, or simply the appreciation of beautiful stained glass and other church artifacts, there is much to discover here.
Why am I doing this? I hope I shall thereby encourage visitors to go and see some of these buildings for themselves.

one of the aisle windows c. 1925
And even if you are far away from Australia I hope my photos and ramblings will still interest and inspire you:  perhaps to make your own pilgrimage to your own local churches, with an open mind to see what they have to offer. 

I wrote previously about Holy Trinity Church, on North Terrace, which claims to the Adelaide's first church. The Pilgrim Uniting Church says that it shares with Holy Trinity "the heritage of those who were the pioneers of the Christian faith in South Australia."
the interior with exceptional organ
The excellent Brief Historical and Architectural Guide which I picked up on my visit claims that the Pilgrim Uniting forebears "were the first to hold religious services on South Australia soil, the first to build a temporary structure of gum and pine (Congregational Chapel on North Terrace) and the first to build a stone church in the city (Wesleyan Chapel) in Hindley Street." Artifacts from both these earlier churches are brought together at this Uniting Church in Flinders Street.
And oh what joy - it is open every weekday from 10am to 2pm so I was able to go in and have a really good look around.

And here is a church which really rewards the visitor, with its beautiful stained glass windows, its memorial plaques and one of the finest organs in South Australia. 
And if you visit any Monday at 12.30 you will be able to enjoy the regular and free "Music in the Lane" event in the Pilgrim Plaza just outside the church, where you can take your lunch and sit with a cuppa listening to a range of different musical experiences. The day I visited the program was jazz, and very enjoyable it was too.

It is clear that this is a very active church - as were most of the churches I visited during my stay. This one has an active Facebook page as well.

It is encouraging to see that Christianity is alive and well in Adelaide city of churches.
Between them all, a range of worship styles is offered, in addition to many other events and activities in each place; enough going on to suit just about any taste.
So do find a little time during your visit to Adelaide to visit some of these churches.

It is possible at the Tourist Information offices to pick up a blue flyer - "The Churches of Adelaide welcome you and invite you to their services" - which lists all the churches within the city area, with addresses, contact details and times of services. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Adelaide City of churches - Christ Church North Adelaide

The residential streets of North Adelaide are simply charming. The Jacaranda trees lining many of the streets were at their very best, branches laden with the unmistakeable pendulous purple-blue flowers, and complemented by the reds, whites and pinks of the many rose bushes in full bloom - it is after all summer in South Australia. Strolling past the striking Adelaide Oval cricket ground, claimed to be the most beautiful cricket ground in the country, and the Anglican Cathedral, where I was pleased to worship during my visit to this wonderful city, I was making my way to the historic Christ Church, established in the mid 19th century.
Sadly I was too late to see inside. As I was coming to expect in Adelaide City of Churches, the church was locked, although I just caught a delightfully helpful lady as she was locking up the church office for the day. It was too much for me to ask to be allowed access when she was on her way home. She did however give me a rather beautifully illustrated booklet, describing in some detail the history of the church and its many points of interest, although it it was clearly written before the installation of a new pulpit in 2011.

The booklet also states "The church is among the few open daily, enabling residents and visitors to spend time in quietness and prayer." Oh dear. That is no longer the case. When did this change and why?
The 1939 bell tower
I read that this church exists in no small part due to the efforts of a group of women who started a building fund back in 1841 and collected £60 as its nucleus. A group of Anglicans had been holding services for a while by that time in the area, through the kindness and hospitality of the local Wesleyan Methodists and the Society of Friends, or Quakers, but they felt the urgent desire for a church building to call their own. This wish became reality when on Ascension Day 1848, 1st June, the foundation stone was laid, and Christ Church was consecrated and opened for worship by Bishop Short on 20th December 1849.

Here is clearly a very active church, well staffed and attended, with a strong music tradition and with services (of which there are four each Sunday, plus a mid week Eucharist) based on the Book of Common Prayer. I was just so disappointed that I was unable to see inside for myself, to see for myself the stained glass windows, the new pulpit, and Bishop Short's throne (the church was used for a while as the "stand-in" cathedral before Saint Peter's Anglican Cathedral was completed).

The website says that the parish office is now open Wednesday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, for anyone who would like to make contact with them for further information, and hopefully to gain access to look at this historic and interesting pioneer church in Adelaide City of Churches.

The church also has a facebook page.