Elizabeth Farrelly – always an interesting correspondent – has her two bits worth about modern church design. Can’t say that I disagree! The approach in Sydney seems to make God the Chairman, the Jensen the CEO, and the rest of us shareholders. Under those circumstances, an auditorium for a shareholders’ meeting seems totally appropriate! The article is worth racing as a whole.

The toll of secularity is inbuilt in new design

Elizabeth Farrelly

   The girls on the footpath at Railway Square are having a little whinge about the bells. They’re tourists, by the look, from Cairns or possibly Perth, peachy, bumptious and untroubled. Except by the bells. It’s the loudest street corner in town, but those bells keep messing with their heads.

“They’re so annoying,” complains one, with flick of glossy mane. “Why can’t they just be quiet?”

The bells – a glorious, liquid carillon – originate across the street in the mysterious other world that is Christ Church St Laurence. They sound real, real ropes swung on by real bellpullers. But OMG. Calls to piety can totally interfere with your hooking up.

My church pathology has got so that, when my need for ancient mysteries starts to fibrillate, I must drive to (of all places) Canberra. On the bleached-out expanses of Anzac Parade, Edmund Blacket’s lovely St John’s offers a deep well in a dry paddock.

So I am consoled, although I resist his arguments, by Alain de Botton’s assurances in Religion for Atheists that a craving for ecclesiastical aesthetics is not weird.

The yearning is not merely physical. It’s for both church and liturgy. King James’s Bible was 400 years old last year, the Book of Common Prayer 350 this year. Many writers, from Alexander McCall Smith to PD James, link their success to early inoculation with these books’ entrancing rhythms.

‘‘I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy Catholick Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting.’’ Even as a kid reading comics in church I loved this stuff. “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made … ”

Yet the Sydney church seems to give rather less of a stuff than those girls on the street.


I don’t want church to be about me, or my ordinary life. I come here for otherness. So off I head, with my little troupe, to the darker, more wrathful end of the spectrum.

Christ Church St Laurence is about as high as High Church gets in Jensenite Sydney. It has Latin and incense, pews and shadows, robes and chants and genuflection. Where Barneys has joy, St Laurence has solemnity.

In part this is aesthetic; a difference between upbeat and down, between major and minor keys. But it’s also a shift of the power relationship between God and humankind.

Democro-capitalism’s biggest failing is putting humanity firmly in charge – of nature, the planet, God. Where once, God was a given and we were created, it’s now we who are given, and God shaped to fit. Push has become pull.

That’s OK, I guess, but it doesn’t suit me. I like a sense of necessity, of very God. If you’re going to have God – and I hover pathetically between atheism and agnosticism – you really need a big one. God underneath is just not God.

If I’m bothering to do church, I want my penny-worth of exigency. I do not wish to say “help us to look after the world and to reach our full potential,” when I could be saying “give us this day … ”

I want chiaroscuro of language and space. I want it difficult, subtle, hard and high. I want crucified, dead and buried. I want glorious.

Obscure? Sure. But as the Prince of Wales wryly notes, “the word of God is supposed to be a bit over our heads”. Also the house.