May 13, 2022
Christian worship services in Anglican Schools participate in a rich tradition that is almost as old as the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove (Warrane) on 26 January 1788. By order of Governor Arthur Philip, the first Christian service conducted for the newly arrived settlers was scheduled for 10.00am on Sunday, February 3, 1788. The service was conducted by the Rev. Richard Johnson and held under ‘a great tree’. (Murray, 1988, pp.3-4)
At TIGS we have chapel once a fortnight for students in the Junior and Senior Schools. Given we do not have a dedicated chapel building, chapel is conducted in our large multipurpose buildings: Rees Hall and the IGC. Occasionally, however, we have an outdoors chapel on Begbie Hill which works wonderfully as a natural amphitheatre. It is as close as we get to that first service under that great tree that the new Australians experienced 234 years ago.
Recently, I interviewed students across the Senior School to gauge their thoughts about the outdoors chapel. I knew that students really enjoyed the outdoors chapel, but I wanted to know why. I was impressed with the answers they gave.
Some students said our beautiful surrounds (and they are beautiful!) inspired their spirits to engage more with chapel; others said that the sense of space the outdoors affords, gives them more room to allow their spirits to rise to the call to engage with God; on a similar note, some said the open spaces caused them to be more open to new ideas; others said the outdoors gave them a greater sense of agency as worshippers; others said chapel outdoors allowed them an opportunity to enjoy richer fellowship with their peers.
Place is an important theme in the Bible. My students have reminded me of this. Where we have chapel matters to them. We have been planning an outdoors chapel for around six months now and have been continually frustrated by wet weather. Even this week we have had to abandon our plans. I look forward to our next outdoor chapel and the opportunity it provides for our students to engage with God and with one another.
Murray, I.H. Australian Christian Life from 1788: an Introduction and an Anthology, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988.