The two places in Australia with a surprisingly high population of Christians
There are two parts of the Diocese where we consistently have more than 10 per cent of the population in Bible-believing churches: prison chapels and aged care. As Jesus said: “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).
A great openness to God's word
Anglicare prison chaplains often see significant numbers in chapel and Bible study and a great openness to God’s word. I have had the privilege of preaching and sharing Bible study in correctional centres and have seen this first hand.
As one prison chaplaincy volunteer from the Pennant Hills area said to me, “Almost every week someone asks for a Bible and says, ‘Where should I start?’ If only more people in Pennant Hills asked the same question.”
"Almost every week someone asks for a Bible and says, 'Where should I start?'"
NSW started as a prison colony with Richard Johnson as the first minister and prison chaplain. Meredith Lake, in her excellent book The Bible in Australia, says that “on most Sundays, convicts also attended religious services where they heard the Bible read, preached and prayed. In early 1790s Sydney, when church attendance was effectively voluntary, between a quarter and a half of all convicts went along. Later, church attendance was made compulsory – a new development evidently resented by those who burned Johnson’s first church to the ground.”
The wall is always open - services are larger than anyone expected
Aged care is also a place where our chapels and Bible studies are very well attended. In the Sutherland Shire, for example, the use of both the chapel at Donald Robinson Village and Woolooware Shores have exceeded the architect’s vision from day one. Both chapels were built with an operable wall for larger services. The wall is always open, as the regular Sunday services are larger than anyone expected. Praise God!
Why are most Australians so resistant to the gospel?
Most Australians have well-practiced defences against the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They have resisted Jesus for many decades but sometimes a crack appears in their system, a chink in their armour. It might be illness, cancer and an admission to hospital. It might be their world being tipped upside down and finding themselves in prison. It might simply be downsizing from the suburbs to one our Anglicare retirement villages.
In one of these places they may encounter an Anglican chaplain or the chapel community and find Jesus and his love and grace.
We live in a time in Sydney where some opportunities for Christian witness are contracting and yet, conversely, opportunities for Christian chaplaincy of all types is expanding.
The Rev Stephen Gibson is the manager of health and justice chaplaincy at Anglicare Sydney. Images sourced from ABC Prison Chaplain.