There are many dates that the congregation of St John’s Cathedral in Parramatta could celebrate. The opening of the first church in 1803, the addition of towers in 1818, the decision to rebuild in 1852, a new building in 1858 or renovations in 1967. But the key date in its history is surely the declaration of the parish by Governor King on July 23, 1802. So it was that the cathedral’s three parallel services – English, Chinese and Persian – gathered last month to celebrate that key date. 

The story of St John’s, Parramatta is almost as old as the story of colonial Australia. The British arrived at the head of the Parramatta River on November 3, 1788 and established a military post in what is now Parramatta Park, displacing local Indigenous families from their land as they did so. 

Until the consecration of a makeshift church in 1803, worshippers had gathered wherever they could, often under the shelter of a large tree. So it was fitting that to celebrate their 220th anniversary the congregations and guests, including local MP Geoff Lee, Parramatta Mayor Donna Davis and the Bishop of Western Sydney Gary Koo, gathered outside the cathedral for songs and the cutting of a cake.

Those present heard the words of their first minister, the Rev Samuel Marsden, who wrote on leaving England in 1794: “I am now about to quit my native country with a view to preaching the everlasting Gospel. Oh! that God would make my way prosperous, and that the end of my going may be answered in the Conversion of many poor souls”.

The narrative of the parish’s history, read to the assembled group, added: “Marsden preached throughout the region and also took the gospel to New Zealand. He and his successors were convinced that God would grow his Church as the Bible was read and explained and its hearers were transformed by the hope of the risen Christ. As we celebrate this wonderful anniversary, we pray with great thanks to God for all that he has already done in and through St John’s, and call upon his continued goodness for all the future years that he gives us”.

The church was designated St John’s by a Government and general order by Governor Philip Gidley King dated July 23, 1802:

“His Excellency is pleased to direct that in all spiritual, judicial and parochial proceedings, transactions, deeds, instruments, and registers, that the districts of Sydney, Petersham, Bulanaming, Concord and Liberty Plains, be comprised with a parish to be henceforward named ‘Saint Phillip’, in honor of the first Governor of this territory; and that the districts of Parramatta, Banks’ Town, Prospect Hill, Toongabbie, Seven Hills, Castle Hill, Eastern Farms, Field of Mars, Northern Boundaries, Ponds and Kissing Point, be comprised with a parish to be henceforward named ‘St. John’s’, in honor of the late Governor, Captain John Hunter; and the churches now building at Sydney and Parramatta he respectively named Saint Phillip and Saint John.”