Sydney: Australia’s first church service

Sydney's first church service

On the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets, there’s a small monument passed by and unread by hundreds of people every day.

It quotes Psalm 116:12, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”

Why is that place special?

Did you know that more than 200 years ago, on Sunday 3 February 1788, Australia’s first chaplain Rev Richard Johnson conducted the first church service very near there in the Colony of New South Wales?

Johnson preached a sermon based on Psalm 116:12. The verse reflects the experience of someone who has undergone severe and repeated sufferings but has survived to give thanks to God for his safe deliverance.

It’s hard for us to imagine today what life was like during early settlement. It was certainly full of challenges, and Johnson was continuously exhausted from his labours. He worked hard, even fostering aboriginal children including a 15-year-old girl called Amaroo whose parents had died.

The Johnsons were no strangers to disappointment and grief. Their first child was stillborn. Milbah, their next child, died just after returning to England.

Despite all that, did you know that Johnson also grew Australia’s first wheat crop? His garden in Bridge St in 1790 produced nearly a thousand cucumbers! Oh, and he was also a military and prison chaplain and a parish priest, offering spiritual counsel and comfort to many.

One of these days, you should go deeper into the Johnson story…


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