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Developing a proud legacy of places of faith


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South Australia has a proud and unique history. Developed as a British free settlement, it became a sanctuary from religious persecution from the day in December 1836 when the first bemused immigrants waded ashore at Glenelg.

Hundreds of churches were built in South Australia during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. Nearly all were based on European designs and constructions, most following UK practices. Now these churches, the gems in South Australia’s heritage crown, are well in excess of 100 years old and all now require expensive repair and conservation works by skilled craftsmen using high quality natural materials if they are to last another 100 years.

We are facing a perfect storm. Falling numbers in those regularly attending church, combined with a rising age demographic leaves fewer people today, and potentially in the future, to help pay for expensive repairs. A social analysis snapshot of Christianity and Church attendees in Australia (McCrindle, April 2014) suggests that the average age of the adult church attendee is 53, while the 70 plus age group is strongly represented (12 per cent of the population but 25 per cent of all church attendees). Age groups under 50 are under-represented.

Looking outside Australia there are many examples in the UK, Canada and the US of the same phenomena of diminishing and aging demographics in church congregations combined with the need to maintain significant historic places of faith.

This situation could be viewed as a crisis, or perhaps as an opportunity to look anew at how we use our church buildings – a challenge to everyone to make our places of worship work harder to maintain their relevance in supporting faith and mission. Throughout history Christianity has faced many challenges and Christians have always shown themselves to be resourceful and tenacious in their faith and mission.

In Europe, before the colonisation of South Australia, churches were often the only community buildings within settlements and they hosted a much broader range of activities than we would imagine appropriate today. By the 19th century, a formal division had developed between congregations and their wider local communities that led to community activities taking place in separate village or church halls. During the 1800s large congregations could afford to maintain their sacred places for worship only. Since the 1950s, though, sizes of congregations have been continually diminishing and today’s custodians of our invaluable ecclesiastical heritage can no longer carry the burden of maintaining these buildings alone.

Having been privileged to work on some of the finest historic churches in the UK and in South Australia I wanted to pose the question in SA that I know has already been addressed elsewhere in the world – how might congregations be strengthened, including through developing partnerships with other community groups and local businesses, to restore and adapt historic church buildings for worship and as innovative places that enable communities to flourish? This question will be addressed in a conference entitled Regenerating Places of Faith.

As director of Arcuate Architecture, I am pleased to be working in partnership with the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, the Uniting Church of SA, the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide, the State Heritage Unit and the National Trust in the organisation of the Regenerating Places of Faith event.

Regenerating Places of Faith will bring together members of local congregations who have responsibility for historic church buildings, denominational leaders, people involved in local government, and all who are interested in South Australia’s historic buildings and in how they might continue to be used to bring life to local communities.

The Regenerating Places of Faith Conference will be held in the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church on the corner of The Parade and Portrush Road, Beulah Park on October 30.

For details and to book, go to and the event Facebook page entitled Regenerating Places of Faith.

Ian Hamilton is Director with Arcuate Architecture based in Adelaide.


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