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Celebrating Australia’s first church service

Sunday 3 February marked the 225th anniversary of the first Australian church service. Led by the colony’s chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson, the service was performed under a great tree just a week after the First Fleet anchored in Sydney Cove.

Rev Richard Johnson’s prayer book, used at Australia’s first church service

Australia’s first church, St Philip’s on York Street in Sydney commemorated the first service by holding a celebration service of their own, reading the same Morning Prayer Service that Richard Johnson read in 1788, from Johnson’s own prayer book.

The service was attended by Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, and governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, with Jensen preaching on the same passage as preached by Johnson: Psalm 116:12: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me?”

Governor of NSW, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir greets parishioners of St Philip’s York Street.

The great voyage was a corporate affair,” said Jensen of the First Fleet on Sunday. “They sailed together. Surely [Richard Johnson] should call on his whole congregation to give thanks together. But his text is personal: ‘what shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me?’

It is as if he stands before them all, under the great tree which we are told was the location of the service, and sees them all individually, each one, and speaks to them personally about themselves, not so much as a body of people who had gone through great trials together.”

For a full transcript of the sermon marking the 225th anniversary, by Archbishop Jensen, click here.