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Sorrel Wood's Easter Placement Report from St John's Fremantle, Diocese of Perth

Sorrel Wood's Easter Placement Report from St John's Fremantle, Diocese of Perth

During the Easter vacation, I had the opportunity to travel to Western Australia to complete a two week parish placement at St John’s Anglican Church Fremantle, in the Diocese of Perth.

I arrived in Perth on Saturday 17 March, just in time for Passion Sunday. Fremantle, the Port city of Perth, is diverse and eclectic; first settled by the Swan River colonists in 1829, it is renowned for its lively arts and music scene and its well preserved architectural heritage. The city has a population of c. 25,000, of which only 62% were born in Australia, with significant English, Italian, Irish and Portuguese expat presences. It has a university and a major teaching hospital, a prison which closed in 1991 and is now a tourist attraction, a plethora of art galleries, cafes and microbreweries and a bustling market. I was fortunate enough to be there for the Autumn Street Arts Festival, which showcased the city’s vibrant music scene.

St John’s is a busy, inclusive Anglo-catholic parish situated right in the heart of the city. The energy and dynamism of the city is reflected in the friendliness of the congregation, who could not have made me more welcome. It also adds a spontaneous edge to the life of the church, which is open throughout the day, since all different kinds of people wander through its doors: tourists, ship workers and the local homeless population who know that they are always welcome to a cup of tea. Against this colourful backdrop stands a church steeped in solemnity and beauty, shaped by the rhythm of daily mass and characterised by incense, unhurried prayerfulness, intellectual enquiry and a profound commitment to social justice.

I spend my time shadowing the Rector, Fr Patrick King. During my placement I had the opportunity to experience the intensity of Holy Week and the sacred Triduum. There was lots going on: from a Lent lecture by Dr Robert Myles, New Testament Lecturer at Murdoch University entitled “Jesus: Homelessness and Class Struggle” to a nightly mass followed by soup and Compline, to the construction of an ambitious Easter garden. For me, some of the highlights included the Maundy Thursday service followed by a vigil until midnight, during which the blaring pop music from the partying city permeated our silence; an Easter day service of baptisms and confirmations led by Bishop Jeremy James, and delivering palm crosses to the chapel on Rottnest Island. The parish of Fremantle also includes St Peter’s Palmyra, and I enjoyed meeting the congregation there and learning how to make palm crosses from actual, local palm trees! This, of course, was all combined with observing the usual demands of a parish priest such as weddings, baptism meetings, a visit to a care home and meeting s with members of the city council.

During the placement, I felt my confidence develop as I had the opportunity to preach on three occasions, in different types of service. I also enjoyed constructing interactive prayer stations and preparing readings for the Good Friday reflection service. I had plenty of chances to serve as part of the altar party and even said Morning Prayer from the Australian Anglican prayer book! I visited St George’s Cathedral, Perth, on two occasions and had the opportunity to watch Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy preside at the Chrism Mass, and to meet her briefly afterwards, which was hugely inspiring. I also enjoyed meeting some local ordinands who are studying at Wollaston Theological College.

As a Portsmouth Diocese ordinand, it was amazing to see the Church flourish in another port city on the other side of the world. I learnt about some of the challenges faced by the Church in a context where only 54.3% of the population identifies as Christian, 15.7% are Anglican and approximately 42% profess to have no religion at all. I saw some of the differences that stem from a context in which Anglicanism is not the state church, and people are free to marry or be baptised in any parish church they wish. I saw that this was a context that needed a huge amount of energy, vision and passion, traits which are personified in Fr Patrick. But I was also challenged and encouraged to see the ways in which the Diocese of Perth is so inclusive and progressive: not just in terms of the excitement of a recently appointed female archbishop, but also in the way that they use gender-neutral language in the creed, declaring that Christ “became truly human”.

All in all, I had a wonderful time in Australia and the trip deepened and helped clarify my sense of vocation, developed my confidence and broadened my understanding of the Anglican communion. A huge thank you to St John’s Fremantle and St Peter’s Palmyra for hosting me, to Fr Patrick King and the Diocese of Perth, and to my brothers and sisters at Cuddesdon for all your prayers and encouragement during the trip.


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