Text of a short speech by Rev Rod Benson at the 226th Anniversary Service of the first Christian service of worship on Australian soil, at the Richard Johnson Memorial, cnr Bligh and Hunter Streets, Sydney, Monday 3 Feb 2014.
Your Excellency the Governor, fellow ministers and pastors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I bring you greetings from the NSW Council of Churches, which warmly endorses this annual celebration of the formal beginning of Australia’s Christian heritage. I am here today representing Council President, the Reverend Dr Ross Clifford AM.
Yesterday, Christians around Australia celebrated Christian Heritage Sunday, or Thanksgiving Day as it is now known – a public event launched last year, endorsed by the NSW Council of Churches.
The first Christian Service on Australian soil took place on Sunday 3 February 1788, conducted by the fleet’s Chaplain, the Reverend Richard Johnson, just days after the First Fleet arrived at Port Jackson. Today we remember that first service, and the first sermon, and the nation-building heritage to which it gave birth.
When I was a small boy, my grandmother, who lived all her life in Sydney, brought me to this monument. We stood on the stone steps behind where I am standing today, and she told me the story of the Reverend Richard Johnson, and that first sermon, and she read aloud the words of the Psalmist that inspired Johnson’s sermon that day:
What shall I render unto the Lord
for all his benefits toward me?
I will take up the cup of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord. (Psalm 116:12-13, KJV)
I have never forgotten that moment, or my sense of wonder that here, in the heart of this great secular city, stands a witness to the enduring grace and truth of God, and a monument to the faithfulness and courage of one man. Perhaps we are free to celebrate his memory today in part because of his example, and the example and influence of Christian women and men of similar faith and courage.
The Christian faith has profoundly shaped Australian society, has a central place in Australian life today, and will continue to shape this nation for generations to come. God bless Australia!
Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.