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Everybody Needs Neighbours. Do We Need Church Buildings?

The phenomenonally successful Australian soap opera “Neighbours” screened its 4,000th episode last night, though that’s not the reason I watched it for the first time ever.


“Neighbours” was launched in 1985, and it’s filmed at a studio that’s about a 10-minute drive from my home here in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. The actual street used for outdoor scenes is also nearby. It’s shown in 57 countries, and has made international stars of such names as Kylie Minogue and Natalie Imbruglia. Even Russell Crowe has appeared.


The reason I watched is that the theme of the 4,000th episode was a fire and dramatic rescue at a church, and the actual church used for location shooting was Holy Trinity in Doncaster, where my family currently worship.


Holy Trinity is an Anglican church with a strong evangelical tradition. We moved to it two years ago because of the powerful biblical preaching, of a quality we had not encountered before in Melbourne. Others are being attracted too, and the church is steadily growing. Construction has just begun of building extensions.


The original church is a lovely stone structure, more than 100 years old, and much in demand for weddings and christenings. It is also used occasionally by “Neighbours” when someone on the show gets married or dies, or a baby needs to be christened.


I guess I should be proud of that, but somehow I’m not. Because it is clear that nowadays for so many Australians—especially young Australians—that is their image of “church”: an old stone building that you visit for christenings and weddings and funerals. That is presumably why “Neighbours”—an unimaginative show that deals in stereotypes—chooses Holy Trinity for church location shooting.


How wonderful if we mentioned “church” and young Australians conjured up images of love and forgiveness and healing and reconciliation. There’s a spiritual emptiness among so many people, but the traditional church does not seem equipped to respond.


When Holy Trinity launched its church expansion appeal I declined to contribute. I can’t say I really know what to do about the spiritual problems of our society, but somehow I feel that right now larger church buildings are not the answer.

May 11th, 2002