15 March 2011

494A Victoria Street (St John's Anglican Church), Brunswick West, VIC, Australia

Now, normally when I rag on a church, it's because I find some aspect of their theology ridiculous or offensive (and being an atheist, this is not an uncommon occurrence). There is a Catholic Church near us that provides us with endless amusement via unintentional double entendres on its messageboard, but the church building itself is pretty imposing. Churches themselves have a habit of being attractive buildings. However, there are a couple of nearby churches that aren't exactly up to the usual standard, and today my focus is on St John's Anglican Church (or St John Chrysostom West Brunswick) on the intersection of Melville Road and one of Melbourne's ten bazillion Victoria Streets.

The front entrance on Victoria Street.
More specifically, today's sermon is about the Sin of Glass Bricks. Some of you may think there is nothing wrong with glass bricks; some of you may even own glass bricks. Well I call upon you to give up your glass bricks and come into the light of truth! No, seriously, what is the purpose of glass bricks?  It's basically like you're trying to give a false impression of openness and transparency while actually trying to stop anybody seeing in. Never mind a basic wall with windows; the front (Victoria Street) entrance to this church is three-quarters glass bricks. "Come on in, we're nice and airy and open ... except we really aren't."

Click for a larger copy and you should easily see the cross pattern.
Now, I don't know anything about this church specifically or its people, so I don't want to slur them directly, nor do I want to turn what is just a light-hearted blog made partly from curiosity and partly from casual revulsion into something overly serious and theological. But glass bricks are honestly quite fitting for many strands of the church organisation in general over history, trying to present an image of openness and light when they're actually a closed shop - especially if you're some sort of homosexual or unmarried sinner. Glass bricks are how you can present a welcoming image when you actually don't particularly want to be welcoming. Plus they can look fairly dirty even when new, an attribute exaggerated by this church. The pattern of a cross is made by some of the glass bricks, but it just looks like they've gone grubby with age and need a good scrub; I initially thought some had acquired a coating of dirt until it twigged that they were in the shape of a cross. This is all not to mention the glaringly obvious: glass bricks are seriously tacky. If the Reject Shop were a window, it would be a glass brick.

The Melville Road side.
As for the building overall, I think they tried. The main body of the church is a big brick edifice (big, I mean, in relation to the surrounding buildings) and it is exactly what you expect out of a church. It seems to follow a fairly tried-and-true traditional style - even if the top has windows that seem straight out of the mid-20th century, complete with an overly obvious cross. "Hey it's funny because the patterns in our window create a cross and we're a church so our symbol is a cross and yeah we're emphasising it REALLY REALLY HEAVILY just so you get it ... so you see it's funny ... and clever." Or not. But at least the main body, a hall I presume, is done right.

Think they ordered "prison tower" instead of "ornate tower".
And then they even decided to go for a tower. Nice big hall, capped by a tower - it should look good, shouldn't it? But this is a case of "good idea, poor execution". Here's a missed opportunity if I've ever seen one. A tower should be a grand statement, something beautiful that draws the eye. If you're going to make anything ornate, if you are going to demonstrate that you are devoted to your god by building him an imposing and gorgeous house of worship, if you are going to make your building a landmark around which the community can gather, then the tower is where you go for glory. Evidently they didn't get this memo. The tower just looks like they decided to lock somebody up the top ("shit, the pastor's gay? Well this'll fix him!"), or they wanted to give pigeons a roost to poop all over and suffocate within. Because they want the pigeons to have a chance to be close to god too ... or something. This doesn't look like a tower for a deity, but a tower for a somewhat petty local authority that thinks it's got some influence but doesn't even command the obedience that your school fete "little Hitlers" manage to acquire. Come to church and worship the mediocrity of our decent but uninspiring council!

St John's, I can see you tried. You're not a bad thing in the community. But those glass bricks? That plain tower? You can do better. Get out the paint cans, at the very least. Replace those glass bricks with something that actually shows off a vibrant faith community.

Rating: Lick o' paint.


  1. You're a mean-spirited jerk, but that doesn't mean you're wrong.

  2. Anonymous, you have no idea how upset I am about not also being called a "mean-spirited jerk". Cuts straight to the heart.

  3. Well that has to be one of the funniest blogs I have seen in a while well done. As the Priest in Charge of St John's Anglican Church I would have to agree with everything in this post. Rest assured we are working on rectifying the situation starting with the pigeons in our tower.

    A little bit of information however, the church burnt down internally in the 90's and was re fitted out then, however the existing shell remains. Perhaps you could do a follow up of what the church looks like internally? Very different from the outside. More than happy to take you through if you like.

    Keep up the good work

    Reverend Phillip Brown


  5. Thanks for your blog and commentary on this church and its buildings. Regrettably this church has become a complete blot on the landscape as well as now serving no useful purpose. There once was a time when the good Vicar of St John's would reach out to the West Brunswick and wider communities with kindness and laughter. People always knew, no matter what your beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, race or anything else, that St John's was a place of kindness and local sanctuary. On that basis, whilst the church buildings looked so dour and uninviting, nearly all in the local community knew it was a joyous and happy place. A credit to the local community and those that entered there.
    However that is no more.
    Instead, St John's has become rather an extremist example of piety and prejudice. Locals no longer feel welcome and many long term parishioners have voted with their feet and gone elsewhere. Regularly the preaching at St John's is about division and hate. The focus instead being on ridiculous literal interpretations of the Old Testament, and the folly of spending large amounts of time trying to argue the toss with Atheists.
    Perhaps this is entirely in keeping with the design of the church buildings and large fences etc, that now the church is almost completely inward looking under its current minister? However that seems such a pity when people all over the local area lament for what once was. A strange looking place, that defied its outward appearance with genuine reaching out to all people of Brunswick no matter what their beliefs or anything else?

    1. Well I stumbled on this yesterday.

      What an interesting post? A comment on theology and ministry on a blog about buildings.

      As the defamed vicar I think a couple of observations are in order.

      1. Why hasn't the author identified him/herself? What do they fear?

      2. Locals of St Johns are now welcomed more than ever. Our recent AGM reported more people worshiping at St Johns than in the past 10 years. Clearly an example of outreach to a community that welcomes this ministry.

      3. As to our inward looking, clearly this strategy has worked to connect more with the Brunswick Community.

      4. As to local west Brunswick member not welcomed, this is simply false and misleading, would the author please identify any members that are not welcomed if they can? More to the point families are returning to St Johns after leaving because of how good the the ministry is.

      5. As to preaching with division and hate, instead of evidence, the author offers their own brand of hate and separateness by posting on this blog in such a coward and divisive manner. I would question the inauthentic position of this post by pointing out the hypocritical nature of the comments already made.

      I would be more than happy to dialogue with this person if they have the nonce to put their name to their post.

      Reverend Phillip Brown

      November 26, 2012 8:13 PM