How do you begin to describe a place that leaves you filled with wonder and wanting more? On my first work day in Australia, I drove south from Sydney to Wollongong early on Monday morning to meet with educational leaders at the University of Wollongong. Nervous about my meeting, I did not stop on my way there to do any “sightseeing,” but, on my way back, I had time to do so and was glad that I did. When I looked back at the way I had come, I saw the city of Wollongong, stretching out along the southwest coast as far as the eye could see. Wollongong is trapped between some high steep hills and the ocean and, with a sky that was filled with clouds, it was unbelievably lush and beautiful that day. I had noticed that lushness when I was driving through the streets of the city earlier. There are big trees and parks everywhere. The campus of Wollongong University itself has a duck pond in the center by the library and the student center and it was fun to take time to watch the ducks. It was a good reminder that there is more to life than hard work, classrooms and study. Yet, Wollongong University ranks No. 3 in Australia for its Teacher Preparation programs. More than 1/3 of its students are international students, drawn from all over Asia, Europe and, surprisingly, the United States.
One of the first friends that I made on my Australian adventure was Rev. Margaret Mayman, pastor of Pitt Street Uniting Church. The Uniting Church of Australia is one of the many international church partners of the Church of Christ in Thailand, so it was natural for me to seek her out. I participated in Sunday morning worship and then in their monthly adult education class following the fellowship hour. After that, Margaret and I went to lunch in the Queen Victoria Building about two blocks from the church. Over lunch, we had a lively conversation about the church and the purpose of my visit to Australia. She helped me to understand the relative size of the Uniting Church and its origins. The Uniting Church has about 200,000 members from congregations that had been Presbyterian, Congregational, and Methodist who came together in an ecumenical body in 1977. That makes it about the same size as the Church of Christ in Thailand that was formed from Disciple, Presbyterian, and Baptist roots in 1934. She also helped me to understand that the Uniting Church is the only religious body in Australia that is fully inclusive. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church in Australia are far more conservative. We talked about the challenge of being a downtown church in an aging building with an aging congregation. Margaret talked about her hopes of sharing the building with the community for downtown events and her hope of drawing more Millennials in through their social justice ministries. (See below for more photos of the church and its windows.)
During the week, I visited downtown Sydney several times, on my way to other meetings at the Uniting World office, the University of Technology in Sydney and the University of Sydney. I was always passing Town Hall, which is a beautiful colonial structure in the center of the Central Business District (CBD). Sydney is in the process of adding streetcars to certain areas, so construction barriers were evident everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy public transportation was in the CBD. Town Hall itself has a train station underground. My Opal card allowed me to travel by train, bus, and ferry, topping up at any station along the way with my credit card. The weather was ideal all week! (See below for more of the CBD of Sydney.)
One of the most lushly beautiful campuses I visited was the campus of Australian Catholic University in Strathfield. Of course, I love old buildings and lots of green space and ACU had all of that in spades. It just made everything better to meet Professor Shakri Sanber and to begin to imagine a partnership between ACU and the Church of Christ in Thailand. (More images of ACU and Strathfield below.)
I was close to Sydney Harbour Bridge with a view of the Opera House twice during my trip. I posted two different photographs in my last blog post: One of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney and one from under the Harbour Bridge in North Sydney. I would like to close this post with a another view of the Sydney Opera House – this time from Bradfield Park in North Sydney.