Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some reflections on what it is to be church in the city of Sydney. Day 1: Sydney is Sydney.
Sydney isn’t New York. The closest we come to the high-density urban burroughs of Manhattan and Queens is Surry Hills, which is predominantly middle-rise. The CBD is a place Sydneysiders go to work but avoid on the weekend. Our most desirable suburbs are in the city fringe, not the city centre, and this means lower-density populations.
Sydney isn’t London. Our urban locations are fragmented and isolated; London is everywhere linked by the omnipresent Tube. In Sydney, all roads lead to the CBD (or, at least, to Central). Broadway and Pyrmont, the two centres of our parish, have no direct public transport connection. As a result, even in the city, we expect to drive and park.
Sydney isn’t Seattle. We are twice the size, and 5 times the cost. Once, when I was considering doing a PhD in Chicago, I spoke to a local real estate agent about the cost of living in the US. She told me sadly that if I wanted to buy a new three-bedroom terrace I could expect to pay up to $185,000. ROFL. There are no cheap factories waiting to be converted into mega-churches in the inner city of Sydney.
What this means is that whatever may work at Redeemer Presbyterian, St Helen’s Bishopsgate or Mars Hill Church, may not be immediately transferable to Sydney.
And one last note: we are irreligious. Deeply, abidingly, in-our-boots irreligious. When asked, 44% of Americans claim they went to church in the last week, and more skeptical studies indicate that perhaps 22% of them actually did. Our figures are more like 7% and 3.5%, depending on who you ask.
Sydney is Sydney, and nowhere else.