St Mary & St Mina Coptic Church

December 2, 2011

This church is slated for demolition so will be the subject for a forthcoming plein air meeting of the Marrickville Sketching Group. The group, as part of its brief of visual reportage, is keen to record something of the building before it vanishes.

Here are some contextual photos:

   

Background

Open air services for Methodists had been conducted at Cooks River Tempe from November 1838, so use of buildings for services indoors and the eventual construction of churches naturally followed. The first was around 1842 and 1843 at the corner of King Street and Erskineville Road and a church school was set up at 47 Hart Street in 1885 (sold in 1902, becoming a private residence). Then along came a church at 24A Railway Road, known as Tempe Park Methodist Church. A foundation stone was laid on 11 April 1884 and the church was opened on 20 July 1884. The church was part of a larger Newtown circuit and secured its own minister in 1888. The congregation grew and with a Sunday school came a larger church and Sunday school opened in 1902. Associated with this church were prominent locals, builder James Fallick and brickmaker William H. Toyer (note Toyer Street, Tempe).

The church was sold in 1968 and re-consecrated as St Mary and St Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, overseen by the first Coptic Orthodox priest, Fr Mina Namatalla to arrive in Australia who provided succour to the sizeable numbers in nearby St Peters and Tempe of Copts, Arabic-speaking Egyptians from Egypt. St Mina was a Roman soldier who became a Christian and retired to the desert to become a holy hermit.

Migrant arrivals from Egypt needed to settle into a new way of life here in Australia and the Coptic church assisted in finding accommodation, jobs, learning English and purchasing cars. The Sydenham church was an important step-up from meeting on Sunday afternoons at the Church of England parish in Artarmon. In 2003, there were 70,000 Copts in Sydney out of population nationwide of 100,000. Fr Namatalla conducted the first service on Australian soil in Melbourne, on his way to Sydney, on 21 January 1969, followed by a first Coptic wedding ceremony on 26 January 1969 in a converted Salvation Army hall in Redfern. The first liturgy in the newly-purchased Sydenham Church, built on the back of finances provided by the Coptic community,  took place a year later, on 29 March 1970. St Mary and St Mina Church is currently to be found in nearby Bexley, having moved there in 2001.

There have only been minor changes to the exterior of this church since 1968. The interior was re-decorated in traditional Coptic manner, divided into two sections by a barrier of icons, one for the priest and one for the congregation. Women and men sat separately.

During 1992-1994, the suburb of Sydenham underwent radical surgery. The church and surrounding land were rendered uninhabitable by aircraft noise as a result of the opening of Kingsford Smith’s third east-west runway, so 152 buildings, mainly two-storey Victorian terrace houses, covering some 4.5 hectares were demolished. Ownership of the church building transferred from the Federal Government to Marrickville Council. With a lack of community groups who might fund its renovation and provide the church building with a new lease of life, it has fallen into disrepair.  

References

Chrys Meader, Richard Cashman & Anne Carolan. Marrickville: People and Places: a social history of Marrickville, Newtown, Camperdown, Petersham, Stanmore, St Peters, Tempe & Dulwich Hill. Hale & Ironmonger, 1994.

http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/sydenham

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