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Blessed to be a Blessing!




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National Christian Heritage Sunday

Churches across the country celebrated the 225th anniversary of the first known Christian Service held in Australia, which was conducted by the Reverend Richard Johnson on the 3rd February 1788, the second Sunday after the First Fleet arrived on 26 January 1788.

His proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was based on Psalm 116:12: "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?"

The First Divine Service held on a grassy hill under a tree:

The First Divine Service held on a grassy hill under a tree:

This first Divine service conducted by the Chaplain on Australian soil was an impressive occasion with careful preparations observed. The convicts being ordered to 'appear as clean as circumstances will admit...' and 'No Man to be Absent On Any Account Whatever'. The guard was to be changed earlier than usual, so as to give those who had been relieved 'time to cleanse themselves before Church', and the 'Church Drum' was to beat at 10 o'clock.

This service took place on 3rd February 1788. The first Fleet had been in Sydney Cove the previous Sunday, 27th January, after 9 months at sea, but no service was held until some semblance of order had been created onshore. Johnson would no doubt have been impressed by the special nature of this occasion and would have chosen his text and prepared his sermon with some care.

The content of the sermon has not survived but the text was Psalm 116 verse 12; 'What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?'

This verse is set in a context which was particularly appropriate for the occasion as it reflects the experience of someone who has undergone severe and repeated sufferings but has survived to give thanks to God for his safe deliverance. Johnson would very likely have drawn his congregation's attention to the way in which the experience of those who had arrived in the First Fleet was parallel to the experience of the psalmist, and then gone on to urge them to respond to God's benefits in the way suggested by verse 13: 'I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.'

The sense of relief and gratitude at having finally landed in an area that at least looked comparatively promising would thus have given the Chaplain the opportunity to speak to the situation of both convicts and soldiers in a meaningful way and this would account for the manner in which the congregation responded. The service was well received.

Lieutenant-Captain Watkin Tench wrote that the behaviour of both the troops and convicts was 'equally regular and attentive'.

Two weeks later on February 17, Rev. Johnson celebrated the first Communion in the colony. The service was held in Lieutenant Ralph Clark's tent, borrowed for the occasion. The event was recorded by Clark in his journal. 'I will keep this Table also as long as I live for it is the first Table that ever the Lord's Supper was eat of in this country.'


Was personally, deliberately hand chosen by William Wilberforce and John Newton as the first Chaplain for Australia!

For twelve years Richard Johnson worked and ministered in the

colony. He engaged in regular ministrations in Sydney, Toongabbie and Parramatta and Norfolk Island where he made a 3 month visit in 1791.

Records dated up to 1792, state that Richard had conducted 226 baptisms, 220 marriages and 854 burials.

Richard Johnson also took part in short exploring expeditions, was a successful market gardener and thought of as the best gardener in the New Colonies!

He was a compassionate, committed and devout servant of Jesus Christ and to all sections of the colony. He was loved and well received by all he ministered to: freemen, convicts or aborigines!

Richard Johnson was the pioneer of education in New South Wales. He was concerned for the education of all children – whether they belong to convicts or to freemen. By March 1792, he had set up schools on Sydney, Parramatta and on Norfolk Island. By 1798, the school in Sydney (which is also commemorated by a plaque in on the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets) had 150 students.


Australia has been richly blessed by the goodness and mercy of God. There is so much as a nation, for which we need to give thanks to our Heavenly Father as we reflect, on our parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and worship, our legal system and the independence of our courts of law.

Today, on this 225th anniversary may we pause and recognise the Lord's benefits to this nation and give him thanks for our Christian heritage that has made Australia the great nation it is today. As we look to the future may we seek together to preserve our Christian heritage. May we continue to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ for the good of all and the honour of his name, in the sure knowledge that: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11)

Psalm 116 verse 12;

'What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?'

It's our response too today - let us continue to write the Church's history!


The following is the prayer of Thanksgiving which Churches are invited to include in their service on 3 February 2013.

Let us pray. Our loving Heavenly Father we come before you individually and as a nation to thank you for your goodness to us, on this the 225th anniversary of the first proclamation of your loving and merciful message of salvation, brought to this country by your servant the Reverend Richard Johnson and for the Christian faith that was established throughout this land by our pioneers.