On a Big Lap and prayer … nomads on the church trail

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Grey nomads and churches
The Catholic church in Beagle Bay, WA, is a popuar tourist attraction Pic: Ashleigh Banks, The Record

While many grey nomads are reluctant to discuss religion around the campfire, they are generally more than happy to visit the fascinating country churches that are so central to understanding Australian history.

Indeed, places of worship are commonly the first port of call for travellers seeking to get to grips with a new town. From impressive stone edifices with glorious stained glass windows to humble timber buildings, each of Australia’s churches has a story to tell.

However, with a decline in interest in organised religion combined with a shrinking population, many Outback churches are struggling to stay viable.

And that’s where grey nomads come in.

Just as some country pubs are looking to long-term travellers to help them flourish, so too are an increasing number of churches. A classic case is the Sacred Heart Church at Beagle Bay on the Kimberley coast.  The church – with its gleaming white exterior and stunning inlaid pearl shell altar – draws a steady stream of grey nomads up the long dirt track from Broome.

“I think that they’re most struck by the fact that we have this extraordinary church in what seems like the middle of nowhere,” said assistant priest, Christopher Knapman.

The church remains busy, both as a tourist attraction and a place of worship, with regular services held on the weekends.

Not all places are as lucky though. In the 25 years he has been priest of the sprawling Mount Isa parish, Father Michael Lowcock says the congregation at the Catholic church has shrunk by a third.

Reverend Helen Ferguson, who also caters to the needs of a huge parish in New South Wales, says grey nomads are always welcome at the churches she serves in Broken Hill, Wilcannia, White Cliffs, Menindee, and Tibooburra.

“We currently enjoy the company of travellers at both services in Broken Hill and we would average 10 people per month” she said. “We have a prayer card that we give to travellers and they are most appreciative.”

There is a bi-monthly service held at the church at Wilcannia, which Reverend Ferguson describes as the ‘jewel of the Outback’.

“We are currently renovating the church with all work done by volunteers with a love for this magnificent building that must be seen to be believed,” she said.

Not all of the churches in the parish have regular services any more, though. In White Cliffs, for example, they are held ‘as needed’, but there is always one in May when the annual Music Festival is held.

“This service is wonderful,” said Reverend Ferguson. “And there are many grey nomads in this congregation that packs the little stone white-washed church to overflowing.”

  • Do you have a favourite church you have ‘discovered’ on your Big Lap? Comment below

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5 Responses to On a Big Lap and prayer … nomads on the church trail

  1. Would it be possible for S/C Grey Nomads to stay 72 hours in the country church car parks. maybe have a visitors book with jobs volunteers can assist with during their rest from travelling or safe haven from approaching storms.

    • What a great idea. If there is a gravesite, maybe clean up

    • Brilliant idea.

    • Great idea, churches do it tough, and there is never enough volunteers to do weeding, and cleaning up. Plus the presence of more people would be a good thing. Donations should be made for the overnight stay as well.

  2. Lesley’s idea sounds great – many churches and associated grave plots would benefit from a caring tidy up – I would certainly participate in such a scheme.

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