When she was ordained as an Anglican priest in 2005, Linda Chapman had a vision to bring together people who were seeking something different to the usual Sunday service.
- Everyone is welcome to share a spiritual experience at the Open Sanctuary at Tilba Tillba
- Founding members from different faiths share the role of leading the church gatherings
- The Open Sanctuary is a tiny, timber church originally consecrated as Anglican
That vision came to life in a tiny timber church at the foot of the sacred Gulaga mountain at Tilba Tilba, on the New South Wales far south coast.
The church was consecrated as a Holy Trinity Anglican church, but it is now known as Open Sanctuary.
People from wildly diverse spiritual and philosophical backgrounds — from practising and lapsed church members to followers of Buddhism and other eastern traditions, to atheists — come together for a shared spiritual practice.
The members of Open Sanctuary meet at the Holy Trinity Anglican church at Tilba Tilba. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)
Reverend Chapman grew up in a family that was Anglican, but not church-going.
In her late 20s, she was introduced to the writings of Christian mystics and contemplatives.
Her path eventually led to ordination, but she knew she didn’t want to become a rector leading a parish.
“My own experience has been through silence and meditation,” Reverend Chapman said.
“The contemplative expression of Christianity has always been part of a tradition in the Anglican church, and I had felt very fortunate to have encountered that and wanted to create that space for other people.”
Core of any religion is the same
Open Sanctuary remains part of the Anglican diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, and Reverend Chapman is the Priest in Charge.
But she says there is no hierarchy, and founding members from different faiths share the role of leading the gatherings.
Lyndall Magnusseson, a founding member and verger at Open Sanctuary, said that all her life she had “trawled through theology and various faiths, eastern and western, and wondered why someone would commit to one certain faith”.
“In any faith or religion, when you get to the core of what it really is, it’s the same. And some people never get to the basic core of what it is.”
Open Sanctuary welcomes people from all spiritual traditions. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)
Open Sanctuary members meet in the evening on the second Saturday of the month for a gathering usually inspired by a theme or topic.
There will be readings and discussion, song, and a period of silence.
There is also a quiet day on the fourth Friday of each month for meditation and prayer.
“The readings that I do could come from a Rumi poem, or Benedictine theology. There’s also a group called the Desert Fathers and I’ll take readings from there,” said Ms Magnusseson.
“It’s broad, and others who take the service are just as broad.”
A fundamental need
Reverend Chapman is also the rector of the parish of Moruya, which she described as a more traditional ‘middle way’ Anglican church.
She sees her role in serving the Open Sanctuary community as complementary to the more traditional role of parish priest.
“We live in a time of radical discontinuity, we’ve chopped our traditions off at the roots because we think they’re no good, and we’re rushing on to the next thing.
“But we really miss a lot of wisdom when we do that,” Reverend Chapman said.
The members of Open Sanctuary respect the heritage of the Anglican church in Tilba Tilba where they meet. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)
“Religion itself, the [Latin] word ‘religio’, means to bring back together, so it’s meant to be about wholeness-making.
“And frankly, the church has not always been good at that.
“But I think there is a fundamental need of all human beings to share together in that exploration of the mystery of life.
“Not to have definite answers, not to be dogmatic, but to recognise who we are, and to make that inquiry together.”
Readings, discussion song and silence are welcome at the Open Sanctuary. (ABC South East NSW: Vanessa Milton)