Thursday, January 28, 2010

Religion in (Aussie) public spaces

While channel surfing last nite (looking for the tennis) I heard the announcement, that a “Father Bob” was the upcoming TV feature.

“Father Bob.” The name sounded potentially religious, and since my interests are in how church relates to society, I thought I’d pause the tennis and check out this “Father Bob.”

Sure enough, on came Father Bob. He was an elderly gentleman. Full of cheer. Who seemed to be linked to a church. Who had a news assignment that, of checking out the Big Day Out. Cruising around, checking out the merchandise, interviewing band members (Powderfinger) and Big Day Out concert attendees, asking what would it take for them to come to his church. Then back to the studio and Father Bob continues his dialogue with the panel.

My mouth is hitting the floor.

You’d never seen anything like this on New Zealand TV. Priests and ministers only appear in the public media in relation to scandals and moral issues. They’re on the back foot, under the pump. Yet here, on prime time Aussie TV, at a prime time slot (7 pm), is a priest. Being portrayed in a human, humane and humerous way, helping carry a news story.

Is this unique to Father Bob? Or does this actually suggest that Australia is less secularised than New Zealand? And that the church has a much higher acceptance in the public (Aussie) space?

Oh, and the answer to Father Bob’s question: “What would it take for them to come to his church?” (Man I hate that question and the way it reduces mission to church attendance and spirituality to come-to-us consumption)

Question: What would it take for them to come to his church?
Ans: Music. Get some bands in. Entertain the back row. Get your hands in the air.

Posted by steve at 08:22 PM


  1. I have just started attending a church that has a live band in it. the atmosphere is just so amazing, people are up jumping around. people are holding their hands up to the lord. they even have a little mosh pit up the front. The church is full of younger people that have such a desire to want to know God.It also has a fair amount of older people attend I myself feel I have a whole new lease on my faith. so I am going to agree with having a band and having your hands in the air part.

    Comment by Melaine — January 28, 2010 @ 9:01 pm

  2. and i suspect that if he did that the people who actually do go to his church – mostly elderly and very vulnerable people who live on the fringe of the community and don’t feel welcome anywhere else – would no longer know it as their home…

    he’s an extraordinary person – completely mad, absolutely wonderful.

    welcome to australia – looking forward to seeing you in march.

    Comment by cheryl — January 28, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

  3. i should also say that his church is already pretty full each week

    Comment by cheryl — January 28, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

  4. Could they not have a church service for the people that want the bands and the hands in the air and the people in the back row loving it also. just another time. so there is still the regular service that the people that attended that are still happy to attend. and then a different one for the the people that would be happier attending that one aswell.
    I myself still love my regular church service at obc but I also love being able to attended this other church because it offers a new way for me to engage with the lord that fits with the type of person that I am

    Comment by Melaine — January 28, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

  5. steve, you’ll have to learn more about father bob for the answer to your questions. he’s a ‘aussie’ ‘character’ and also ‘religious’. a peculiarly irreverent combination of many things. many australians would be drawn to him for the combination of faith and irreverence.

    hmm… i have to work out whether to stop commenting on your blog now…

    Comment by craig mitchell — January 29, 2010 @ 1:26 am

  6. I don’t have any insightful comments to add – I’m just really enjoying your fresh angle/critique on all things Australian!

    Comment by Michelle — January 29, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  7. Hi Steve, welcome to Australia. Fr. Bob is sort of an ‘iconic’ Australian Catholic priest – Irish lineage (think Ned kelly), anti-establishment, pro-working class & the poor, outspoken, irreverent, humorous and everything many non-church going Australians seem to like: and I like much of what he says too, I must say. As the other ‘bloggers’ have noted above, he is unique. But a good question to ask is; does the Australian church need more Fr. Bobs?

    Comment by Chris McLeod — January 31, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

  8. thanks all for your comments. looks like i have some research to do! good stuff.

    i do wonder if something about Father bob’s irreverence might say something about what it means to communicate and live Christian faith in Aussie soils – that sense (to put it positively) of earthy, humour.


    Comment by steve — January 31, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

  9. Father Bob is a one-off – maybe not too different from other priests but he’s become a minor celebrity:

    Also of note is that the Catholic Church in Melbourne is bigger with strong Irish heritage while in Adelaide it is a lot more Italian.

    Comment by Eric — February 1, 2010 @ 6:52 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.