Small in size, big in heart: Murray Bridge cathedral

Kingdom's cosiest outpost: Anglican priest Father George Kirreh is Rector of Australia's smallest cathedral, St John the Baptist at Murray Bridge.
Kingdom's cosiest outpost: Anglican priest Father George Kirreh is Rector of Australia's smallest cathedral, St John the Baptist at Murray Bridge.

The word "cathedral" usually conjures visions of majestic domes, cavernous echoes and stone towers silhouetted against a city skyline, earthly interpretations of a mighty and powerful kingdom of God.

But visitors to Murray Bridge's St John the Baptist Cathedral would gain a different impression: perhaps one closer to the humble character of the rabbi in whose honour it was built.

At something like 20-metres by 8-metres, it is the smallest cathedral in Australia, and was for some time the smallest in the world.

Its pews could fit about 130 people on a particularly auspicious Sunday, though parishioners might have to tuck in their elbows.

For George Kirreh, the rector who ministers to the Murraylands' Anglicans and the wider community, it is a starting point.

"People think size is a big cathedral, but a cathedral of the church, it's not buildings as much as people's hearts and the love of God in it," he said.

"This is an earthly structure; we have a better structure with God and his love.

"That's the uniqueness of this cathedral, which is small in shape but big in heart."

It was built at a cost of 434 pounds, 10 shillings and consecrated on February 4, 1887, after two years of services led by the Reverend WJ Bussell at the Bridgeport Hotel.

The church became a pro-cathedral in 1979 when the Church of England became the Anglican Church of Australia, and elevated to a cathedral in 2002 when the third Bishop of the Diocese of the Murray, Ross Owen Davies, was enthroned in 2002.

Yet despite all its history, Mr Kirreh said the 128-year-old building's leadlight windows, the crucifix above the altar, even the seat of the Bishop of the Diocese of the Murray were important only as a backdrop for the people who gathered there.

"It doesn't matter up there," he said, encircling it all with a pointed finger.

"Yes, we have stained glass windows up there perfectly, that's very good, all churches I have seen have got stained glass, a similar shape; but the whole concept of that is shaped by the spirit of God and the Lord Jesus Christ."

The same influence shaped the cathedral's congregation, he said, a loving-hearted group of people with many different strengths.

"Instead of pressing the point to the community, we're part of (it) and they're part of us," he said.

"This partnership comes from the love of God, who loves everyone, not just particular people."

Their faith pours out during the annual celebration of Epiphany, the revelation of Jesus Christ to mankind, at Sturt Reserve; and in quieter ways such as the provision of the Anglican op shop just off Clara Street.

"It's not for profit; it's for helping the needy, the people who can't afford to buy new clothes at a reasonable price," he said.

"We're also involved in ... having sausage sizzles at Bunnings and the shopping centre from time to time, which helps the presence of the church in the community, letting them know we're here to pray and do other things to show the love of God to the community."

He hoped the broader Christian church would grow from the stout stone roots it had put down at the cathedral and elsewhere.

"The most important task God put us here to do is to continue being involved in communities in the love of God, and being known as disciples of God in Murray Bridge ... to serve the community and to be served by the community in the sense of acceptance and understanding," he said.

"Of course as missionaries we are, as Jesus said, to care for the poor, be passionate for the needy, to help the needy, to care about communities and the environment as well, and to pray for the community and sick people as well.

"I hope that's what we do.

"We're human beings, but with the help of God we can do this."

Clap your hands inside the cathedral and you will hear no echo; look from a distance and it might not tower above the skyline.

But the people who gather there can still leave their mark on the Murraylands in their own, humble ways.

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