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St Johns Southgate

13 Feb 2012

Designing a special place

Whenever architect David Cole is in Southgate, whatever else he is doing, there is one place he almost always visits – St Johns.

Mr Cole’s connection to the place is special. He was the man who designed it two decades ago.

On the fourth Sunday of next month St Johns Southgate celebrates the 20th anniversary of its dedication on March 22, 1992. In keeping with the very purpose of the church, the festivities will be a community affair.

Mr Cole describes the Southgate project, with St Johns very much at its heart, as “one of the most special commissions’’ he and his company, now known as The Buchan Group, have had.

“(St Johns) was a critical part of creating a mixed use development – a truly mixed use development with such an interesting diversity of uses that a church brought.  But most of all what I recall from that time was the abiding commitment of St Johns to maintain its urban mission in that place and it’s gone from strength to strength over those 20 years in delivering that urban mission for the Lutheran Church and the community.”

Mr Cole says the St Johns congregation had a very clear idea of what it wanted.

The congregation was replacing church buildings that had stood for more than 60 years a little to the west along City Rd of the present location that had to give way in the construction of Southgate, a project that triggered the redevelopment of the entire Southbank precinct.

James Bittner, a member of the congregation who had a key role in building the new church, recalls how people were saddened by the move but grasped firmly the opportunities it presented.

“Our guiding principle was to honour the legacy of the 60 church members who, in the mid-1920s had the vision and faith to purchase land at 50 City Rd and to build the original St Johns church,” Mr Bittner said. “It was exciting for us to continue and expand on that vision of mission to the city of Melbourne.”

What the people of St Johns got was a striking building and facilities that still paid regard to traditional ecclesiastical architecture and, symbolically, contained key elements of the old St Johns, including a small chapel furnished with artefacts from the previous church.

A new centre-piece was the wonderful Knud Smenge pipe organ, built in Australia in a German baroque style perfectly suited to the glorious music of JS Bach.

So how does St Johns work today, in the midst of the bustling Southbank community?

“St Johns has something to offer almost every demographic group in the inner city,” says St Johns chair Patricia Buchanan.

“We welcome a regular playgroup on Tuesday mornings, a friendship group for all ages meets monthly and there are opportunities for international and other students to meet, eat and socialise. As well as worship services, enhanced by a world-class music program, children look forward to the Sunday school and hospitality is extended through morning teas and lunches every Sunday.

“St Johns hosts weddings and classical concert performances in the nave, meetings and seminars in the boardroom or the multi-purpose function room as well as more informal gatherings in the lounge. It is also our privilege to offer our church for funeral and memorial services.”

“St Johns has become a community hub,” she says. David Cole agrees.

“I always pop quietly into St Johns whenever I am in Southgate. I am a regular anonymous visitor and it still feels a wonderful building and feels like it was designed and delivered fit for its purpose as a worship space and as a centre for St Johns urban mission and also for various other uses it has in opening its doors to the wider community.”

St Johns is celebrating its anniversary on March 25 in a service conducted by Pastor Ian Vainikka, featuring wonderful music and followed by a hearty lunch. You are very welcome to attend.

For further details contact St Johns Southgate on 9682 4995.


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