The argument about which is the oldest church in Australia continues. Which one was started first? Which one was completed first? Which one conducted its first service? Which one was consecrated first?
Without a doubt, Australia's oldest church building (1809) is at Ebenezer in Sydney's west. The oldest church in Sydney is St. James consecrated in 1824. But that's Sydney city. Tricky.
Then there's the fight between the Francis Greenway designed Anglican churches of St. Matthew's at Windsor and St Luke's at Liverpool.
The corner stone for St Matthew's Windsor was laid October 1817 while building of St Luke's commenced in 1818 with the laying of the foundation stone in April 7 of that year by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.
He wrote in his diary: "This morning … I went through the ceremony of laying the corner foundation stone of the church, naming it 'St. Luke's Church'. My dear son Lachlan assisted me in a very active and manly manner to lay the foundation stone of St. Luke's Church."
A gift of three gallons of rum was issued to the contractors and workmen.
It took a further six years to fully complete the church due to arguments between the renowned convict architect Francis Greenway and its builders. The church was however complete enough to conduct its first service on St Luke's Day 18 October 1819 almost two years before Windsor's St Matthew's which was also dogged by Greenway's pig-headed and difficult ways.
There were also some tragic accidents during its construction phase. The first builder Nathanial Lucas, a convict on the first fleet, was found drowned in the nearby Georges River shortly after Macquarie laid the foundation stone. A convict was found hanged in the tower and three convicts were killed by lightning while sheltering in the clock tower during a storm.
The church's design is based on a simple Georgian model that was popular during the early 19th century and typical of early Australian colonial architecture. It was built totally with convict labour and made out of locally produced bricks and cedar timber and still retains its original Macquarie era clock, a gift from King George III. Not surprisingly, it struggles to keep good time.
Several of the impressive stained glass windows are memorials to early pioneering families including the prolific Bull family. The walls contain a number of memorials to early families of the area including the Bossley, Ashcroft and Killinger families. One eye catching memorial is to Rachael Moore, wife of Thomas Moore, one of Liverpool's earliest settlers. Thomas Moore would later become the benefactor of Moore Theological College where men and women trained for the Christian ministry.
There have been only minor modifications over the years.The gallery at the rear of the church where convicts sat was demolished. A chancel was added in 1860 and an aside porch was added in 1923.
Quite bizarrely, the consecration of St Luke's was somehow overlooked after its completion. It wasn't until someone realised the error at the centenary of Thomas Moore's Theological Collage in 1956 when the ceremony was belatedly conducted.
The St. Luke's of today still appears to be as relevant as ever and is the centre of a very vibrant Christian community. The 10.30 service attracted a big friendly congregation with people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds. As a visitor, I attracted plenty of attention! The service is strictly Bible based but with a small musical band to back the mix of traditional and modern hymns. The senior minister is a band member and plays a mean flute.
Liverpool is fortunate to have this small simple 'village' church in its heritage arsenal. It is a rare surviving historic monument to Liverpool's convict origins. Its construction in what was still a frontier town played a vital role in the early development of Australian nation building thanks to the vision of Governor Macquarie.
You can view the interior of the church during any of its three Sunday services.