St John's Anglican Church, Surat, will be closing on May 4.
St John's Anglican Church, Surat, will be closing on May 4. Wendy Newman

Church closure a sign of the times

A DEDICATED few are left to look after St John's Anglican Church in Surat, and only a handful still make it to the regular services held by Father Graham Warren.

The travelling Anglican priest is heartbroken to see the historic house of worship close for good, but with the writing on the wall, Fr Warren believes the closure is a sign of the times in the bush.

"I think it is very sad for us to do this, but it's not as though it is anything more than what many country towns are suffering,” he said.

"They are losing their childcare centres, their shops, their hotels, the churches and even the schools - there is a lot of services which are not viable any more in country towns.

"It is part of rural Australia: not just people leaving the bush, but centralisation around places like Roma.

"It is just part of the way the bush is changing.”

The dwindling numbers in the Sunday services which led to the closing of the church are a far cry from Surat's proud history as a town which rode on the sheep's back.

"There was a time when Surat was a very wealthy community, based on wool, and it was the centre for what we had originally in this part of the world, which was the Bush Brotherhood,” Fr Warren said.

"They had a centre in Charleville, and spanned throughout southwest Queensland with a number of bases, and one of them was in Surat.

"Those were the people who first set up the church at Surat, and it would have been in the early part of the 20th century.

"There had been a church there before that, but it was the Bush Brotherhood who put it on the map.”

St John's Surat has been a part of the community since 1879, when it was established on land purchased from the Crown.

The original church was built there and used up until September 12, 1937, and then re-building work on the current church began on the following day.

The modified church radically altered the design of the original building, and the re-build was completed on December 28, 1937, before the Archbishop came to carry out the dedication on April 23, 1938.

Interior of St John's Church, Surat, taken shortly after the it was rebuilt in the last 1930s.
Interior of St John's Church, Surat, taken shortly after the it was rebuilt in the last 1930s. Contributed

The church in Surat will hold its Easter and Anzac Day services over the coming week, before the last service in early May.

"The bishop will come out to do the closing service and decommission the church,” said Fr Warren.

"So it will remain intact until then, and after that we can have the discussions with the community.

"What we have decided is that everything that is in the sanctuary will be re-purposed in other churches if they need it.

"But if we can determine that there is no particular need among the churches, most of it will be in school chapels.

"If they don't want it then we will have a conversation with the Cobb & Co Museum about mounting some sort of a display that might include some of the articles from the chapel.

"One of the things we would like to do is memorialise the work of the Bush Brotherhood, who have been evangelising southwest Queensland, and we think anything that is done should focus on the work they did.”

St John the Divine will hold its last service on May 4, at 3.30pm.


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