By Rev Ian Turnnidge
Architecture tells a story. The iconic building that is St John’s UC at Cowes is one of the few of architectural significance here.
Designed by Paul Archibald, its distinctive copper roof represents a ship’s keel, which is appropriate, given St John was a fisherman and we live by the sea.
The church, which is on the island known to the Boon Wurrung People as Millowl, opened in 1975 and, five years later, an illuminated cross was added to the street-facing wall.
In the past two years of pandemic, we have wondered what message our closed building said to the wider community. One night I installed some “blue icicle” Christmas lights in our glass hallway that could be seen glowing into the night from the street.
However, I was left with the question, “What does that illuminated cross say to the generations who have not grown up with the stories of Jesus?” I’ve also been thinking “where else do we see crosses around rural Victoria?” and the answer is, “on roadside memorials”. Is this the connection people make with the Church?
We recently renovated the illuminated cross, and turned it into the Uniting Church logo. What started as a little dream was taken on by a small team of members; some with woodwork skills and connections to the local Men’s Shed, others with engineering and drafting skills: some even discovered they had signwriting skills.
The renovation has brought with it an opportunity to re-engage in understanding ourselves and our movement. A new member to St John’s always thought the large ‘u’ at the base of the symbol was a boat: another wondered why the dove was red? Some of our members had never considered why the symbol was a circle or why it was coloured black.
We have been learning a simple story of the logo: “In a darkened world (the circle backdrop), the Light of Christ shines (note the cross is Light not white); empowered by the Holy Spirit, (the Dove: the red flame of Pentecost), in the work of the Gospel that draws us all together in Christ (the wide ‘u’ at the base).”
What we had not expected was the symbol’s three-dimensional nature to be so remarkable. Whether it is seen during the day or illuminated at night, there is a dynamic aspect of the dove hovering over the cross and the literal illumination of the cross in the “darkened world” creates a visual story you don’t achieve with the two-dimensional logo.
So, what does the renovation of the cross say to our wider community? Well, it has certainly been noticed by the locals. It has started conversations about the story of the Gospel by explaining what the symbol means. It has also reminded ourselves of who we are and how we live the Gospel in our time and space.
The dynamic of the Holy Spirit (in 3D) has been a helpful reminder in ministry together as a congregation to rely, rest into, look for, and breathe God’s Spirit in all we undertake as a congregation.
Does the symbol tell a more meaningful story than a simple cross to the generations who don’t know Jesus’s stories? I’m not sure, but what I do know is I’ve had a lot more conversation about faith and Jesus’s message since we installed the symbol.
Rev Ian Turnnidge is Minister at St John’s UC, Cowes