Denham Court Anglican boasts of being Australia’s oldest former private chapel still in use for church services.

The church building, St Mary the Virgin Denham Court, was originally built in 1838 as a private chapel in memory of Richard and Christiana Brooks of “Denham Court”.  Richard Brooks died in 1833 having been gored by a bull.  Christiana died shortly after in 1835.  The church building was erected over their graves.

Set on six sprawling acres of beautiful land on Church Road, the newly restored church is now home to a vibrant and evolving Anglican community.

Minister Richard Mills has been running services at Denham Court Anglican Church for the last four years, and has witnessed the demographic of the parish community grow and change. In recent years, more young families have started attending services too, and the parish has tried to encourage this younger demographic to keep attending through a range of weekly activities.

Their Sunday School and playgroup every Tuesday are aimed at fostering positive relationships and experiences for kids and young families, helping the parish retain the younger groups in their demographic as well as encouraging new families to come along.

The church offers two services on weekends, one at 8am in the main chapel and one at 10am in the hall. Mr Mills said, “It’s a really active church, we have lots going on. Now, because we provide that 10am service in the hall, parents can bring in their prams and we get lots more young families coming which is great… but we’d always love to have more.”

Mr Mills has been a part of the wider Macarthur community for many years, having run services at Anglican churches in Campbelltown, Airds and Leppington before he came to Denham Court. Family is also a big part of his life outside the church, and he has a wife, kids and grandkids.

He said, “I’ve been in this area a long time, and it’s changed so much. I used to do funerals at Leppington, and I travelled down a country road called Camden Valley Way, which at the time was just a little tree-lined road with one lane each way. And Denham Court Road was only a dirt road, until the 1980s.”

Mr Mills had only been with Denham Court Anglican Church for a short seven weeks before Covid-19 hit. But a true testament to the strength of the community is the fact that the pandemic did not stop them from celebrating their faith – in fact, it brought them closer together.

“We recorded services and made them available on the internet for people to watch. It was difficult but it was important to keep people connected,” he said.

The church has quite a unique and long-term community. Some parishioners, like Treasurer Martin Yeomans, have been part of the parish community for 20 years.

He said, “I’ve seen the church sort of move in cycles. We had a very dynamic period, 20 years ago, then we had people move out of the area and you go through a bit of a lull. The problem is you lose families, and we who are older are only getting older. But the last few years since Richard has been here, we have blossomed. We actually grew in numbers during Covid.”

Mr Yeomans’ grant-writing skills have helped the church secure facilities like an outdoor playground for young kids and a shade cloth area outside for social gatherings and BBQs.

Tragically, Mr Yeomans lost his wife Margaret to the first wave of Covid, and she is buried in the church cemetery, whose graves date all the way back to 1817. Some significant historical figures are buried there, including convict families from the Second Fleet as well as ANZAC soldiers who fought in Gallipoli in the First World War.

Every second Thursday, the church runs a food pantry initiative in partnership with Anglicare. It gives locals the opportunity to purchase around $50-$60 of groceries for only $12. It also gives locals and the parish community a chance to gather during the week outside of regular services, with free tea, coffee and refreshments served in the community hall where everyone gathers to share a drink, a chat and a laugh.

Like all historical buildings, the church is both expensive and difficult to maintain. Because it is a heritage site, every minor change to the building needs to be approved by the council before it can go ahead. Its most recent restoration was in 2022, and some major changes included replacement of the old roof tiles with a galvanised roof as well as repainting and repairing the church interior.

As the area continues to dramatically change and evolve, it is important to Minister Mills and the rest of the parish council that their church remains a safe space where people can come and take refuge from the stresses of modern life.

Mr Mills said, “I want to help people grow in their understanding of God and Jesus and I want to help people generally, in the joyful times of life and in the difficult times…. We’d love this to be a refuge for people to come and not only learn about Jesus but enjoy being in nature in this six and a half acres as well.”

–  Emily Kaine

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