There it stands, a little brick church, Marsfield Mission. Non-denominational, but definitely protestant, my mother a founding member. Steep stairs leading up to the front door. An entry place with a benign man in a suit, sometimes my father, handing out hymnbooks. Inside, plainness: no crosses or stained glass windows. Just a plain brick wall with a crack running diagonally down behind the plain wooden pulpit, and a plain wooden frame for the hymn numbers. To the side an ancient organ, played by an woman with a beautiful face, a lavender and grey woman. A basic sermon, often preached by a man on “furlough from the mission field” (the language comes back to me), with occasionally a touch of hellfire and brimstone. On special occasions, sweet-voiced solos, and sometimes the mouth organ or the squeeze box. Not yet guitars.
At Christmas, a tall tree laden with presents for the Sunday school children, for the girls exquisite dolls made with love by the Sunday School teacher's mother out of lingerie off cuts from the Berlei factory. The Sunday school picnic at Fuller's Bridge. Devon and tomato sauce sandwiches. Red cordial. Iced cakes. Watermelon. Three-legged races and spinning on the merry-go-round. A row up the river. Rolling down the grassy hill. Occasionally the panic of losing someone. Always adolescent romantic intrigues.
The Sunday school anniversary. Practising songs, sung from tiered seating at the front of the church assembled for the occasion. Boys on one side, girls on the other. New dresses, home sewn – the one new dress of the year. In the early days, a hat and gloves. Fellowship teas, with speakers and wrangling over the washing up roster. Romantic intrigues pursued with tea towel in hand.
Games nights and progressive suppers and the annual harbour cruise. Tennis under the lights on the courts next to the church. Bushwalks. The Sunday School teachers' Australia day picnic at Narrabeen. Rambles round the rocks. Flirting and deep conversation. The next day, blazing sunburn.
Christian Endeavour, where I accompany choruses on my recorder. Write papers on bible themes. Remember stories of my father at Chistian Endeavour, admiring my mother's ankles. Train for bible quiz competitions, learning verses and the books of the bible. Go off to camps with kids from other churches at places like Stanwell Tops and Narrabeen. Prepare careful dioramas for the annual Christian Endeavour Convention in the Sydney Town Hall: tiny dolls and landscapes representing bible stories. The excitement of seeing other dioramas and wondering if we'd win.
This little church: centre of my early years.