19 January 2023

First Nations couple get married in miraculously refurbished century-old church building

| Oliver Jacques
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The bride entering the Baptist church.

Bride Jessica Glass enters the church following a traditional smoking ceremony. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A once-derelict century-old Baptist church building was miraculously transformed to successfully host the marriage ceremony of Griffith First Nations couple Jessica Glass and Michael Johnson at Pioneer Park Museum on Saturday 14 January.

“When Jessica came to see me about holding her wedding here, she felt an instant connection to the church and really wanted to be married in there,” museum acting manager Jenny O’Donnell-Priest said.

“We had to pull out all stops and work hard to have it finished for her.”

READ MORE Iconic Griffith church building saved from demolition to be resurrected at Pioneer Park Museum

The museum grounds’ first wedding of the year featured an Indigenous smoking ceremony, traditional dances, jumping castles and a quaint ceremony inside the newly refurbished community space.

“I chose this place because of Auntie Vron. It’s so beautiful,” Ms Glass said.

Front view of the baptist church

The refurbished Baptist church. Photo: Jenny O’Donnell-Priest.

Auntie Vron is the late Wiradjuri artist Veronica Collins, a strong motivator behind the decision to restore the church building for community use.

The historic building, opened on Whitton Street in January 1925, was transported to Pioneer Park Museum 50 years ago when a new church replaced it. The old edifice steadily deteriorated and was originally scheduled for demolition.

“We were struggling with the decision to demolish it and then Veronica Collins came along with her dad, ‘Clarkie’ Collins,” Ms O’Donnell-Priest said.

“Clarkie stated that he and his late wife, Mary Kathleen (nee Bamblett), were the last Kooris to be married here …. when I told Veronica it’s supposed to be demolished, she said, ‘Nah’. She went around to businesses and raised about $5000 herself [to save it].”

Ms O’Donnell-Priest went to work on saving the church, and thanks to an injection of funds from the NSW Government Community Building Partnership program, Griffith City Council, the Baptist Church community and the Griffith Pioneer Park Museum Committee, the building was resurrected.

She said it was fitting and quite emotional that the first wedding the old church building hosted in 50 years was that of a First Nations couple.

Bride and groom on grass.

Jessica Glass and Michael Johnson on the Pioneer Park grounds. Photo: Jenny O’Donnell-Priest.

Marriage celebrant Anna Rosa was shocked by how quickly the building was transformed.

“I walked in there just before Christmas and I thought, ‘How is this going to be ready in time?’. But then I came in yesterday to do a rehearsal and was stunned. The colours are so beautiful, it looks so amazing all done up.”

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Last year, the building was nearly in a state of disrepair and home to mould, cobwebs, foxes and pigeons.

Ms O’Donnell-Priest sported blisters on her fingers as she chipped in to help get the building ready herself.

“We put in twelve-hour days for the last two days and only finished it the day before,” she said.

In the last week, Luke Farmer and his right-hand man Robbo did the painting and the Priest Building and Construction team finished off the build before extensive cleaning was done.

Official photographer Sarah Dissegna was also impressed, saying she’d never experienced a wedding like it.

“The church is so beautiful freshly painted, it’s so bright it almost looks like it’s staring back at you.”

The restored building can be booked for weddings, meetings, functions and workshops by contacting Pioneer Park Museum.

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