27 September 2023

Windows cast light on St Columb’s history

One of more than 30 stained glass windows at St Columb’s in Hawthorn. Picture: supplied

Bishop Stephen Hale

22 July 2023

Malcolm Woolrich, Shedding Light: a history of St. Columb’s Anglican Church, Hawthorn, through its stained glass windows. Port Adelaide: Green Hill Publishing, 2023. 

Malcolm Woolrich’s history of St Columb’s Anglican Church, Hawthorn, is a remarkable achievement. There are many church histories, and each in their own way are useful records of the life of a particular church. Most are reasonably modest publications for understandable reasons.  

Shedding Light is remarkable in both its scale, quality and ambition! Over 400 pages, full colour, meticulous research from a wide range of sources, hundreds of pictures. I was tempted to weigh it on the scales because it is in every sense weighty. 

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Malcolm set out to write a book about the 32 stained glass windows in the church. This evolved into telling the story of the church through the windows, thematically capturing the many aspects of the St Columb’s life, worship and witness since its foundation in 1883. It is a wonderful reflection on the Christian faith as captured in each of the windows.  

The book starts with an introduction on the place of stained glass windows in church history, and their journey from the third century to today. It then thematically reflects on the key themes reflected in St Columb’s 32 windows. Each of the windows is put into context and connected with what was happening in the world especially two world wars, in society and in the Melbourne and Hawthorn Church. 

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Hawthorn in 1883 was an outer suburb and it grew rapidly. As the suburb grew so did St Columb’s. In its heyday more than 500 people filled the pews at each of the three Sunday services. It had a huge Sunday School and groups for just about anything you can think of – sporting, social, welfare, musical, educational, women and men, the wealthy and the needy. We all know it was a different word to today and what we read is a remarkable insight into the nature of that era. We tend to assume that the 19th century was a time when church attendance and involvement was not connected to deep faith, but more a standard part of middle class society. The book dispels that myth with the stories of mission endeavour, both local and abroad. There was a keen sense of worship, growth in faith, as well as desire to serve and actively support the needy and the marginalised. 

Shedding Light is full of theological and pastoral insight, especially as it describes the wonderful windows which capture the range of the words and actions of Jesus. As such it is more than history, but a beautiful work of devotion as we seek to respond to and live out Christ’s example and teachings today.  

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