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St Mary's by the Sea in Port Douglas. Photo by Elizabeth Clark.
St Mary's by the Sea in Port Douglas. Photo: Elizabeth Clark

Strangers love this church in paradise

When was the last time the sound of singing drew passers-by into your church? Dianne Jensen discovers why people can’t walk past St Mary’s by the Sea in Port Douglas, North Queensland.

At the picturesque St Mary’s by the Sea in Port Douglas, the worship service is relayed by loudspeaker to the markets just outside. The voices from around the world raised in song usually bring a surge of tourists through the door to join the small Uniting Church congregation led by Rev Russell Clark.

The former Catholic church dates back to the 1880s and was moved by the Port Douglas Restoration Society to its current site in 1988. Its location in one of Australia’s top tourist spots at the confluence of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park makes the non-denominational building a popular spot for weddings and other occasions.

When the opportunity arose to conduct regular Sunday worship in St Mary’s, Russell says that the Uniting Church jumped at the chance to have a presence in the heart of town. And once the doors were open, the people came in.

“On Sunday we have anything from 30 to 130 people; about ten locals and the rest from all around the world. We have people from all faiths and all denominations, and we try to make the service as interdenominational as possible,” says Russell.

“We have had people come up from Victoria and want to be married here … recently we had a couple who came and sat before church started because they got married here last year. We just had a team from a cruise boat.”

Many visitors stay behind for a quiet moment in the beautiful sanctuary overlooking the sea.

“We give an opportunity at the end of the service to stay behind for prayer. A lot of visitors do take up that opportunity and quite often someone from the local congregation will form a link with people and pray with them,” says Russell.

The church community has grown to include holiday-makers who regularly return to St Mary’s during their annual winter sojourn. Others have simply walked through the open door of the church in the marketplace.

“One of our regular attenders, he tells me that he was never a church-goer but one Sunday in the markets it poured down raining and he finished up in the church for shelter. That was about ten years ago and he has been coming back ever since.”

The next time you visit Port Douglas, drop in to St Mary’s and say hello.

One comment

  1. Graham O'Sullivan

    Dianne, Millmerran congregation celebrates 25years of worship in the Millmerran UCA Worship Centre on 14th-15th March 2015.The acquisition and construction of this multipurpose centre has an interesting history. One of our long time parishioners has recorded its story for future reference. You may like to share this in Local Church News.
    Sincerely Graham O’Sullivan

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