Comunidade Nova Aliança (New Alliance Community)


1983 (March 31):  Eduardo Ramos was born in Governador Valadares, MG, Brazil.

1985 (March 26):  Debora Oliveira was born in Brasília, DF, Brazil.

1986 (July 21):  Jonathan Bolkenhagen was born in Planalto, RGS, Brazil.

2001:  Eduardo Ramos moved to Australia with his parents.

2002:  Debora Oliveira moved to Australia with her parents.

2002:  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira met at the Brazilian church “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church” (Assemblies of God in Australia)

2003:  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira left “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church” and joined another Brazilian church called “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia.” This Brazilian church was located at Petersham Assemblies of God Church.

2006 (December):  Brazilian pastor of “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia” church moved to Queensland and left the church leaderless.

2007 (January):  Pastor Barry Saar (Senior Minister at Petersham Assemblies of God Church) invited Eduardo Ramos to take over the Brazilian church.

2007 (February):  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira founded CNA. Eduardo became its Pastor.

2007 (February):  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira married.

2007-2008:  Pastor Barry Saar played the role of senior Pastor of CNA and mentor for Eduardo and Debora while the couple studied at Alphacrucis College (a Christian tertiary college and official ministry training college of Australian Christian Churches, formerly the Assemblies of God in Australia).

2008:  The first church camping trip took place over Easter.

2009 (March):  Pastor Eduardo Ramos was ordained by the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) and became Senior Pastor of CNA church.

2007 (October):  Brazilian student Jonathan Bolkenhagen arrived in Australia and joined CNA.

2012 (May 22):  Jonathan Bolkenhagen graduated from Alphacrucis College.

2012 (June 21):  Pastor Eduardo Ramos was fully ordained Minister of ACC.

2012 (November 22-25):  The first CNA conference was held. Pastor Vinicius Zulato of Lagoinha Church in Brazil was a special guest.

2012:  After the conference, Pastor Zulato taught a mini-course on Theology to CNA Pastors to strengthen their theological foundations.

2013:  Congregation members moved to Adelaide and Canberra and opened CNA connect groups in each city.

2016 (August 27):  CNA Canberra held its first service.

2016:  Jonathan Bolkenhagen was ordained as pastor at CNA.


Eduardo Ramos [Image at right] arrived in Australia in 2001, when he was an eighteen year-old.IMG_3041Debora Oliveira arrived in 2002,  when she was 16 years old. In Brazil they used to be members of Baptist churches. After they arrived in Sydney they joined and met each other at the only existing Brazilian church at the time: the Pentecostal church Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church (Assemblies of God in Australia), later renamed Igreja Avivamento Mundial (World Revival Church) (Rocha 2006). However, a year later, in 2003, the couple and a few others in the congregation left this church to join a new Brazilian church located in the premises of the Petersham Assemblies of God Church. They stayed in this new church called Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia until December 2006, when the Brazilian pastor moved to Queensland and left the church leaderless.

As a result, in January of 2007 Pastor Barry Saar, the Senior Minister at Petersham Assemblies of God Church, asked the congregation to nominate someone to be trained as a Pastor to lead the church. The congregation chose Eduardo Ramos as their new Pastor. In February of 2007, Eduardo and Debora married and founded CNA. They agreed that Pastor Saar would mentor them while they studied at Alphacrucis College (a Christian tertiary college and official ministry training college of Australian Christian Churches). They were very young when they started the church (he was twenty-three and she was twenty-one); so in the first years they depended on Pastor Saar for almost everything (e.g., CNA’s theological foundations and constitution, directions on how to support congregation members and how to function as a church).

Eduardo and Debora thought their previous church was too conservative. This was so because it catered to the older generation of working class Brazilians who had arrived in Australia as part of a first wave of Brazilian migration (1970s-1990s). They wanted a less traditional church that would cater for the second wave of migration (late-1990s to present). This wave comprised of a growing number of young middle-class students who go to Australia to study English and possible migration (Rocha 2006, 2013, 2017). Eduardo and Debora envisioned a church where people could be free to dress informally, play worship music, [Image at right] and not stick too CNA3strictly to a denomination so that they could be welcoming of young Brazilians from all walks of life. They also wanted a church heavily focused on supporting this new cohort of Brazilians arriving in Australia, as they arrived without their immediate family and were very young.

Presently, the average age of congregation is twenty-five to thirty-five, and there are around ninety active members.However, because they are students in Australia, there is a high turnover in the congregation, with many arriving and others returning to the homeland. Many of them were not religious in Brazil and sought the church for emotional, social and financial support, and as a place to meet other Brazilians in the diaspora.

In 2016, another Brazilian member, Jonathan Bolkenhagen, [Image at right]  was ordained pastor at CNA after graduating from CNA4Alphacrucis College. In the same year Jonathan Bolkenhagen started commuting to Canberra to run a new branch of the church in the nation’s capital. This branch also caters for the Brazilian community there, but the congregation is a little older and comprised of families who have become Australian citizens. There are around thirty members in the Canberra congregation.

The church name can be explained in two parts: “New Alliance” refers to the alliance Jesus made at the cross with God. “Community” was chosen because the church is not representing any denomination in particular, although they are affiliated to the Australian Christian churches (former Assembly of God is Australia). The founders wanted to send a message that they accepted people from all denominations. In sum, they wanted to signal to this relationship with God and that they wanted to be a family (“community”) to followers. The church’s motto is: “a simple, happy, and transparent church.”

CNA uses the facilities of the Petersham Assemblies of God Church. Services are on Sunday evenings (as it is usual in Brazil), and therefore they do not clash with the regular English-language services on Sunday morning. CNA also has an office behind the church and is supported by Pastor Saar and his church.

Nevertheless, the founders have not circumscribed themselves to Pastor Saar’s church as a model for CNA. Given that they consider themselves non-denominational, they have continued looking for successful ways to establish themselves. One of the churches that inspires them is the Australian megachurch Hillsong (Connell 2005; Goh 2007; Riches and Wagner 2017; Rocha 2017, 2013; Wagner 2013). They admire Hillsong’s professionalism, success, informality, and non-judgemental and inclusive attitudes (in regards to dress, behaviour, and life situation) toward those who come to church.  Hillsong works as a good role model because, like Hillsong, CNA is youth-oriented. CNA’s services are similar to Hillsong’s albeit on a much smaller scale: they feature a band; there is an informal atmosphere (in the Pastors’ and congregation’s language and dress style); the church is dark and real-time telecasts of the band and the song lyrics are beamed onto the screens beside the stage.  Everyone in the congregation dances and sings together with the band. They may raise their arms, close eyes, or keep their hands on their hearts.


CNA is a Pentecostal church affiliated to the Australian Christian Churches (formerly known as Assemblies of God in Australia). As such, it believes in spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues), divine healing, and prophesy. It also accepts the Bible as God’s word and believes that its lessons can be applied to people’s everyday lives.

Given that CNA is a church founded by Baptist Brazilians and is influenced by the Australian Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong, CNA has become a hybrid of a more traditional Brazilian Baptist church and a very informal, rock-concert-style Hillsong church.

On the one hand, like Hillsong, CNA can be considered a “New Paradigm” (Miller 1997) or “Seeker-friendly” church (Sargeant 2000). This style of evangelical Christianity has evolved globally since the 1960s and such churches “tailor their programs and services to attract people who are not church attenders” (Sargeant 2000:2-3). They do this by creating an informal atmosphere, using contemporary language and technology, and focusing on religious experience. Seeker churches borrow from secular models of business and entertainment, use marketing and branding principles, and innovative methods. According to Miller and Yamamori (2007:27), they “are at the cutting edge of the Pentecostal movement: they embrace the reality of the Holy Spirit but package religion in a way that makes sense to culturally attuned teens and young adults, as well as upwardly mobile people who did not grow in the Pentecostal tradition.” As a rule, their services are entertaining (featuring a live band, professional lighting and sound, large screens), and the focus is on people’s everyday lives (with topical messages on practical concerns).

On the other hand, while “New Paradigm” or “Seeker-friendly” churches focus on positive messages of God’s love rather than on sin, hell or damnation, CNA preaches also on the latter topics. CNA Pastors appreciate that young people may prefer a message of love, but they feel that they cannot focus on only love and should preach the Bible as a whole.

It is precisely this hybridity that attracts Brazilian students to CNA, as the church is able to function as a bridge between Brazilian and Australian societies and religious cultures (Rocha 2013).



Like other diasporic churches, CNA assists migrants in the process of overcoming nostalgia,homesickness and the challenge of adapting to the new country. [Image at right] CNA offers young Brazilians a space for community-building through services, weekly connect-group meetings, camping trips, barbeques, beach parties, community meals featuring Brazilian food, and other communal leisure activities. Before and after Sunday evening services, congregants socialise in the church foyer for quite a long time. The church usually provides coffee, soft drinks and food  so that congregants can meet each otherCNA4 and strengthen community/family feeling. [Image at right] This is an occasion for pastors to chat with congregation members and ask them about their past week and find out their needs.

Typically, pastors assist congregation members deal with issues related to their young age, being far from their immediate family as international students in Australia, their lack of English language skills, finding accommodation and jobs, and downward mobility.  CNA also helps them adapt to the new life in Australia by offering training courses in barista and cleaning skills, English language and CV writing to middle-class young Brazilian students, most of whom have never experienced paid employment in their lives.

CNA holds many activities during the year. For instance, every Friday congregants meet in smaller groups or “connect groups” across the city. These groups work as support groups to give members a solid family-feel. In these meetings, members bring food to share, socialise, and study a passage of the Bible and pray together. In addition, at the beginning of the year congregants undergo a twenty-one-day fast of some kind in order to focus on members’ behaviour in regards to God and how they are working as a church. Since 2008, they have organized a four-day camping trip over Easter. In this church retreat they have two services a day, Bible study, water baptisms, and leisure activities such as soccer games. Starting in 2012, CNA has run a three-day conference every November featuring invited pastors from Brazil. Given that CNA is mainly a church for the Brazilian community, it also celebrates typical Brazilian events such as July Party (festa caipira) in addition to Christian holidays.


The church is led by Senior Pastors Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira, as well as AssistantPastor Jonathan Bolkenhagen. CNA’s day-to-day running is divided into “ministries” that are led by congregation members who are chosen by the pastors. These ministries are: reception of new comers, hospitality (organises food for the services and events), baby club (one to three year-olds), kids (four to seventeen year-olds), youth (eighteen to thirty year-olds), worship (the members of the band that plays during service), production (videos of services and events, publicity), and social assistance.

They also have six leaders of connect groups trained and chosen by the church leadership.


CNA suffers from the conundrum other migrant churches face. Because they are a home away from home for Brazilians, they use Portuguese language in their services and other activities, celebrate Brazilian holidays, and espouse Brazilian religious values and worldview. However, this hinders adaptation into the local population. Furthermore, by maintaining the homeland culture, language and mores, they may alienate long-term migrants, second generation Brazilians, and those migrants who want to “integrate” quickly. At the same time, if they adopt the host country’s culture language and cultural practices wholesale, they may not be able to provide adequate support for new arrivals.

CNA Pastors are keenly aware of this problem and have organized for services to be simultaneously translated into English for those Australians who wish to join them. They know that, as young congregants marry (other Brazilians and also Australians) and have children, CNA will need to have activities in English if it wants to retain this new generation.

Another challenge is the high turnover rates within the congregation given that members are international students in Australia. Because there is always a high proportion of members arriving in the country and leaving for the homeland, it is difficult to build a strong congregation and maintain the smooth operation of the church. This also means that the church struggles with funding. As students, members do not hold full-time jobs and have low incomes. In addition, sometimes the church assists students with money, accommodation and meals if they run into financial difficulties. Another consequence of the make-up of the congregation and their low income is that pastors work full-time outside the church and have little time to work for the church.

Image #1: Photograph of Eduardo Ramos.
Image #2: Photograph of a worship band.
Image #3: Photograph of Jonathan Bolkenhagen.
Image #4: Photograph of a connect-group meeting.
Image #5: Photograph of serving food after a worship service.
Image #6: Reproduction of the CNA logo.


Connell, John. 2005. “Hillsong: A Mega-Church in the Sydney Suburbs.” Australian Geographer 36:315-32.

Goh, Robbie. 2007. “Hillsong and ‘Megachurch’ Practice.” Material Religion 4:284-305.

Miller, Donald. 1997. Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Miller, Donald and Tetsunao Yamamori. 2007. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Riches, T. and T. Wagner, eds. 2017. The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me Out Upon the Waters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rocha, Cristina. 2017. “The Come to Brazil Effect: Young Brazilians’ Fascination with Hillsong.” In The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me out upon the Waters, edited by T. Riches and T. Wagner. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rocha, Cristina. 2013. “Transnational Pentecostal Connections: an Australian Megachurch and a Brazilian Church in Australia.” Pentecostudies 12:62-82.

Rocha, Cristina. 2006. “Two Faces of God: Religion and Social Class in the Brazilian Diaspora in Sydney.” Pp. 147-60 in Religious Pluralism in the Diaspora, edited by P. Patrap Kumar. Leiden: Brill.

Sargeant, Kimon. 2000. Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Wagner, Thomas. 2013. Hearing the Hillsong Sound: Music, Marketing, Meaning and Branded Spiritual Experience at a Transnational Megachurch. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Royal Holloway University of London.

Post Date:
2 May 2017


Our Lady of Yankalilla



1857:  The Christ Church was established at Yankalilla, South Australia.

1994:  The image of the Virgin Mary appeared through plaster at the front of the church.

1995:  The image was framed.

1996:  The shrine was blessed by the Bishop of The Murray [South Australia], Bishop Graham Walden; a pump was installed to access holy water.

1996:  The first shrine Mass held.

1997:  Changes to the image were noted; Christ Church was listed as a heritage building.

2000:  A vision of Mary was seen at the Church.

2000:  The Retreat Centre opened.

2001:  The first Assumptiontide Pilgrimage was held.

2002:  A rose was named after the shrine called Our Lady of Yankalilla Rose.

2003:  An icon was painted of the pieta.

2005:  Christ Church became a pastoral district; the position of parish priest became redundant.

c2010:  Healing masses ceased and instead were held on the fourth Sunday of the month following regular services.


Yankalilla is a small country town south of Adelaide [South Australia]. The foundation stone for Christ Church, an Anglican Church at Yankalilla, was laid on November 8, 1856. In 1857, the church opened and became a heritage listed building in 1997. The church is significant as it reflects religious traditions brought to South Australia by early colonists (South Australian Heritage Places Database 2015).

In August 1994, an image of the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus, seemed to appear through plasterwork on a wall at the front of the church to the right of the altar. A parishioner first noticed the image and eventually commented on it to the rector at that time, Father Andrew Notere (originally Nutter), a native of Canada whose father was an Anglican archbishop (Lloyd 1996a:3). There was a waiting period to see if the image remained, and when it did, it was discussed at a church council. The Australian media took up an article that had been prepared for the local diocesan paper by Father Notere (Morgan 2007:32).

It has been suggested that the image is a result of either salt damp or bad plastering; “although an apparition need not be judged authentic in order to deepen the faith and devotion of individuals” (Jelly 1993:50). Changes to the image have been reported since it first appeared. For example, some viewers could discern a rose appearing at the bottom, which others linked to local indigenous events or the possibility that an “image of a third person, possibly Mary Magdalene or Mary MacKillop was emerging” (Pengelley 1996:3). Saint Mary MacKillop [1842-1909], the first Australian saint [cannonised 2010], was a member of the Josephite order that established a school at Yankalilla.


Contemporary Anglicanism in Australia has its roots in the Church of England, commencing with early settlers from England in the late eighteenth century.  The Anglican Church in Australia follows the Old and New Testaments, the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer, which has since been supplemented by An Australian Prayer Book and later A Prayer Book for Australia (Frame 2007: 128-29). The Church organisation is made up of Bishops, Priests and Deacons (Anglican Church of Australia n.d.). There are twenty-three Anglican dioceses in Australia that have developed in a state-based fashion under a national umbrella. Unlike some other parts of Australia, the South Australian colony was based on the ideal of religious equality, without state financial contribution, and each religion establishing itself (Hilliard 1986b:3).  This was later changed, and in 1847 the Adelaide Diocese was formed (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod:4). The Church of England was established with the view being that “if provision for religion was left to the will of the people, nothing at all would be done” (Hilliard 1986b:5). Indeed, South Australia has a history of settlement by non-conformists, in particular Methodism, and this may have contributed to Anglicanism in South Australia being more ritual-based to make it more distinctive (Hilliard 1994:11).

The Province of South Australia has three dioceses and The Diocese of The Murray, which has oversight of Yankalilla, has particularly had a history of Anglo-Catholicism since the mid-nineteenth century (Hilliard 1986a:38; Frame 2007:12, 57; Anglican Diocese of Adelaide n.d.).  Clergy, after the establishment of the South Australian colony, were sourced from England (Frame 2007:207) and operated under the auspices of the Bishop of London then later the Bishop of Calcutta (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d.:4). In 1962, the Church of England in Australia was established, thus creating a self-governing body separate from the legal ties with England (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d:5), and in 1981 it became The Anglican Church of Australia (Anglican Church of Australia General Synod n.d:6).

Thus the early years of Christ Church Yankalilla were heavily influenced through the English clergy by Anglo-Catholicism and the Oxford Movement. This was seen in the type of services, the frequency of communion, and the church interiors (Morgan 2007:13). In addition, there was a greater use of ritual, the wearing of vestments, and stress on the importance of fasting prior to communion (Hilliard:44-46). Anglicanism in Australia has been labelled with “High, Broad or Low Church affiliations, or Anglo-Catholic, Liberal or Evangelical parties” (Frame 2007:213). South Australian country areas in particular were conservative (Hilliard 1994:12), and in this respect, Christ Church Yankalilla could be best described as being of a high church orientation (Morgan 2015).
The 1844 census found that country areas in South Australia, such as Yankalilla, had a large number of Anglicans (Hilliard 1986b:11, 25).  However, more currently Anglicanism in Australia has suffered a decrease in attendances with the population perhaps less interested in church settings (Frame 2007:132).  It could be argued then that the type of services that incorporated a mixture of worship styles, used when pilgrimage services were started at Yankalilla following the emergence of the image, might bring both Anglicans and non-Anglicans to the church and encourage them to engage with Anglicanism and the parish.  While in the early twentieth century there have been instances of promotion of the Virgin Mary, this activity was considered to be un-Anglican (Hilliard 1994:14). Frame notes that criticism of pluralism or diversity in Australian Anglicanism would be solved by “a renewed embrace of the Reformed Catholicism” (Frame 2007:229).

Christian pilgrimage shrines can be viewed in terms of local history and current social trends as well as previous religious culture. When the images first appeared links were suggested to an Aboriginal corroboree (dance ceremony) site where Aboriginal massacres occurred, although there does not appear to be any evidence to confirm this. In respect of Saint Mary MacKillop, this may be attributed to a reconciliation of “the colonial past and colonial present” (McPhillips 2006:149). McPhillip’s view is that this link could be attributed to the fervour that surrounded the saint commencing with her beatification, while the indigenous link is of a pilgrimage centre to pre-Christian sacredness and connected to Aboriginal reconciliation (McPhillips 2006:149).

This site has become known as The Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla. This pilgrimage centre developed spontaneously and has continued to the present day. Many common Marian pilgrimage motifs are present such as miraculous events, healing and messages. This traditional, high Anglican church has accepted the image in its Church despite the general “Protestant view [which] tends to limit the communion of saints to the living and does not look favourably on the possibility of supernatural intervention by deceased saints” (Turner and Turner 1982:145). At the Shrine of Our Lady of Yankalilla visitors have the chance to observe, and to have experiences, that they do not have in their home parishes. Interestingly, the initial rituals at the shrine were drawn from Charismatic, Catholic, Anglican and Buddhist practices (Jones 1998). These rather New Age practices could attract visitors who may not necessarily be drawn to an Anglican church (Cusack 2003:119). McPhillips considers such a mix “in effect releases Mary into new realms of enchantment” (McPhillips 2006:149). It did however cause conflict at a parish level (Jones 1998).

Pilgrim masses to Anoint the Sick were held for a number of years at Yankalilla on Sundays at 2:00 PM, and it was estimated that “1000 pilgrims have gone to Yankalilla” ( Lloyd 1996b:4). In approximately 2010, these dedicated services were discontinued, and the practice was incorporated as part of the normal church service every fourth Sunday. This occurred as a result of Christ Church ceasing to be a parish and becoming a pastoral district and because there was not a priest who lived in accommodations adjacent to the Church as had occurred previously (Gardiner 2015).

Holy water became available at the Shrine for purchase after a pump was installed during 1996. Streams were reported to run “under the apparition wall, and a number of streams converge under the altar to form three crosses” (Chryssides 1997: 16). There have been reports of the curative powers of the holy water; however, the water now available is for anointing purposes only and is labelled “Not for human consumption.”

A number of other common Marian motifs have been present at Yankalilla, such as moving statues, photographs of Jesus, photographs of mysterious figures only seen on a photograph but not by church visitors, and figures in the Church surrounds. In addition, messages were reportedly received from Mary; some of those messages referencing Diana, Princess of Wales, indicative of a combination of ideas both traditional and New Age ( McPhillips, 2015). A sculpture has been placed in the rose garden near the church celebrating the “site of Our Lady’s Apparition, Easter Monday, April 24, 2000 at 6.40 pm.” More recently, no messages or images have been reported by current members of the local congregation.

A statue of the Virgin Mary was set up within the Church grounds, and in recent years this statue has been tended by a number of visitors originating from India, most notably from Kerala and Goa, while others are from the South Australian Indian community (Gardiner 2015). The visitors’ book indicates pilgrims are local, interstate as well as from Europe, South America and Asia. These visits may just be curiosity; however, “a tourist is half a pilgrim, if a pilgrim is half a tourist” (Turner 1978;20)

Imagery within the Church initially emphasized the Virgin Mary. The reorganization at the front of the church was a stumbling block for parishioners (Jones 1998). Banners were placed near the altar, a white banner draped over the cross above the altar forming an “M,” and the priest wore vestments that reflected the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje. The altar area has now been simplified and is plainer. There remains a holder for votive candles and a book in which pilgrims can write prayers.

At the inauguration of the site as a shrine, a large section of an interior wall of the church was set aside for pilgrims to place notes asking for the Virgin Mary’s assistance. This area has since been reduced to a small board. Pilgrims may also write messages in a book placed adjacent to the message board. These notes are revealing of Mary’s curative powers, and it has been reported that “around 100 people have been healed” (Connolly 1997: 29). The messages are also related to help and assistance with everyday issues, such as examinations and requests for attaining permanent residency.

Initially, many items were available to pilgrims such as postcards, medals, holy water and a pilgrim newsletter. These materials have currently been reduced to holy candles and water.


On December 15, 1996, the Bishop of The Murray, Bishop Graham Walden, blessed the shrine “with holy water from an Anglican international shrine” (Smart 1996:6 Innes 1996:4). This blessing would appear to indicate that at the time of the emergence of the image there was official Anglican support and acceptance. It is important for miraculous events to fall within the boundaries of the traditional religion with which it is associated. T he Virgin Mary can be found in Anglican shrines, such as at Walsingham [United Kingdom], a site visited by many pilgrims each year, and Christ Church Yankalilla is high Anglican, which accepts veneration of the Virgin Mary (Kahl 1998:257). To link these shrines, an icon dedicated to Walsingham hangs on the Church wall. Such an icon, a pieta (a statue depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus) image, may assist visitors in seeing the apparent image on the wall (Morgan 2007:31).

During his incumbency, Father Notere embraced the shrine enthusiastically, despite local opposition (Mullen 1999; Jones 1998). In 2005, the position of priest at Yankalilla ended and Father Notere left the parish (Allison 2005:3). Following his departure, media attention has waned considerably; however, local parishioners have maintained the shrine and ensure that the church is open daily for those who wish to see the image or to meditate and pray.

A religious community initially to be known as the Oasis of Peace but later named the Servants of the Humility of Jesus and Marywas formed but since disbanded. The aims of the community were to work with pilgrims and foster a healing spirit at the shrine (Kahl 1998:50). A Retreat Centre next to the church was established in 2000, but the space is now utilized for general parish purposes (Morgan 2007:33). A Maori group of singers was reportedly considering moving to the area, drawn by the image. The group joined a local choir to make a CD dedicated to the Virgin Mary appearing at Yankalilla (“Choirs Combine” 2002:14).


Christ Church Yankalilla lost the services of Father Notere in 2005, and, having become a pastoral district (Morgan 2007:1), it has been served by part-time and locum priests who are challenged by the travel distances required (Gardiner 2015). There have been other challenges within the Diocese relating to the position of Bishop of the Diocese of The Murray. One of those issues was a three-year vacancy until 2013 when a Bishop was appointed (Strathearn2013:6). In addition, like many other mainstream churches, Yankalilla has experienced a decline in attendance.

The image has assisted the parish financially through visitors, donations and purchases of candles and holy water (Morgan 2007:33). However, a major challenge for the local church members has been the time spent in dealing with the shrine. The emergence of the image meant the parish council had to attend to a number of issues, such as access, visitors, security and attention of the press (Morgan 2007:32). Many local parishioners considered this time was being taken from the parish generally and the local community, and, as a result, there was a division within the parish.The local parishioners are not intensely involved in the shrine, and those who do not agree with the shrine attend other parishes (Jones 1998).

The shrine has experienced fluctuating numbers at the pilgrim services. At present, pilgrims attend of their own accord at pilgrim services held in conjunction with regular services or at the annual pilgrim service held annually in September. This service held in September is popular with pilgrims and attracts many members of the Adelaide Indian Catholic community (Gardiner 2015). Despite Father Notere’s 2005 prediction that the church would be closed (Notere 2005:5), it is open every day for reflection and prayer and attended by enthusiastic local volunteers.


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McPhillips, Kathleen with Rachel Kohn. n.d. Virgins, Vampires and Superheroes. Accessed from–superheroes/3341180 on 31 July 2015.

Morgan, Margaret. 2007. Christ Church Yankalilla: 1857 to 2007: A Story of Change and Continuity. Yankalilla: Pastoral District of Yankalilla.

Mullen, Mike. 1999. “Once upon a time …” Times Globe, October 1. Accessed from on 31 July 2015.

Notere, Andrew. 2005. “Closure of People’s Shrine Another Anglican Failure.” The Advertiser, April 27, p. 20.

Our Lady of Yankalilla Rose. n.d. Accessed from on 30 July 2015.

Pengelley, Jill. 1996, “Divine Help Finds ‘Holy Water’ Under Church.” The Advertiser, August 21, p. 3.

Personal Communication with Ann Gardiner on July 31, 2015.

Personal Communication with Margaret Morgan on July 1, 2015 and September 28, 2015.

Smart, Nick. 1996. “Mass Marks Blessing of Yankalilla Shrine.” The Advertiser, December 16, p. 6.

South Australian Heritage Places Database. 2015. Accessed from on 14 August 2015.

Strathearn, Peri. 2013. “ Three Years Later, Anglicans Get New Bishop.” The Murray Valley Standard , July 4, p. 6.

Turner, Victor and Edith Turner. 1978. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Turner, Victor and Edith Turner. 1982. “Postindustrial Marian Pilgrimage.” Pp. 145-73 in Mother Worship: Theme and Variations, edited by James J. Preston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Janet Kahl

Post Date:
4 October 2015





1954:  Brian Houston was born in Auckland, New Zealand.

1974:  Houston graduated from Bible College in Auckland.

1977:  Houston’s father, Frank, founded the Christian Life Centre in Sydney, Australia. Brian married Bobbie Houston in New Zealand.

1978:  Brian and Bobbie Houston moved to Sydney.

1983:  Brian and Bobbie Houston planted a separate church, the Hills Christian Life Centre, from Frank Houston’s original church.

1986:  The first Christian Life Centre Conference was held.

1992:  Christian Life Centre’s first international plants were established in London and Kiev.

1997:  The First Colour (women’s) Conference was held. Brian became the new National President of the Assemblies of God (AOG) in Australia.

1999:  Frank Houston was removed from the church and stripped of ministerial credentials after confessing to sexually abusing an underage boy thirty years earlier in New Zealand. Brian referred the matter to the National Executive of the AOG and became Senior Pastor in his father’s place. Brian rebranded the family of churches as Hillsong.

2002:  Hillsong started holding services in its purpose-built conference venue (Hillsong Convention Centre) in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills.

2013:  Zion, an album of Hillsong United (the band of Hillsong Church), debuted in the U.S. secular billboard at number five.

2014:  The “Royal Commission – Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse” asked Hillsong to appear as it examined the way the church handled the complaint of sexual abuse made against Frank Houston.

2015:  Hillsong is due to release its first feature-film (Hillsong – Let Hope Rise) in September. The film charts the rapid rise of Hillsong United.


Brian Houston, one of the founders and now Senior Pastor of the Hillsong family of churches, was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1954. Frank and Hazel, his parents, were Salvation Army officers and Brian Houston explains that his parents left the Salvation Army to join a Pentecostal congregation “with nothing, really, at that time. We grew up in what would be a Housing Commission house” (Houston 2005). Houston’s father, Frank, “got filled with the Holy Spirit” and went on to become a Pentecostal minister in New Zealand. Houston himself went to Bible College in Auckland, graduating in 1974.

Houston met his future wife, Bobbie, on a beach during a summer Christian Conference, and they married in 1977. They moved to Sydney in 1978 to join Frank Houston, who had founded the Christian Life Centre there the year before. Brian, together with Bobbie, planted the Hills Christian Life Centre in 1983 from Frank’s original church. The church started out of the Houston’s Sunday night outreach program and was not an immediate success. Houston explained: “the very first Sunday we had 70 people turn up. The second week, there were 60, the third week, 53, and by the fourth week, 45. I’ve often joked that we worked it out at the time- we had only four and a half weeks left until there were no more people. It was about that time that we had our first ever commitment to Christ. We outgrew the school hall after twelve months. The crowds were so big that we were using road-case as the platform, and what should have been the stage as a balcony so that we could fit more people in” (Houston 2014).

The first Christian Life Centre conference was held in 1986, and, by 1989, the popularity of the church had grown to the point that it was relocated to a warehouse in Baulkham Hills. The church again relocated in 1990, this time to the Hills Centre, an entertainment complex, the design and space of which was to set the tone for future church buildings. The church held its first women’s conference, the Colour Conference, in 1997, led by Bobbie Houston.

In 1999, Frank Houston was stripped of his ministerial credentials after he confessed to sexually abusing a child thirty years earlier in New Zealand (Morton and Box 2014). Brian oversaw his father’s removal from the church, and he and Bobbie took over leadership of the original Sydney Christian Life Centre. The Houstons rebranded this family of churches simply as “Hillsong,” in recognition both of the Hills district where the church had experienced such tremendous growth, and the music that played such an important part in worship and services. Having continued to grow in number, Hillsong built a large conference venue, the Hillsong Convention Centre, in Baulkham Hills. Then Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, opened the centre in 2002.

Where the Christian Life Centre held its first meetings in the homes of its forty-five members, Hillsong now has a congregation of around 20,000 in Sydney alone. An additional 10,000 people attend their services in other Australian cities (O’Malley 2013). In 1992, international churches were planted in London and Kiev, and there are now Hillsong churches in South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, the United States (U.S.), Germany, France, Russia, and the Netherlands. Hillsong has today been described as “Australia’s most powerful brand” (Hicks 2012).


Hillsong is a Pentecostal church that believes the Bible is God’s Word and is “accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives” (“Hillsong: What We Believe” 2015). The Church believes in the use of spiritual gifts and baptism, including divine healing. To receive forgiveness and “new birth” individuals must repent, and submit to the will of Jesus.

Brian Houston argues that there are four levels of Christianity. The first is enjoyment, the exciting moment of discovery and perhaps the first experience of Spirit. The second is “servanthood,” and “Christians who rise to this tier are those who have added to their enjoyment by committing to serve in God’s House.” The third level of Christianity, according to Houston, is “giving.” Not giving time as above, but money. The fourth level is “sharing the load,” doing “whatever it takes” to promote the vision and work of the church. In this, Houston argues, the clergy is not separate from the laity, and the “work of the ministry” becomes the responsibility of every believer (Houston 2013:102-5).

Brian Houston is well known for his “How to Maximise Your Life” series of books, which includes How to Live a Blessed Life; How to Build Great Relationships; How to Flourish in Life; How to Make Wise Choices; and How to Live in Health and Wholeness (Houston 2013) . These five books were published together as How to Maximise Your Life after the earlier publication of the work, You Need More Money: Discover God’s Amazing Financial Plan (1999) was lambasted by the press for its title. In the book, Houston argued that “God actually gets pleasure when we prosper” financially, because “money answers everything” (Houston 1999:2, 20). To Houston, faith can lead to prosperity and an individual’s faith is tangible and reflected in their health and wealth. He describes this attitude to wealth, which is often labelled as embodying the “prosperity gospel,”as “prosperity for a purpose” or “prosperity on purpose” (Houston 2008: 123). This has become one of the central tenets of Houston’s preaching and Hillsong’s message (Houston quoted in Marriner 2009).

Houston and other Hillsong Church leaders also embrace the concepts of individualism and aspiration. There is a focus on the power of positive thinking and the ability of the church to help individuals transform their lives. Houston explains: “ I’m sure not so blind that I can’t see that people suffer and struggle. I just believe that we should have and can have answers that do something about it. I am an absolute believer in the potential of people” (Houston 2005). Bobbie Houston in her 2008 book, I’ll Have What She’s Having, builds on this idea by arguing that people need to “ rise up ! Time to get over the negatives” and achieve all they can. She believes that “ ultimate compliment” is for someone to see your lifestyle, attitude, and sense of purpose, and then want those same things (Bobbie Houston 2008:26). This belief in the potential of people, along with the emphasis placed on prosperity and the repeated use of aspiration language, indicates the way Hillsong emerged out of the neo-liberal ideas that came to define Australia’s economy and society around the time that Hillsong Church was established.

Worship music has been particularly critical in the success of Hillsong Church internationally and is seen as a chance to praise theLord and build a close, personal relationship with him (Houston 2013). Ben Fielding, one of Hillsong’s music/creative leaders says that “music reflects the creativity and beauty of God; its ultimate purpose is to bring enjoyment and cause us to draw near to our Creator” (Fielding 2012). Hillsong released its first tape of worship music, Spirit and Truth, in 1988, though the church had had a music pastor (Geoff Bullock) since 1985. Darlene Zschech replaced Bullock in 1994, and remained the church’s worship pastor until 2007. Zschech is probably the best-known Hillsong worship leader and was instrumental in increasing the popularity of Hillsong’s music, with 35,000,000 Christians around the world sing one of her most popular songs, Shout to the Lord, at church each week (Houston 2005).

Today Hillsong’s music is most strongly associated with the band “Hillsong United,” which started as the church’s youth band and began recording original music in 1998. The band is currently led by Joel Houston, the son of Brian and Bobbie. Hillsong also releases albums recorded at its London and Sydney services (Riches and Wagner 2012:24).


Hillsong is a member of the Australian Christian Churches (formerly the AOG in Australia), a movement of 1,100 churches with over 250,000 adherents around the country. Hillsong, like the AOG/Australian Christian Churches, embraces apostolic leadership, or “leadership by God appointed apostolic ministries” (Cartledge 2000). Brian Houston argues that Hillsong represents a “network that connects hundreds and thousands of pastors…committed to the apostolic anointing of leaders” (Houston, “The Church I Now See,” 2014).

While Brian and Bobbie Houston are both described as the “Senior Pastors” of Hillsong, who oversee the rest of the “Eldership,” there is a strong belief that men and women play different roles in life and in the running of churches. Men tend to be the ultimate decision makers and leaders, yet Bobbie Houston describes herself as being an “equal partner” in her marriage and argues that she and Brian pastor and lead the church together (Bobbie Houston 2008). Similarly, Brian Houston argues that: “Bobbie works alongside me. We’re very much a team …I certainly don’t adhere to the mentality that a woman must submit or that she should be pushed down,” but also acknowledges that “I’ve got a conservative, biblical idea that a man should take a role of leadership in his life” (Houston 2005). This conflict in understandings of gender roles and power dynamics is part of what sociologist Bernice Martin described as “the Pentecostal gender paradox” (Martin 2001).

Hillsong International Leadership College forms a significant part of the church’s vision and income stream. According to Hillsong Church Australia’s 2013 Annual Report, the total revenue generated by the College is $8,155,639 (Hillsong 2013 Annual Report:18). Students can study Pastoral Leadership, Worship Music, TV & Media, Dance, Production, or can undertake a Bachelor of Theology, offered in conjunction with Alphacrucis College. Attendees spend part of their time at College doing “Fieldwork,” where students “get the opportunity to serve in church life” (“What Makes Hillsong College Different?” 2014). Hillsong College also runs shorter evening courses on a variety of topics including money, relationships, and parenting (“Evening College Life Courses” 2015).


Hillsong has been the subject of much negative publicity. One former member wrote a book People in Glass Houses exploring her experiences in the church and detailing what she felt were the major flaws of the organisation (Levin 2007). Before this and since, there have also been repeated criticisms of the church, usually centred on the church’s finances, its size, and its theology. Brian Houston says that “if anybody is an expert in media opposition, it’s me,” joking that he essentially has a PhD in public relations (Pulliam Bailey 2013).

Brian Houston and Hillsong Church regularly receive negative media attention discussing the finances of the church. Houston openly acknowledges that his book, You Need More Money, was poorly received. He said: “ If you said to me ‘what are the three silliest things you’ve done’, that would probably be No. 1. The heart of the book was never just being greedy and selfish …I put a bullseye on my head” (Marriner 2009). In a 2005 interview explaining this public attitude towards Hillsong, Houston said, “Hillsong church today has facilities valued somewhere near $100 million. In our last accounting period, the total income was fifty million dollars. I think that the idea of a church being big and successful and effective threatens some people” (Houston 2005). Tanya Riches, who grew up attending Hillsong and is now postgraduate student studying the church, believes that the Australian media “doesn’t get Hillsong” and sees it as “money hungry, a sham, flamboyant, corrupt” (Riches 2014). One journalist described Hillsong’s marriage of faith and finance as “Praise the Lord and pass the chequebook” (Beaurup 2005).

Hillsong, like other Pentecostal churches in Australia, faces particular challenges when it comes to retaining members over the long term. Pentecostal churches in Australia have experienced growth rates that outpace other Christian denominations, and the number of Australians identifying as Pentecostal has steadily increased relative to the size of the Australian population over the last thirty years. However, these figures do not show the high number of “visitors” to Pentecostal churches, who do not remain in the church over the long term. From 1991-2001, AOG churches retained less than sixty percent of members while retention rates for other Protestant denominations in the same period were over eighty percent (NCLS 2015).

Hillsong is one of only twenty-one megachurches in Australia (Hughes 2013:7). Being a megachurch is perhaps one of the reasons retention rates at Hillsong are so low. That is, people are looking for a more personal connection with a pastor and the congregation than is possible when you are one of thousands worshiping at a service. More than this, as a megachurch, Hillsong has become a large institution that caters for more than religious needs. It embraces modernity and makes faith convenient through the live online streaming of church services, the provision of food and drink outlets in church foyers, the ability to make donations using EFTPOS facilities, and the increasing use of social media platforms to release information and content. Hillsong has since been criticised by various social commentators for producing a form of religion that is “light” on theology and very broad. Some argue that the church is more focused on giving attendants an enjoyable worship experience, than on Bible teaching (Pulliam Bailey 2013; Marr 2007). However, some argue that being a megachurch has helped Hillsong’s popularity because people today are comfortable in large institutions associated with market success (Connell 2005:317).

The most serious challenge that has faced Hillsong emanated from its founding by Frank Houston (Wyatt 2022); he established the Christian Life Centre, which was affiliated with the Assemblies of God (AOG), in Sydney in 1977. Brian Houston and his wife joined Brian’s father in church leadership in 1978. In 1983, Brian Huston and his wife planted their own church, Hills Christian Life Centre.

It was sixteen years later that Frank Houston was removed from church leadership for sexually abusing an underage boy in the late 1960s in New Zealand (Zhou 2018). For his part, Fank Huston’s letter of resignation made no mention of the charges against him. Brian Houston, who at the time was president of the AOG in Australia, reported the incident to AOG leaders, replaced his father as leader, and renamed the church Hillsong. However, Brian Houston did not report the allegations against his father, which would have led to a criminal investigation, to law enforcement. Subsequent investigation led to six additional child sexual abuse allegations that were deemed “credible.”  In 2021, Brian Houston faced charges of failing to report the abuses committed by his father (Hunter, Smith, and Chung 2021). His problems mounted as internal investigations led to allegations that he had other inappropriate relationships with female church members. In early 2022, Houston resigned his chairmanship of the Hillsong board to address his legal problems. The Houstons were replaced by the pastors of the church in South Africa and are acting as “global senior pastors” through the end of 2022 (Cohen, McDonald, Hunjan, and Christodoulou 2022).

The church faced other sexual abuse issues as well (Wyatt 2022). Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong New York City. Brian Houston fired Lentz in 2020 after it was revealed the he had an affair with a female member of the congregation. Further, Reed Bogard, pastor of the Hillsong Dallas church, resigned in 2021 amid allegations that he had raped a young female church colleague while serving at Hillsong New York City. Hillsong then “paused” the Dallas church.

In the wake of this series of scandals, Hillsong churches began withdrawing from the Hillsong network. In March 2022 the head pastor of Hillsong Atlanta withdrew from Hillsong to establish his own church and that same month the head pastor of Hillsong Phoenix withdrew and cited lack of confidence in church leadership. By the middle of the next month nine Hillsong churches in the U.S. had separated from the network.

Leadership, organization structure, and legal proceedings remained to be determined in 2022. It is clear the Hillsong network has lost some of its major components, particularly in the U.S. The impact of the series of scandals on individual participants has yet to be determined. Two significant factors weigh in favor of reforms that will lead to a return of stability: the attractiveness of the church message and organization to young adults and the vibrant music productions that capture the imagination of participants.


Bearup, Greg. 2005. “Praise the Lord and Pass the Chequebook.” Sydney Morning Herald, February 18. Accessed from: on 23 May 2013.

Cartledge, David. 2000.  The Apostolic Revolution: The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Assemblies of God in Australia. Sydney: Paraclete Institute.

Cohen, Hagar; McDonald, Alex; Hunjan, Raveen, and Christodoulou, Mario. 2022. “Former Hillsong pastors say they were threatened by Brian Houston to hand over their church and assets.” ABC News, April 6. Accessed from on 9 July 2022.

Connell, John. 2005. “Hillsong: A Megachurch in the Sydney Suburbs.” Australian Geographer 36:315-32.

Fielding, Ben. 2012. “Part Two: Can music bring you closer to God? Ben Fielding says ‘Yes.’” Bible Society” Culture. 8 July 2012. Accessed from: on 5 August 2015.

Hicks, Robin. 2012. “Hillsong – Australia’s Most Powerful Brand.” mUmBRELLA, July 26. Accessed from: on 1 August 2012.

Hillsong College. 2015. “Evening College Life Courses.” Hillsong International Leadership College Website. Accessed from: on 7 August 2015.

Hillsong College. 2014. “What Makes Hillsong College Different?” Hillsong Collected Blog , August 1. Accessed from: on 5 August 2015.

Hillsong Church. 2015. “What We Believe: Statement of Beliefs.” Hillsong Church Website. Accessed from on 5 August 2015.

Hillsong Church. 2013. “Hillsong 2013 Annual Report.” Hillsong Church Website. Accessed from: on 7 August 2015.

Houston, Bobbie. 2008. I ‘ll Have What She’s Having: The Ultimate Compliment for Any Woman Daring to Change her World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Houston, Brian. 2014. “Brian & Bobbie.” Hillsong Church Website. Accessed from on 24 December 2014.

Houston, Brian. 2014. “The Church I Now See.” Hillsong Church Website. Accessed from on 24 December 2014.

Houston, Brian. 2013. How to Maximise Your Life. Castle Hill, NSW: Hillsong Music Australia.

Houston, Brian. 2008. For This I Was Born: Aligning Your Vision to God’s Cause. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Houston, Brian. 2005. “The Life of Brian.” Australian Story (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), August 1. Accessed from on 30 March 2012.

Houston, Brian. 1999. You Need More Money: Discover God’s Amazing Financial Plan for Your Life. Castle Hill: Brian Houston Ministries.

Hughes, Philip. 2013. “Australian Megachurches.” Pointers: Bulletin of the Christian Research Association 23: 7-9.

Hunter, Fergus, Alexandra Smith, and Laura Chung. 2021. “Hillsong pastor Brian Houston charged for allegedly concealing child sexual abuse by his father.” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 5. Accessed from “Hillsong pastor Brian Houston charged for allegedly concealing child sexual abuse by his father” on 10 July 2022.

Levin, Tanya. 2007. People in Glass Houses, An Insider’s Story of a Life in and out of Hillsong. Melbourne, VIC: Black Inc.

Marr, David. 2007. “Hillsong – The Church With No Answers.” Sydney Morning Herald. 4 August 2007. Accessed from on 23 May 2012.

Marriner, Cosima. 2009. “Next Stop, Secular Europe, Says Hillsong Founder.” Sydney Morning Herald. 25 May 2009. Accessed from: on 28 March 2012.

Martin, Bernice. 2001. “The Pentecostal Gender Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for the Sociology of Religion.” Pp. 52-66 in The Blackwell Companion to the Sociology of Religion, edited by Richard K. Fenn. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Morton, Rick and Dan Box. 2014. “Senior Counsel Calls for Hillsong Founder to be Referred to Police.” The Australian, December 20. Accessed from: on 23 December 2014.

NCLS (National Church Life Survey). 2015. “Protestant Churches Inflow and Outflow.” Research: Who Goes to Church, Church Size and Growth. Accessed from: on 22 March 2015.

O’Malley, Nick. 2013. “The Rise and Rise of Hillsong.” Sydney Morning Herald, September 8. Accessed from on 21 February 2014.

Pulliam Bailey, Sarah. 2013. “Australia’s Hillsong Church Has Astonishingly Powerful Global Influence.” Huffington Post, May 11. Accessed from: on 24 December 2014.

Riches, Tanya. 2014. “Why the Media Doesn’t Get Hillsong: Reflections of an Australian Pentecostal.” Australian Broadcasting Corporation. January 8 . Accessed from on 23 December 2014.

Riches, Tanya and Tom Wagner. 2012. “The Evolution of Hillsong Music: From Australian Pentecostal Congregation into Global Brand.” Australian Journal of Communication 39:17-36.

Wyatt, Tim. 2022. “How to fix a problem like Hillsong.” Premier Christianity, May 18. Accessed from on 9 July 2022.

Zhou, Naaman. 2018. “Sexual abuse victim pursues Hillsong’s Brian Houston over crimes of his father.” Guardian Australia, November 19. Accessed from

Post Date:
9 August 2015
11 July 2022




Answers in Genesis


1951:  Ken Ham was born in Cairns, Australia.

1980:  After teaching public school, Ham and his wife, Mally, decided to minister full time and founded the Creation Science Foundation (CSF).

1980:  Dr. Carl Wieland handed over his magazine, Creation, to CSF. Ham merged Wieland’s Creation Science Association into the Creation Science Foundation.

1987:  Ham and his wife moved to the United States and located in the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in San Diego to help the Creation Science Foundation gain more international influence.

1993:  Ken and Mally Ham believed that it was time to begin a new U.S. ministry and resigned from ICR (Mark Looy and Mike Zovath followed, helping to found “Creation Science Ministries.”

1994:  Answers in Genesis (AIG) was founded in Florence, Kentucky.

1994:  AIG’s first major conference held in Denver, Colorado, with around 6,000 attendees. The first ministry newsletter was mailed

1996:  The Boon County Fiscal Court denied AIG’s proposal to build a Creation Museum to serve as headquarters for the AIG ministry.

2000:  AIG purchased fifty acres along Interstate 275 in Petersburg, Kentucky for the museum.

2001:  Construction on the Creation Museum began.

2005:  AIG-U.S. and AIG-Australia separated due to leadership issues.

2007 (May 28):  The Creation Museum opened.

2010 (December 1):  AIG announced the construction of the Ark Encounter LLC.

2016:  The Ark Encounter Project is scheduled to be completed.


The longstanding tensions between the scientific and biblical narratives have flared historically whenever advances in various scientific disciplines have raised questions about the empirical validity of biblical accounts of creation. For example, around the beginning of the nineteenth century, the development of Geology as a discipline, with its findings that the Earth was far more ancient than suggested by the account in Genesis, led to increased support for Gap Theory and Day-Age Theory as alternative theories for the discrepancy between geological and biblical accounts. Gap Theory posits that there was a long time-gap between the first two days of creation as chronicled in Genesis while Day-Age Theory proposes that the days of creation listed in Genesis were themselves long periods of time (thousands or even millions of years). Most recently, evolutionary creationism, which postulates that God created life and humankind while evolution constitutes an explanation for how life developed (Saletan 2014).

Beginning in the 1960s, conservative Christian groups of various kinds have mounted active opposition to evolutionary theory with creationism, in part due to the struggles over a variety of issues (e.g., science education, sex education, prayer in schools) in the public school system. One outgrowth of these struggles has been the formation of a variety of museums, research institutes, and foundations defending the biblical creation narrative (Numbers 2006; Duncan 2009). Creationist museums are found primarily in the United States, but there is a sprinkling of such museums around the world (Simitopoulou and Xirotitis 2010). The most prominent creationist museums in the U.S. was established by Answers in Genesis.

Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis (AIG), received his bachelor’s degree in applied science from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia and a degree in education from the University of Queensland. He went on to become a public high school science teacher. Ham expanded his educational credentials with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 1997 from Temple Baptist College in Cincinnati, Ohio and another in Literature in 2004 from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia (Answers in Genesis n.d.). In 1979, Ham left teaching to become a full-time minister with his wife, Mally Ham. Initially, they established Creation Science Supplies, a book ministry, and Creation Science Educational Media Services, a teaching ministry. Later, these two initiatives were combined to form the Creation Science Foundation (CSF), co-founded with John Mackay. Even at this point, Ham had dreams of building a museum that taught history as it is recorded in the Bible.

In 1986, Ken Ham reported feeling that he was called by God to travel to the United States and continue his ministry there. The CSF board in Australia sent Ham to work with Dr. Henry Morris’s Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in 1987 as a speaker; he remained the Director of the Australian CSF ministry until 2004. Ham went on to lecture not only in the U.S. but also in the U.K.

After working with ICR for seven years, Mally Ham approached her husband about separating from the research group to form their own more “layperson-oriented” creation organization. Ham then resigned from ICR, along with colleagues Mark Looy and Mike Zovath, and together they formed Creation Science Ministries (CSM). Supported by donations, CSM was able to become an independent organization, while still maintaining a sister-relationship with CSF-Australia. CSM began its first year of ministry in 1994 and changed its name to Answers in Genesis. The name change was intended to reflect the importance and authority of all scripture, not just the portion pertaining to creation. Soon after, CSF-Australia changed its name to Answers in Genesis as well. In the same year, the three original founders relocated their families to Florence, Kentucky to establish a headquarters for the organization. Two-thirds of the United States’ population lives within 650 miles of Cincinnati, Ohio, which is only fourteen miles from Florence, giving considerable accessibility to a substantial portion of the American population.


Contemporary creationists can be divided into “old earthers” and “young earthers.” The former postulate that science-based dating of the evolutionary process is correct but that the process itself was initiated by a Creator. The latter, the strong creationists, attempt to validate biblical dating and the biblical creation narrative. Answers in Genesis (AIG) can be categorized as Young-Earth Creationists (YECs). AIG asserts that the Bible is the word of God and the absolute authority on all matters. The Board of AIG explains that any evidence in any area of knowlege must be confirmed by the Bible to be valid. As AIG puts the matter, “no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record” (Answers in Genesis 2012). Therefore, AIG accepts the Bible as the accurate historical account of Earth’s creation recorded in Genesis 3:14-19 (Ross, 2005). From its perspective, the organization of the natural world is “irreducibly complex” and could only have been originally designed (Petto & Godfrey, 2007).

On February 4, 2014, AIG leader, Ken Ham debated renowned scientist, Bill Nye on the question “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?” and provided an explanation of AIG’s view on science. AIG makes a distinction between observational science and historical science. During his presentation, Ham commented that “People by and large have not been taught to look at what you believe about the past as different compared to what you observe in the present. You don’t observe the past directly. Even when you think about the creation account, we can’t observe God creating.” Ham and his followers therefore hold that mainstream science is not viable because there was no one in the past to observe any events that transpired. AIG accepts the natural laws of mainstream science, but believes they have divine origin, which allows for their belief in a six-day creation (Foreman, Ham, and Nye 2014).


With its increasing speaking ministry, radio program, and web outreach, AIG searched for a building site in northern Kentucky fortheir creation museum. Two efforts to rezone land for the project met strong opposition from evolution proponents and other secular groups. Despite this resistance, hundreds of radio stations began featuring AIG’s Answers program. By 2006, AIG’s website,, was chosen out of 1,300 ministries to receive the “Website of the Year” award from the National Religious Broadcasters. The website has gone on to host about 25,000 visitors a day. The AIG magazine, Creation, which was originally published in Australia, is also distributed in the United States. In 2006, however, AIG-US discovered that over half their subscribers did not renew their subscriptions after one year. The organization recognized the need for a new magazine, Answers , which would feature biblical and scientific articles about the origins controversy and emphasize the biblical worldview with practical applications. Further differences between the American and Australian branches caused AIG-US to stop distributing Creation and focus solely on Answers. After only five years in operation, Answers received the “Award of Excellence” from the Evangelical Press Association (Ham n.d.).

By 2004, AIG was able to obtain the site for its Creation Museum, fifty acres near Interstate 275. The museum opened on May 28,2007. Ham created the Creation Museum to spread “Biblically correct science” to the public and to try and bring Creationism into the mainstream. He preferred a museum to a church because museums are accepted as places of public education and for the display of scientific research findings. Further, a museum is a more engaging environment in which to encourage learning among children. Finally, a museum could connect directly with visitors and AIG’s message would not be filtered through mainstream scientists or the government (Duncan 2009). According to Ham, AIG simply wants the Creation Museum to tell people that “the Bible is true and the Bible is God’s word, that’s what it’s all about” (Jacoby, 1998). The museum features a planetarium, the Johnson Observatory, SFX Theater, a petting zoo, an insectarium, a zip-line course, dinosaur fossils, and animatronic exhibits. The Creation Museum was very successful in its first year, attracting 404,000 visitors but suffered declining visitation, with only 280,000 visitors in 2012.

AIG announced plans in 2010 for a project to build a full-scale version of Noah’s Ark and biblical village. The Ark Encounter, is to belocated on 800 acres near Interstate 75 in Grant County, Kentucky and is scheduled to open in the summer of 2016 (Ham, n.d.). The Ark Encounter is described as “a 160-acre park with a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark built to stand 500 feet long and 80 feet high” (Goodwin 2012). Initial construction plans were delayed until 2014 due to a weak economy and a decline in visitation to the Creation Museum (Goodwin 2012). Based on outside consulting term estimates, AIG has anticipated 1,600,000 visitors in its first year, as well as improved visitation. The initial financial projections were also optimistic as a result of tax breaks pledged by the State of Kentucky; these were withdrawn after considerable controversy concerning church-state separation (Alford 2010; “Kentucky” 2015). AIG subsequently announced plans to sue Kentucky over the withdrawal (Linshi 2015).


AIG has met some opposition within the conservative Christian community. For example, in March, 2011, the Board of GreatHomeschool Conventions, Inc. (GHC) voted to disinvite Ken Ham and AIG from “all future conventions [as Ham made] unnecessary, ungodly, and mean-spirited statements that are divisive at best and defamatory at worst” (Blackford 2011) about another speaker at the convention. The board stated that “Ken’s public criticism of the convention itself and other speakers at [the] convention require him to surrender spiritual privilege of addressing a homeschool audience” (Blackford 2011). Ham, in his blog, explained that Peter Enns of the BioLogos Foundation teaches misleading information about Genesis that compromises Genesis with evolution and is an “outright liberal theology that totally undermines the authority of the Word of God” (Answers in Genesis Board of Directors 2011). After the allegations against Ham being un-Christian and sinful were made, AIG launched an internal investigation of GHC, but has yet to find any resolution (Answers in Genesis Board of Directors 2011).

Predictably, AIG has received heavy criticism from scientists representing a variety of disciplines who regard the Creation Museum as a “monument to scientific illiteracy” (Kennerly 2009). According to Jerry Lipps, professor of geology, paleontology, and evolution at University of California, Berkeley, even most mainstream Christians do not agree with AIG’s interpretation of Earth’s history. Lisa Park, a professor of paleontology and a firm follower of Christianity views Creationism as focusing “on fear… [and] a malicious manipulation of the public” (Kennerly 2009). Daryl Domning, professor of anatomy at Howard University claims it imbibes visitors to the museum to believe in “a major distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity as it is of science” (Kennerly 2009).

It is not surprising, therefore, that Ham’s initial plan to locate the museum next to Big Bone Lick State Park, which is the birthplaceof vertebrate paleontology in North America, drew vigorous opposition from scientists (Goodwin 2012). From the scientists’ perspective, this location implied that the local government was giving support to a sectarian religious group. Ham’s proposal was subsequently denied after several zoning disputes and legal proceedings, and he then decided to move his museum strategically closer to the Cincinnati International Airport.

The most direct confrontation between Ham and an opposing scientist took place on February 4, 2014 in a public debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the Creation Museum. Nye argued in a YouTube post that “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children.” He stated that “If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate” (Lovan 2012). For his part, Ham attempted to substantiate the YEC model of the universe’s origins. He reasserted that Earth was created by God approximately 6,000 years ago and dinosaurs and humans once coexisted, as it is specifically stated in the Genesis. Nye sought to refute Ham’s claims by citing widely supported observations by scientists that the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old. Ham responded that “I believe science has been hijacked by secularists…and that there is a difference between historical science and observational science” (“Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham” 2014). Nye pointed out that a variety of methodologies (radiometric dating, ice core data, and the light from distant stars) supports the position that the Earth is much older than 6,000 years (Lovan 2012). When Ham referred to the Genesis flood narrative and Noah’s Ark, Nye pointed out that the Ark as described in the Book of Genesis would not float. Nye also pointed out that, using Nye’s calculations, an ark containing 7,000 kinds of animals would require that approximately eleven new species would have to come into existence every day for the Earth to contain all presently known species (O’Neil 2014). While Ham does not have appeared to have won over a majority of the audience, he seemed unconcerned. From his perspective, the publicity generated by the debate was a source of fundraising for AIG’s construction of the Ark Encounter theme park (Chowdhury 2014).


Alford, Roger. 2010). “Full-scale Replica of Noah’s Ark Planned in Kentucky.” USA Today, December 3. Accesed from on 27 February 2015.

Answers in Genesis Board of Directors. 2011. “Kicked Out of Two Homeschool Conferences.”, June 10. Accessed from on 31 January 2015.

Answers in Genesis. 2012. “Statement of Faith.” Accessed from on 6 January 2015.

Answers in Genesis. n.d. “Ken Ham.” Accessed from on 7 January 2015.

Blackford, Linda B. 2011. “Founder of Creation Museum Banned from Convention.”, March 24. Accessed from on 31 January 2015.

Chowdhury, Sudeshna. 2014. “Bill Nye versus Ken Ham: Who Won?” The Christian Science Monitor, February 5. Accessed from on 26 January 2015.

Duncan, Julie A. 2009. Faith Displayed as Science: The Role of the Creation Museum in the Modern Creationist Movement . Honors Thesis, Department of the History of Science. Cambridge: Harvard University.

Goodwin, Liz. 2012. “The Creation Museum Evolves: Hoping to Add a Life-Size Ark Project, The Museum Hits Fundraising, July 5. Accessed from on 31 January 2015.

Ham, Ken. 2009. “If You Don’t Matter to God, You Don’t Matter to Anyone.” , April 20. Accessed from on 29 January 2015.

Ham, Ken. n.d. “The History of Answers in Genesis through December 2014.” Accessed from on 7 January 2015.

Jacoby, Steve. 1998. “Culture Clash.” Cincinnati Best & Worst 33: 80-86. Accessed from on 29 December 2014.

Kennerly, Britt. 2009. “Paleontologists Brought to Tears, Laughter by Creation Museum.”, June 30. Accessed from on 29 January 2015.

“Kentucky: No Tax Break for Site of a New Noah’s Ark.” Associated Press, December 11. Accessed from on 27 February 2015.

Linshi, Jack. 2015. Noah’s Ark Theme Park Group Sues Kentucky Over Withdrawn Tax Breaks.” TIME, February 3. Accessed from on 27 February 2015.

Lippard, Jim. 2006. “Trouble in Paradise: Answers in Genesis Splinters.” Reports of the National Center for Science Education, 26(6) .Accessed from 14 January 2015.

Lovan, Dylan. 2012. “Bill Nye Warns: Creation Views Threaten US Science.” AP Online, September 24. Accessed from on 26 January 2015.

Numbers, Ronald. 2006. The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design . Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

O’Neil, Tyler. 2014. “Science vs. Bible? 5 Arguments for and Against Creationism From the Ken Ham, Bill Nye Debate.” The Christian Post, February 5. Accessed from on 26 January 2015.

“Richard Dawkins Interview.” 2010., December 26. Accessed from on 29 January 2015.

Ross, Marcus R. 2005. “Who Believes What? Clearing up Confusion about Intelligent Design and Young-Earth Creationism.” Liberty University. Accessed from on 5 January 2015.

Saletan, William. 2014. “Creativity for Creationists.” Accessed from
on 28 December 2014.

Simitopoulou, Kally and Nikolaos Xirotitis. 2010. “The Revival of Creationism in Contemporary Societies: A Short Survey.” Bulletin der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Anthropologie 16:79–86.

Wieland, Carl. 2005. “Rushing in—Where Wiser Heads Might Not.”, April 12. Accessed from on 14 January 2015.

David G. Bromley
Merin Duke
Simren Bhatt

Post Date:
27 February 2015




Articles, Papers and Dissertations


Vassillios Adrahtas, “Dancing Up Circular Quay: Indigenous Australian Popular Culture, Hybridization, and the Local Performance of the Glocal.”

Vassilios Adrahtas, “Prolegomena to the History of Indigenous Australian Prophetic Consciousness.”

Zoe Alderton, “Nick Cave: A Journey from an Anglican God to the Creative Christ.”

Zoe Alderton, “The Limits of Taste: Politics, Aesthetics, and Christ in Contemporary Australia.”

Sarah K. Balstrup, “Sentient Symbols: The Implications of Animal Cruelty Debates in Contemporary Australian Art.”

Gary Bouma, “Globalization and Localization: Anglicans and Pentecostals in Australia and the United States.”

Annabel Carr, “Beauty, Myth and Monolith: Picnic at Hanging Rock and the Vibration of Sacrality.”

Carole M. Cusack, “Mysterious Ways: Some Reflections on the “Religion, Literature and the Arts Project,” 1994-1996.”

Carole M. Cusack,”Religion in Australian Society: A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place.”

Carole M. Cusack, “The Virgin Mary at Coogee: A Preliminary Investigation.”

Justine Digance and Carole M. Cusack, “Secular Pilgrimage Events: Druid Gorsedd and Stargate Alignments.”

D. W. DockRill, “Archbishop Gough and the Sydney Philosophers: Religion, Religious Studies, and the University.”

Lucy Ellem, “My Colour Country: Landscape and Spirituality in the Art of Ginger Riley Muduw Alawala.”

Jan Epstein, “Jews and Films in Australia.”

Christopher Hartney, “Open Temple, Open Eyes: Viewing Caodaism.”

Lynne Hume, “New Religious Movements: Current Research in Australia.”

Patrick Hutchings, “Australian Aboriginal Art.”

Richard Ingold, “God, the Devil and You: A Systemic Functional Linguistic Analysis of the Language of Hillsong.”

Janet Kahl, “Miracle Image of Mary at Yankalilla, South Australia.”

Suzanne Langford, “In Search of an Australian Soul: Reflections on Religion and Spirituality in Rabbit-Proof Fence and Japanese Story.”

Renee Lockwood, Sacrifice and the Creation of Group of Identity: Case Studies of Gallipoli and Masada

Sheila McCreanor, “The Construction of an Australian Saint.”

Lyn McCredden, “Symbol-Making in Australia.”

Trevor Melksham, “What Manner of Men are These? Peter Weir’s Gallipoli as an Expression of Australian Civil Religion.”

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Peter Pierce, “The Problem of Consolation in the Country of Lost Children.”

Adam Possamai, “Alternative Spiritualities, New Religious Movements, and Jedism in Australia.”

James T. Richardson, “New Religions in Australia: Public Menace or Societal Salvation?

Maurice Ryan, “Religion Courses in Australian Schools

Marian de Souza and Richard Rymarz, “The Transmission of a Religious Heritage to Younger Members of Small Ethnic Communities in a Pluralistic Society: The Perceptions of Young Austalian Copts.”


Stephen John Carthew. 2012. A World within a World within “The World”: The Origins of the Universal Brotherhood, an Australian Countercultural, Back-to-the-land, New Age, Alternative Society and New Religious Movement Community. University of South Australia.