Mingary: The Quiet Place 0 Comments

Mingary: The Quiet Place

There’s a space in Melbourne’s CBD that could be said to be underappreciated, and that you should go visit. It was a 2012 Melbourne Awards finalist. Hundreds of people have visited it, apparently, since its opening in 1999. Yet who would know it was there?

My friends, you will be shocked to know that I’m about to tell you to visit a church. St Michael’s Uniting Church on the Collins end of Russell Street, to be exact. There’s a space inside the church called ‘Mingary’, which feels like a cross between a gallery space and a Buddhist temple.

Mingary is ‘a Gaelic word meaning the quiet place’. A sign on the church says it is a ‘non-denominational sanctuary that welcomes all who enter’, meaning that anyone of any religion or culture can enter. It was developed as a place to find respite from the bustle of the city, ‘a peaceful escape from the hectic demands of city life’. A place to quietly reflect. Mingary offers ‘a haven where people may restore a sense of strength and vitality following trauma and tragedy’, which ties into the counselling service and wellbeing workshops provided at the church.

As a sceptic, I usually regard churches and their advertising with mild amusement, especially if the signboard out the front contains a serious message. Especially if a part of it is named after something that sounds like the British word ‘minger’, slang for ugly or stinky. But on that day I had twenty minutes to spare before work, and the mention of ‘a quiet place’ on the church sign drew me in.

I climbed the church stairs. I didn’t combust or even feel warm as I crossed the threshold of the church. At the entrance was a chain hanging above a stone plinth, water streaming down the chain to pool and run off the stone. The wall on the right was filled with drawers of cremated people.

A sign proclaimed, ‘He restores my soul’. I gulped.

As my eyes adjusted to the soft lighting I saw a small-scale Stonehenge in the middle of the space. There was a wing-like structure protruding from the henge, smooth white against the rough stone. The geometric shape on the ceiling contrasted with the hand-carved feeling of the henge. Lining the walls were donated chairs made from natural materials, from wood and rope.

Religion aside, it was peaceful. It almost felt like an oasis in the desert – the water on stone and the sand-coloured tones reflected this. There’s something about running water that’s calming, and this, paired with the warm colour of the lighting, was a welcomed break from the bright lights and noise of the city.

Though I could hear the occasional truck horn from the street outside, it was fairly quiet inside the room. The earthy feel of the space reminded me of the desert, which reminded me of the setting of the Bible, which made me very conscious of the fact I was standing in a church. But the henge made me think of the pagan origins of religion, of the original faith of those who would later become Christian. This recognition of the old faith – the pagan henge supporting the white wing, reminiscent of angels and Christianity – gave me a kind of respect for the creators of this space.

I sat in one of the chairs, hoping this was allowed. I breathed in. I breathed out. I let the stillness of the air and the movement of the running water sink into me. After five minutes or so I stood and headed to the entrance. I read the names of some of the people whose ashes were kept there. I looked back into the space, at the henge, the wing, the running water, and wondered who would visit this place after me.

 

Mingary is open 8.00am to 5.00pm on weekdays and 8.00am to 1.00pm on Sundays.

 

There was a time when Chloe Brien wanted to be a fairy and work magic. Having given up on that dream, she instead wants to work magic with words. Her preferred incantations are fiction and poetry. She has been published in Verge, Voiceworks and elsewhere.

 

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