Jesus, don't cry
You can rely on me, honey
You can combine anything you want
I'll be around
You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun
> Jesus etc by Wilco
During the weekends in Jakarta, the disciples of Indonesia’s newest religion head to the shopping malls to pay homage to the Great God of Consumerism. Prayers are not necessary but the faithful are expected to sacrifice their hard-earned incomes on things they don’t need (if that ain’t devotion to the cause I don’t know what is!). Converts come from across the social spectrum but as in all religions blasphemers are not tolerated - so never attend a service without a wad of cash in your pocket (although ATM and credit cards will also do).
The new places of worship are built on a scale to impress – as befitting a great religion – and are being erected at such a phenomenal pace that there are now estimated to be one shopping mall for every 18 Jakarta residents (not counting the poor, obviously).
But it hasn’t always been this way and there was once a time when places of worship were actually built with a bit of character and class.
One of these places is the Jakarta Immanuel Church in Central Jakarta.
Last Friday I decided to check it out.
Located just opposite the Gambir train station, the church is set well back from the main street and obscured from view by a large fence.
At the main entrance the security guard was asleep on the job so I just walked on through.
From the outside, little has changed and the church looks almost exactly the same as it did when it was built in 1839.
Drawing on the classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the church is built in the Palladian style that was very popular in Old Blighty during the 17th century and easily recognizable from its use of symmetry and – of course - the huge columns.
A tad grandiose perhaps for Jakarta’s kampungs - where the minimalist “shanty hut” style of architecture is very much in vogue these days – there are, however, strong echoes of the Palladian style in the houses that Jakarta’s super rich construct today (see this “Versace” mansion I came across a while back for instance).
Step inside the church, through huge wooden doors, and it’s like stepping back in time. The church simply exudes character and a chill goes through my body – actually it’s a bit creepy in here too - despite the sauna-like temperatures inside. In fact, it’s so damn hot in here that I’m sweating pints like a sinner roasting on the spits in Hell. My shirt is drenched in sweat.
I discover a way up to the first floor and walk up a creaky old spiral staircase which feels as if it could give way at any moment. Light streams in through some of the ancient windows and strange shapes dance furtively in the shadows.
Now it gets really weird – I can’t get my camera to focus! I’ve never had this problem before but it simply won’t do it automatically and so I have to switch to manual focus. And even then the camera won’t work well. Weird.
At the far end of the room there’s an old wooden organ that was apparently shipped over in parts from Holland in 1843 and only fairly recently restored in 1985. Must be a blast to hear – it’s really huge.
Anyway, after a few moments of contemplation it’s time to go -
- I’ve got to meet someone for lunch in the food court of the new Grand Indonesia shopping mall!
NB: checking the camera that evening and there was no problem. It doesn’t like churches, perhaps?