"For freedom Christ has set us free"
I grew up in Killara, situated in the northern suburbs of Sydney, Australia. As a toddler I was in the first intake of children at the Killara Kindergarten, and on Sunday mornings I was marched off to Sunday School at St.Martin's Anglican church. I graduated about a year later after getting bashed up one Sunday morning. My education continued in a more secular vein at Knox Grammar School, a Presbyterian school where I learnt the art of singing adjusted words to the hymns at assembly, but more importantly, athletics in summer and rugby in winter. Oh yes, there was also some education.
I had a very fortunate childhood. We had a happy home, although my father did get a little intoxicated during the week - the stress of work and all that. There were the holidays and in my early teens, "the farm". The farm was a property on the Hawkesbury river at Gunderman. What a wonderful place to spend weekends and holidays - tractors and motor bikes, that was the life. Of course, far more fun was had at 1st. Killara Scouts, and the many years of mucking around with my mates Jeff, Ron and John - proudly pictured below in front of our sparkling new series 1 Austin Healy Sprites.
Confirmation was an important "social" event for a young person having reached the magical age of 14 and so, with much protest, I was back at St.Martin's under the jolly hand of Rev. Norman Fox. My grandfather, a staunch Presbyterian, was not amused. Still, it is where I met my first girlfriend, the beautiful Carol. I was soon a member of the Servers Guild, learning to appreciate the art of liturgical worship, but above all, under the hand of Richard Frith, a young trainee minister serving at St.Martin's, I was introduced to Jesus. I put Jesus on hold, with cars, girls, ... the order of the day.
Having left school, I started training as a perfumer at my father's company, Cox Findlayson & Co., learning to distinguish hundreds of essential oils and chemicals, blending them, matching them and creating. I just couldn't settle at the job, fascinating though it was. I had this strange sense that I should become a minister, a preacher of the Word. I was more gifted at perfumery than preaching, but God's call gives little weight to natural talents. Anyway, the more I thought about the call the further I ran.
Marriage, a new home, raising kids, had me away from church, but deep down I sensed that the Lord was still reaching out to me. It was when I went to see our local minister at Eastwood for my child's Christening that I was again confronted by Jesus. The Rector, Rev. Allen Funnel, asked if I had faith. I said "No." He then asked if I would read a little book he would like to give me. A reasonable request, so, "Yes, of course." He gave me the pamphlet, "Becoming a Christian", by John Stott. I read his little book and I knew I could run no longer. By the way, the 1923 Rugby (a Durant in the US) was a toy, not my regular car!!
After my conversion I felt I had no other choice but to enter the ordained ministry. I teed up an interview with the principal at the Sydney Anglican training center, Moore Theological College. Of course, the then principal, Dr. Knox, asked the obvious question: "how long have you been a Christian?" I innocently told him it was a matter of a few weeks. He was very kind, letting me down gently. Still, I kept coming back and after two more years he let me in. The year was 1968. I have to say, the four years spent studying the Bible at Moore were the most fruitful years of my life. We lived off the smell of an oil rag and loved every moment of it.
During the four years at college I served at St. George's Paddington and St.Faith's Narrabeen, and then six years as a minister in training (Curate) at St.Andrew's Cronulla and St.George's Engadine. My first parish was Helensburgh with Stanwell Park, an urban area South of Sydney. With Doreen my wife, and three kids, we made it our home for 17 years. For me, the focus was community/fellowship and outreach. The church community took on a "Fisher Folk" style. Something quite special evolved over those years - one in Christ. I do love "the Burgh" (Burgh as in iceberg).....
The youth outreach program ended up one of the largest ministries on the South Coast of Sydney - The Jesus Light and Power Co (not an original name by the way). Club House with jukebox, pin ball machines, pool table, etc. and of course, Buses. Over the years I have owned three buses, total madness. One was actually a double decker bus, a 1948 Albion with vacuum breaks and a top speed of 30 miles per hour. It was possible to go faster in "angel gear", for those game enough to try it, although stopping was a problem
A camping ministry soon developed at a 30 person camp site on a 5 acre riverside block of land on the Hawkesbury river. I took 10 weeks leave and built the lodge with the wharf and boat-shed coming a few years later. So, it was canoes, tinnies, and a sailing dingy to keep the troops occupied. Behind the lodge was a sheer mountain with a half hour climb to reach the top. Anyway, youth camps were soon a regular part of the church outreach program.
The weekly Bible study at our home was something special, particularly as I had picked up the "Wesley" virus. I was attending a Bible Study led by one of my mates. He was tackling what Paul meant by "the law" in Galatians. I was undone. Just like John Wesley, I was a pietist through and through; totally into sanctification by obedience. It took a year or two, unlike Wesley, but in the end I discovered the extent of God's grace. I was set free by the discovery of God's total acceptance of me in Christ, even with all my terrible sin, recurrent and ingrained. 'Amazing grace!'
By 1990 I was getting a bit tired and having some difficulty reconciling my new freedom in Christ with my pietist leanings and the emergence of the new perspective on Paul. The answer was to take a sabbatical. We sold the Gunderman camp site and purchased a beautiful Californian bungalow in Braidwood, a historic town on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. In the mornings I worked to produce a paper on the grace/law issue and in the afternoons played house and gardens. It was a wonderful break.
In 1991 I was appointed to the parish of St.Andrew's Cronulla, a southern beach suburb of Sydney. St.Andrew's was substantially a traditional Anglican church and my focus there became the preached Word and liturgy. I particularly enjoyed the challenge because the majority of clergy in Sydney were into dismantling Anglican form on the premise that the adoption of pop-culture in worship provided better access for the gospel. Oops! isn't the gospel itself the power of God unto salvation? "'Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit', says the Lord God almighty."
Of course, life has its downs. Early in my time at Cronulla our son died from a brain tumor. No words can describe the loss of a child, a loss that was to be repeated some years later with the death of my eldest daughter. Then in my final years at Cronulla I hit the wall, the proverbial "burn out." My personal life ended up a mess and my marriage on the rocks, prompting an early exit from ministry in 1999. My wife and I finally separated some years later and in 2007 I remarried and moved to the seaside town of Kiama, south of Sydney. Of course, I don't look back on this time with any pride; Grace is all.
On leaving full-time ministry I did some time in the building industry, then truck driving and finally became a civil celebrant, while working to develop lectionarystudies.com. Much of my time was spent in the study and for the first time in my life I had the space to work over the scriptures. I finally got a handle on "the new perspective" and the law/grace issue. Mind you, many of my "theo" friends are not fully convinced, but then, when have theologians ever agreed? The search, along with the cut-and-thrust, is a joy in itself. I am still brought to tears at the wonder of Biblical truth.
In 2008 I retired and my wife Tricia and I moved from Kiama to the Comboyne plateau in Northern New South Wales. What a wonderful part of God's creation, some 700 meters above sea level, high rainfall, basalt soil meters thick. Our cedar cottage sat on two acres with room to play house and garden, producing fresh fruit and vegetables for the table. Now, with more time to play with old machines, I got to and and restored a wrecked TEA20 Ferguson tractor. Best of all, freedom to work in the study. The little village of Comboyne was three kilometers down the road for life's little essentials, and church on Sunday.
Our years at Comboyne were extremely enjoyable and rewarding. It is, as the Celts would say, a thin place - a touch closer to heaven. But life moves on and so in 2016 we enjoyed a short sea change at Scotts Head on the North Coast of New South Wales, before moving to Victoria to be closer to family. While at Scotts, church on Sunday took a hit when the powers that be up and sold our one and only church building in the village. It served as a good excuse to join the Desert Fathers!
In Australia we must renew our photo driving license every five years. In the last years of my service at Cronulla I was at the Motor Registry and met a member of the congregation there who was also renewing his license. We both compared the old with the new. On comparing my photos he commented that my time at Cronulla had somewhat aged me - it sure had! So, at the top of this bio I have included the presentation model of what once used to be before the condemnation of the years!
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The Parson's Nose. Personal reminiscences of life as an Anglican clergyman
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons