marionandrews

The path of the just is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until full day.

LIFE WORK – Chapter 1 HONOUR THE SABBATH DAY: Chapter 2 MONDAY IN THE MANSE: CHAPTER 3 TUESDAY OUT AND ABOUT

 

Chapter 1

 

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HONOUR THE SABBATH DAY

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Ecclesiastes 5:1

I think of this verse when I see children climbing on the rock wall on their way up to St Stephen’s. I think of these words when I see someone with reduced mobility slowly climbing the steep hill path. Our King’s Hill was named after a man, Gidley King, not the King of kings. Yet all of Scripture sings of going up the hill of the Lord, glorious Mount Zion, city of the great King, to worship Him. We are more privileged than many Christians, even in Tamworth, to have our church building sitting on the top of a hill, especially a hill that bears a name like King’s Hill.

And yet if you go over the river and up to Oxley Lookout, King’s Hill hardly stands out. In the bigger picture its steep roads and paths hardly count. They look quite flat. Flagstaff Mountain is the king of mountains surrounding the Peel Valley. And so, perspective helps to keep us humble and reminds me that today’s steep climb will be of no consequence when we reach the city of the great King.

For Stuart and me, Sunday is the Flagstaff Mountain-top of the week. Every other day leads up to it, and those following are a descent from the summit. The Lord’s Day is a full day in a clergy household, and at times the most stressful. Very early in our ministry Stuart and I realized that as Sunday is so demanding, we needed Saturday to be our ‘preparation for the Sabbath’. We needed to prepare the way. This meant sacrificing many weekend pleasures that others enjoy.

Some people like to joke that ministers work only on Sundays. Think again! A minister is on-call any time of the day or night, any day of the week, besides having a programme that often fills up 60 or more hours a week. Only this week, Stuart was called to the hospital in the middle of the night. After his heart attack, Stuart tried, with limited success, to cut back to the proverbial 40 hours a week. In the service of our great King, we count all the hours as a joy and a privilege. It is only when the body starts to wear out that time seems to matter.

There’s no sleeping in on Sunday morning. Quiet Time, breakfast and family prayers all have to run like clockwork. Most mornings there is time to listen to the headlines just in case there is any earth-shattering news. Since the advent of the iPad, one has simply to tap the screen and up come the news headlines at any time. It is a bit disconcerting when a person has worked their whole morning routine around the 7.45 news for decades! And yet, tapping the iPad comes as a relief, not having to listen to the cynicism and atheistic bias of the secular media on the Lord’s Day.

In recent years we have taken to cleaning our spectacles in the hot washing-up suds on Sunday morning. One morning, we arrived at St Stephen’s and everything seemed blurred. Stuart started the service and discovered that he couldn’t read clearly. Then we realized simultaneously: he had my glasses on and I had his. They had been mixed up in the washing. Since then I have procured a pink pair that are not so easy to confuse. Glitches like this, rather than drawing criticism from the congregation as once I feared, now elicit a smile or chuckle from many.

In our early years when we had babies and young children, Sunday mornings before church were particularly rushed. One little girl liked to make an issue of what she wore to church. In particular she did not want to wear a matching outfit with her sister. There was one Sunday morning run-in when I was away having a new baby. Stuart’s parents were holding the fort and Nanna remembered that battle of the wills for a long time.

One advantage of living near the church was getting to church on time. We never had a big problem with this though I know some ministry families do. I guess both Stuart and I were raised by old soldiers who required punctuality of their families.

We time things so that Stuart has half an hour alone with the Lord before the service. I have a mental check-list before I step out the front door. Beside the children’s notebooks and pencils in previous years, I still check off a handkerchief, offering, biro and keys.

In the 1970’s, I read the books of Edith Schaeffer from ‘L’Abri’ in Switzerland. She wrote about taking children to worship and showed examples of some of the notes and stick figure drawings she did to help her children and then her grandchildren follow the sermon. I pursued this practice with my pre-school children. Once they were at school, I encouraged them to make their own notes.

Before the children went to school, we taught them short memory verses. While they sat waiting for the service to begin, I showed them where these verses were in the Bible, and encouraged them to pick out the words. What better way to learn to read than by reading the Scripture! One memorable verse was “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The sense of achievement of a four-year-old when he realized he had just read a long word like ‘beginning’ is palpable.

Of course, those days were not all good days. By the time I had four children, one a baby and one a very active five-year-old with two in between, our pew was a busy place. Occasionally a toddler would break free and run up to join her father in the pulpit. I was mortified and ashamed with my lack of control, especially as Grandma Gilmour and Auntie Sidney sat right behind us. I felt the weight of criticism of the whole congregation on my shoulders. I needn’t have worried. I know now that they were on my side. Then one Sunday, little Duncan fell through the back of the pew and hit his head. Everyone heard the rumpus and people came from all over to help. The two Gilmour ladies offered to have Stuart James sit between them. From then on, SJ sat with young Reg between Reg’s grandmother and auntie. That was mutually agreeable to all parties and certainly gave me a break.

There was the occasion when stronger measures were needed. Elder Ted Little told me that most children, especially little boys (he had five), need one good spanking on the bottom for misbehaviour in church. His advice was that that encounter set them up for the rest of their lives. As the nurture and admonition fell on my shoulders on a Sunday morning, I took his advice. Both little boys, before they went to school, were taken outside once and received their measure of discipline. Ted’s advice was good and his prediction held true. (I wonder if those who plan to outlaw spanking will make their legislation retrospective! A lot of us may be in trouble.)

Where should the minister’s family sit in church? At Ashfield in Sydney there is a little brass plaque on the second back pew right-hand side indicating this is the minister’s family pew. (A Scottish friend told me the back pew was ‘sinner’s row’. I wonder why they put the minister’s family just in front of it.) I preferred to sit in the second front pew right hand side when I had children with me. There they could see all that was happening and they knew their father could see them. Although they were fully exposed to the view of the congregation and any critical eyes in it, I believe they were less aware of this sort of thing than when we sat further back, making worship a positive experience for our children.

These days, I usually sit up the back. Until recently I worked the overhead projection. As well, I have a roll of regular worshippers that I mark off. I started marking my roll so that people wouldn’t get forgotten. We have had people away sick and no one has realized. From the back corner I can check names so that we know who has not been for a while, and find out if they are in need of a visit.

For many years, I invited people home for lunch in an effort to get to know the members as well as to welcome visitors. This did not satisfy me, though, as I realized there were many people who never received an invitation. So we devised a scheme that meant everyone on the roll at St Stephen’s did have an opportunity to come to our place.

On nine Sundays in 2008, we served High Tea at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Our Elders have a certain number of people under their care, usually ten or twelve people. So we invited each Elder and his people as a group. Each Elder spoke at the beginning of the programme, telling something of Christ, something of his personal experience with God. (We have yet to invite the Moonbi people, and of course God has blessed us with new members since 2008.)

I researched what a traditional High Tea consisted of, and served something hot and savoury along with cakes and slices, not forgetting cucumber sandwiches. Cold water was served in a silver jug and crystal glasses. The bone china cups, saucers and apostle spoons Stuart’s mother had given me sat waiting for tea to be poured from a china teapot. Sometimes there were children present, and not a thing was broken, even though the china is quite old. I have found that children live up to the standard you set on such special occasions.

Those days were a rush and Stuart had to be well prepared beforehand for his evening service. I have suggested to Stuart that if we have any more High Teas, he arrange for other preachers on those days.

Many churches no longer have an evening service and we often welcome travellers wanting to worship God in the evening. I’m glad we have an evening service, though I’m not sure why more of our congregation don’t make a priority of it. It is a wonderful personal discipline for keeping the whole Sabbath day holy: it is a more intimate experience of worship and fellowship and St Stephen’s has a beauty at night that it lacks during the day. If you stand in the car park you see the changing moods of the mountains all around; you see the twinkling of the city of lights; turning around you see it all reflected in the large panes of glass along the front of both buildings. At twilight, the resident gum trees frame the picture and look more splendid than ever in the reflection.

I did not take my small children to 7.30pm evening service as they had to be in bed and get a good sleep for school the next day. Once they reached double figures they were keen to go with Daddy at night, especially when we changed the service time to 6.30pm. As teenagers, they enjoyed helping Ian with the music, learning lessons for life in being useful in the service of God.

On Sunday, as on no other day, we are dealing with spiritual realities. It is hardly surprising then that this is a day when we are often under attack from the evil one. He finds the chinks in our armour, sloth, unbelief, impatience, anger, jealousy to name a few. How often have I dragged my feet up King’s Hill, just not wanting to be there, after bitter encounters, irate phone calls or critical letters! How often has anger welled up inside me at a fellow worshipper who has crossed or annoyed me! How often have I questioned God’s sovereignty in placing us on this little hill of all the many hills and valleys needing ministers, after severe disappointment!

And yet, this is the hill where Christ has required Stuart and me to stand firm, and having done all, to stand. We come up this hill eagerly now, knowing that we will meet others who are joyful in worship and fellowship, others who are glad that we are there. We have learned to take Jesus’ advice and leap for joy as we climb the steep hills and stumble through the dark valleys of our ministry. After all, they are all the King’s hills and valleys.

 

Chapter 2
MONDAY IN THE MANSE

The Sunday morning service was in progress. I was minding someone’s baby when a strange man came and squeezed into the end of the pew beside me where there was no room. The baby cried! The overheads were all over the place, with rogue slides popping up. There were several visitors and a couple of them got up to leave 10 minutes into the service. I raced out to see if I could persuade them to stay. Everything was in technicolour and all that had ever gone wrong over the decades was going wrong layer upon layer.

Of course it was a dream. But this is what Monday morning can feel like when a minister and his wife review Sunday, even subconsciously. Occasionally, Monday is the day we take our sandwiches and flask of tea to Oxley Lookout and spend time in prayer. Sitting on our folding chairs in the shade of the old gum tree on its raised platform encircled by roadway, we look out towards Moore Creek or Calala. We take a walk to the lookout and see the whole city of Tamworth spread before us with Duri Peak and ranges walling it in. This is the best way I know of driving away the nightmare goblins of doubt and fear that Satan sends to wound us on a Monday morning. We see the big picture more clearly, and the handiwork of God assures us of His good purposes.

Monday never worked as the minister’s day off for us. There was always follow up from Sunday to do. There are towns where the minister’s day off is so entrenched that it is difficult to arrange a funeral on Monday. When Stuart graduated from Theological College, the congregation he served as student-assistant gave him a large hot-water flask for his Monday fishing trips. The flask has long gone, and the fishing trips never happened.

From 1988 to 2003, we opened our home to seven high school children from isolated places who needed to come to Tamworth for High School. Most of them went home every second weekend so Monday morning was when we picked them up from the bus or when parents called with their luggage after dropping them at school. These were cheerful visits and we formed lasting friendships with two of these families. Our experience was that it was much easier to have boarders while our own children were still at home. Five teenagers are much easier to manage than one or two. There was always someone to jolly another out of moods and it is much easier to give a warning of unacceptable behaviour to a group than a single child. Those were our happy golden years! Yes the manse was crowded, but cheerfully so.

During the early 1990’s, we did take Monday off regularly for a special reason. My father, Rev Frank White volunteered to look after the church at Walcha during a vacancy. After the children were on their way to school, Stuart and I drove off to Walcha to spend the day with him. Dad welcomed us with open arms and usually had something special to fill our day, sight-seeing, a tour of the sawmill, making jam from the fruit in the manse yard. Each day, Dad had his main meal at Apsley Riverview Hostel next door and we joined him. It provided him with company. He remarked about the 80 year old lady who came to take out her 102 year old mother for a drive. He was bemused by the elderly lady who came over to the swing in the manse yard and asked him to push her. He felt somewhat embarrassed when several ladies started fighting about who would sit at his table. (He was in his early 80’s and cut a fine figure with his military deportment and thick white hair.)

One Monday, three of my friends from Tamworth came for a visit. Dad was thrilled to offer them a cup of tea and bikkies. The trouble was there weren’t enough cups. Somewhat sheepishly, he produced the mug he kept his false teeth in. The handle had broken off and he had devised a wire handle, consistent with his Depression philosophy of never throwing anything out. My friends have never forgotten the incident even though he intended to use the mug himself and not give it to any of his visitors. That mug is my treasure now!

Monday is the most popular day for people to ring up and request baptism for their babies. Usually, these Monday requests come from people who are not attached to the church. This may be because a couple with a new child has been to see grand-parents on Sunday, and pressure has been applied by the older generations. I have learned to hand these requests over to Stuart as I do not have the necessary tact, nor is it my responsibility to deal with them. On occasions, God uses baptismal interviews to bring people to Christ, rarely in our experience. Stuart has used “Christianity Explained” and other Bible courses to seek to win people at this important juncture of their lives. He has spent countless evenings seeking to persuade young parents to come to Christ in order to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and the ways of the Church of God. On the whole, the seed seems to have fallen on poor soil, with some exceptions to rejoice our hearts.

Monday, for Stuart, is the day he prepares the outlines of his sermons for the next Sunday. Unusual in this day and age, Stuart prepares two new sermons every week. Starting early in the week he avoids a last minute rush. The rest of the week can be as busy as it can get, but he knows that something is ready for Sunday. He takes his morning sermon from the “Bible Guideposts” printed in “Church Matters”, our weekly notice sheet. He preaches systematically through books of the Bible in the evening. On Monday morning, he chooses Bible Readings and Hymns and types them with his sermon points in the file for next Sunday’s Church Matters. Computers make this easy.

We are blessed with godly instrumentalists and Stuart and his musicians work well together. Time is spent on the phone or in meetings to review the listed hymns on a six-monthly plan. They consider the capacity of the congregation to sing each song with heart and voice. They find known tunes or change the song if it is not suitable. Not every musician has chosen to work with Stuart.

Early in our ministry, the regular organist rang up on Saturday evening to say she would no longer be coming to the Presbyterian Church because Stuart was not ‘charismatic’. What were we to do? Who would play the next morning? Before the service began, Stuart stood up and announced that there was no organist. It was the Sunday in January before school began and there were several new families in the pews. Stuart asked if any of our visitors could help. It turned out that the new High School Principal’s wife and a young farmer both had “Letters” in music, and from then on we had first class music played agreeably in the right spirit. It was a lesson for us that “The Lord will provide”! (There are musicians who enjoy transmitting their moods through their music. If they happen to be in a bad mood they can thoroughly spoil a worship service. The best musician plays above the mood of the moment.)

For me, Monday morning is Family Letter morning. During the week, I jot down news from our four children, Stuart’s mother and my aunt, type it up over the weekend and add photos. On Monday, I print out one copy first. Often, the colours are faded or striped and printer needs re-inking. This would be a continuation of the Monday morning nightmare for me, were it not that Stuart comes to the rescue. I am always grateful that Stuart is willing and able to help me with technical problems. He also proof-reads my letter, and then it is ready to print out – six copies. I used to print out envelopes in colour, until my aunt did not receive hers till weeks later because rain had washed away the house number and it was delivered to a neighbour. Since then, we have a plain black and white envelope from Stuart’s laser printer which uses permanent ink.

Is letter writing a waste of time and postage? Why not just phone or send an email? Weekly letters are a strong tradition in our family, scattered around the world. Letter writing was the ‘work of mercy and necessity’ we were encouraged to do on Sunday as children. In the last decade, we have realized how much Mum Andrews and Auntie Ruth White enjoy getting this weekly missal. Even the children, though they rarely say so, look forward to the regular ‘snail mail’ letter. It is ‘hard copy’ that the grandchildren can pick up and look at. Stuart’s mother keeps her letters beside her armchair, looks at them often and prays for us. Brother Geoffrey reads them to her. Auntie Ruth rings late afternoon after receiving her copy, usually on Thursday. Her alert and cheerful voice tells me how much she enjoys reading about us and our young ones, and she prays every day for each one by name.

It is interesting to observe the efficiency of Australia Post and the Royal Mail. Posted on Monday, one letter arrives at Redland Bay, Queensland on Thursday, another at Broughshane in Northern Ireland on Saturday and yet another in Townsville, Queensland the next Tuesday. How it can take three days less to get to the other side of the world is beyond my comprehension!

My secondary job on Monday is to make sure the Catechism, Bible Guideposts and Who’s Who have been added to the Church Matters file for printing on Friday, along with a suitable picture for the front cover. Members of the congregation have contributed files of photos from time to time, and more are welcome.

Stuart has avoided regular meetings on Monday so that he can be fully prepared for the days ahead. Often there are pastoral visits to be made at the hospital, aged care facility or homes. Sometimes there are funerals. However, just this year one important meeting has been squeezed in – a lunch time get-together with Glenn and Dale, our new Pastoral Assistants. They sit in our downstairs parlour, eat their sandwiches and talk and pray about the exciting prospects for ministry in Tamworth through St Stephen’s and St Mark’s. May the Lord bless them and their efforts!

Like a dream that is past, or the discarded suds of an old-fashioned Monday wash, the memories of Sunday failures disperse into thin air. We come to the end of a productive day and go for a walk together with the Lord in the cool of the evening. It’s a good day, is Monday!

 

CHAPTER 3
TUESDAY OUT AND ABOUT

Farmer Brown was busy down at the big shed getting his machinery ready for harvest. Everything had to be checked. There is nothing worse than having to stop the harvest because the tractor or harvester breaks down. A couple of hundred metres away, near the house, he saw a strange car draw up. He could see a man get out of the car and call out to his wife who was hanging washing on the line. ‘The wife’ put her pegs down, gave him a wave and led the stranger in by the back door.
“She must know him,” thought the farmer. “Oh well, it’s time for a cuppa. I’ll go and see who it is. Perhaps it’s the new stock and station agent.”

Farmer Brown was a sceptic, though his wife went to church when he let her. It is easy enough to make it difficult for ‘the wife’ when you are on an isolated property with a black soil road between your place and the church. Any cloud in the distance or rattle of an engine was a good enough excuse to persuade her to stay at home. “Religion is OK in its place for the women and children,” the farmer was wont to say.
The ‘young fella’ introduced himself by name while the wife bustled round cheerfully getting a cuppa and biscuits. The farmer wondered why she seemed so happy to see the visitor, but then they hadn’t had any visitors lately. “She’s glad of the company,” he thought, “and he’s nice enough, easy going.”

They discussed the drought and the cattle prices and how much grain to the acre was likely this harvest. The young man turned out to be a good listener. Brown liked that. An agent who listened to the farmer is a good agent.

“It’s been good to meet you, Mr Brown,” said the young man. “Would you like me to read a Psalm and pray before I go?”

Brown’s jaw hung open, he spluttered and getting hold of himself, grunted “OK”.

It suddenly hit him that this must be the new minister in town. His wife gave him a certain look. He dropped his eyes and let all the confusing thoughts race round in his head while the minister read and prayed. He thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t like Old Macdonald down Goondiwindi way, who was up in the ceiling fixing something when the minister called. Macdonald decided to stay quiet in the roof cavity until he left. Mrs Macdonald kept saying she was sure her good man would be in soon, and kept pouring more cups of tea. By the time the minister went, Macdonald was prostrate with heat exhaustion and dehydration!

Stuart called on the Browns regularly after that initial episode. In retirement, living in town, Farmer Brown became quite dependant on these visits, especially when his wife died. No longer a sceptic, he looked forward to Stuart’s Psalm and Prayer and told him all about the Christian upbringing he had left behind for so long.

Often on a Tuesday Stuart visits members of the church. This has been a rewarding and refreshing aspect of his work, and many who have now gone to glory will welcome him with open arms when he arrives in the Eternal City. Of course, there have been those who have not welcomed him, but that is to be expected, and all part of a pastoral ministry.

At St Stephen’s, the Presbyterian Women’s Association meets on the first Tuesday of the month here. I attended PWA for many years, both at Miles, Dulacca, Condamine and Tamworth and took my turn as President both at Miles and Tamworth. After Stuart’s heart attack it became evident that my vision for the PWA and that of the most vocal members was at odds. At a time when I felt rejected I was given the opportunity to help start a new home-based women’s Bible Study group. This has been a blessing to me over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it suited all the other women to meet at the same time as PWA, so I am rarely able to attend PWA meetings now. Stuart attends PWA regularly. He gives a devotional message and answers questions at each monthly meeting. I maintain my financial membership and a subscription to the magazine, SPAN. I must say that I have a loving relationship with the present members of the PWA. I think and hope they understand my absence from Tuesday meetings.

On the other weeks of the month, Stuart starts Tuesday with a Bible Study group at the church. All those involved look forward to this. As well as sometimes buying study books, Stuart also uses the inductive method of systematic Bible Study which is suitable for most passages. Those present read the chosen passage and fill in a sheet under the following headings:
DATE PASSAGE
SUBJECT
Key Verse
Key Person
Five Important facts: (with verse references)
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
The main lesson for me today:

After working through successive passages, participants begin to sense the strength of this form of Bible Study. The main lesson at the end surprises people with its originality, simplicity and depth, and often becomes the substance of personal prayer.

Recently, the group decided to study the book of Revelation. The inductive form has proved unsuitable for studying this great revelation, and Stuart is working through the chapters little by little, reading, explaining, clarifying and answering questions.

On the home front, members of both our charges have been very generous in sharing their good things with us: fresh bread three mornings a week and eggs every Tuesday morning for a decade or more; milk and butter when a cow was milking, meat when a beast was slaughtered; fruit and vegetables fresh picked that morning. Individual people have been very kind, especially during the years when our home was full of children. At Miles, the kitchen oven was not working properly. Elder Ron Dunn sowed a paddock of birdseed especially to buy a new stove for the Manse. The Murilla Shire centred on Miles was marginal farming country: five of the seven years we spent there were drought years. We do appreciate the sacrifice that provided our salary all that time. Some may have thought we were over paid, but neither Stuart nor I went into ministry to receive a big pay packet. We were both on higher wages in the secular work-force.

Some rural congregations expect that a minister will stay for three years and then move on. They look forward to a year or so of vacancy when the lay-preachers and interim moderator work overtime, in order to save up for another three year ministry. This is not a good practice. In the 1970’s the elders and managers at Miles decided to give the equivalent of the minister’s salary to missions during any vacancy and thus maintain their sacrificial giving. God has blessed them with a viable church when many other rural congregations in bigger towns than Miles have had to close their doors.

One of the crueller things an elder or manager can do to a minister is to arrive on his doorstep and say that the church can no longer pay him. This does happen! The person who does this sort of thing usually does it on his or her own initiative and the rest of the Session or Committee is not involved. Thankfully, Stuart is impervious to this manipulative ploy. He knows that the congregation took a vow before God to meet his salary as part of The Call. One year, when chatter about inability to meet the salary went on like a dripping tap, Stuart gathered financial data and made a table of all the giving for the last decade. He proved by means of a graph that the giving then always went down in July and always recovered by the end of the year. Since then, we have had no more trouble of that kind.
We have been blessed with excellent treasurers who regard the money offered as the Lord’s and not as their own. Such treasurers are to be prized by both minister and congre-gation.

Our Master warned us that God’s servants should expect to be treated as He was by some in the church, with hatred, sidelining and slander. It still comes as a shock when it happens. We have had nasty phone calls and horrible letters, some of them anonymous. We have entertained confronting visitors, people with a ministry of correction or those who demand to know when we plan to move on. We have had to remind people that we are God’s servants, not theirs. Worse than all this was the persecution of our children! Our sons were threatened with homelessness and beaten up by other children associated with the church on several occasions, just because they belonged to us. That’s why we changed their school. Thankfully, our sons seem to have come through all the stronger. Their nick-names at school were ‘Moses’ and ‘Jesus’. What did God teach us in all of this?

Stuart and I have made practical use of our Lord Jesus’ advice in Luke 6:22 and 23 (ESV):

“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”

When we feel sore or sorry for ourselves, or even when we are simply exhausted, we hold hands and “JUMP FOR JOY”. It is quite therapeutic! We usually end up laughing at ourselves. Regaining our composure, we feel energised to get on with the job.

After lunch on Tuesday, Stuart goes to St Mark’s Pre-School and Long Day Care Centre. He spends time with the staff and sees to the welfare of the Centre. St Mark’s has prospered in recent years so that now it can help fund our new evangelistic ministry to families at St Stephen’s and St Mark’s. We see the hand of God in this and praise Him.
Tuesday used to be a Scripture in Schools day. At Miles, Stuart would sometimes take our four-year-old with him out to Drillham and Dulacca or Condamine. The children loved hearing the next exciting adventure of Alchemus The Dragon and his redemption. We lived on the corner of two highways, one going north and the other going west, with the best part of an acre of bitumen paving the junction. The road was very wide. One morning, two-year-old Duncan decided he should go to school with Daddy. He persuaded three-year-old Laura to take him. They held hands and somehow made their way across this wide stretch of road. I didn’t realize they’d gone until the phone rang. A kind business lady brought them back to the yard and rang me to let me know of their adventure. It only took a few minutes!

Stuart enjoyed teaching in the state primary and high schools for over 20 years. Only eternity will tell what fruit this bore for the Kingdom of God. He had to give up something after his heart attack and this was it. St Stephen’s sends individual volunteer teachers into schools and supports this ministry financially with the purchase of lesson materials.

Once our children were all attending school, I felt free to take up Scripture teaching myself. While I was school teaching in Brisbane in the 1960’s and 70’s, there was never a day I did not feel fulfilled. In 1970 I was asked by the Department of Education to go to Townsville as a “Teacher–in-charge”. Most of my peers had no University qualifications as we all trained at Teachers’ College. I did uni subjects at night, and ended up being one of the highest paid female teachers in the department. I say this not to boast, but to show how the mighty have fallen! Scripture teaching was the pits for me. In some schools, Scripture teachers are treated like scum by permanent staff and pupils alike. My experience included half-metre metal rulers hitting other boys’ legs under the tables, loud questions about whether I was pregnant, and general boorish behaviour. I decided not to waste my time on boys who were past masters in disrupting classes. I taught Scripture to Year 9 for two terms but realized very quickly that I did not have the temperament or the gifts of the Spirit to handle those boys. I was punching above my weight. That’s quite a confession from a once-confident school teacher!

Why did I never go back school teaching? God knows: I don’t. My life has been fulfilled at home, caring for my husband and children, as well as the seven young people who boarded with us. I love gardening, cooking, sewing and all the home crafts. I learnt to make ends meet, and the Lord provided, not everything I wanted but everything we needed. It was not easy, financially. I knew however that if I gave my energy teaching other people’s children all day, I would have no strength left for my own family at the end of the day. (In those days it was all or nothing. You could not choose to teach a couple of days a week.) My husband never pressured me to work outside the home and I had the support of my mother-in-law as a ‘stay at home’ wife and mother.
Making home-life my career and calling has paid off, especially with Stuart’s health challenges. I am able to keep things running fairly smoothly at home so that he is free to do his work of ministry. It is of secondary importance for me to attend every function. The main thing is that he is able to be where and when he should be, without fuss and bother.

The other morning a spectacular sunrise greeted me between the curtains as I opened my eyes. I hurried out to take a photo. The whole sky was flooded with red-gold light glowing on the clouds in the west, while the rising sun exploded light on the billows over the eastern mountains. A rainbow was forming within the thin clouds in the north-west.

As I watched, the hand of God sketched and filled in a complete arc across the hills and plains. My heart welled up with wonder. The afternoon rainbows in Tamworth come toward the east. I’ve never seen one in the west before, nor in the morning. How the Lord keeps surprising us with splendid new treasures! The Lord has promised good to us. Every rainbow reminds us of this. And His mercies are new every morning! Great is His faithfulness!

 

LIFE WORK

LIFE WORK.

Sunday,  Monday, Tuesday, … the issues, conflicts, victories and lessons of the days of our ministry during the last 34 years.

LIFE WORK

INTRODUCTION
MEMORIES OF 30 YEARS MINISTRY IN MILES AND TAMWORTH

ImageWhat makes someone suitable for ministry? Some among God’s people are tall, strong and handsome; some have bright and piercing eyes; some exude intelligence; some have golden tongues and gifts of oratory; some are great singers. The Prophet, Samuel, thought Eliab was surely God’s chosen. ‘But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”’ 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV) It took Samuel eight tries, seeking God’s guidance, to settle on the shepherd David as the leader of His people.

Most men are reluctant to put themselves forward for the ministry of Word and Sacrament. It doesn’t take much discernment to know it is not an easy job. It certainly isn’t a good career move in a worldly sense. In Jane Austin’s world, “The Church” was one of the desirable estates in which parents placed their younger sons: but no more! Stuart himself was not inclined to pursue a career in the church. It took a jolt at a pivotal point of his life to make him consider ministry seriously.

My father knew how to cause a sensation. It was July 1974. We were sitting around the kitchen table at Windsor in Brisbane, Mum, Dad, Stuart and me. It was the morning after Stuart asked me to marry him. Stuart’s mother had loaned him the money to fly from Townsville to Brisbane, hoping that this was his purpose. Stuart’s father couldn’t understand why it was taking him so long to propose. Now in the Windsor Manse, Mum set the teapot under its knitted cosy, cups and saucers along with milk and biscuits decorating the bright seersucker tablecloth. She had to look in the back of the cupboard for the sugar bowl and break up the lumps for Stuart, as we Whites had stopped having sugar in our tea.

“Mr and Mrs White, I would like your permission to marry Marion.”

The words were hardly out of Stuart’s mouth when Dad, totally ignoring the subject in hand, said, “Stuart, have you thought of the ministry?”

I did not know Stuart as well then as I do now. Mum and I were astounded.

Mum said in a flustered tone, “Not now, Frank, not now!”

But Stuart was not fazed. He took the question at face value and gave Dad a good account of his plans for the future, including ministry or missionary work, if God should so lead. We understood that Dad and Mum were happy enough about our engagement, and started making plans for our wedding.

We had been married for abut 10 months when decision time came about future employment. Stuart was reluctant to put himself forward and neither of us was sure that we were the right people to spend the rest of our lives in ministry. I had picked out the sort of house I would like with a view of Mount Stuart. Until now, I had thrown myself into my teaching career. I had expended myself in church work and other Christian endeavours. Now that I had Stuart, I was ready to be a housewife and mother, with no responsibilities in the church or community. My four years in Townsville were singular in that I was not the minister’s eldest daughter and therefore no more was expected of me than of anyone else. I enjoyed a sense of freedom hitherto unknown.

The water of life runs through the life of the church and her members like the water of the Peel River runs through Tamworth. Sometimes, it overflows its banks and brings fertile silt to the whole flood plain, the swift-flowing water cleaning rubbish in its path. Locals know to treat this water with respect. This is what the Bible has been in our lives. This water of Life flows through our being day by day. It refreshes and cleanses us. Once a week we immerse ourselves in it spending the Lord’s Day under the sound of the gospel and meeting with God’s people in public worship. There are times, usually unpredictable, when the water floods our souls in a way that is awesome, even life-changing. This has been the pattern of God’s Word for Stuart and me.

We both had settled the habit of daily Bible Reading before we met. As a teenager, I found myself tired of the Bible Reading scheme I was using as it missed out large parts of the Bible. I told my grandmother of my discontent. She said she read the whole Bible in a year by dividing the number of pages in her Bible by the days in the year. In my Bible it worked out at about 4 pages a day and I could surely make time for that. At Grandma’s suggestion, I refined it by starting at Genesis, the Psalms and Matthew, reading a little more than a page a day. Thus I read through the whole Bible in a year. I used to get up a half-an-hour earlier to achieve this before leaving for school, and included a time of prayer for family and friends and missionaries.

When Stuart and I became friends, we naturally discussed our Bible reading habits. Not being a morning person, Stuart didn’t always have his Quiet Time first thing like I did. But he had a better system of reading the whole Bible which included making a short note on each passage; something to remember, some wisdom, direction, admonishment or prayer. I believe it is called journaling now. I eagerly adopted this practice, recognizing straight away its benefits. I bought twelve notebooks, one for each month of the year, and day by day entered up the passage set by the calendar promoted by Stuart’s esteemed Navigators.

God spoke to Stuart one day, very clearly, through his regular Bible reading in Ezekiel. We were praying about three possibilities: two years Home Missions service, Wycliffe Bible Translators or the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. This is what he read from Ezekiel that day:

Then He said to me: “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, but to the house of Israel, not to many people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, had I sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel will not listen to you, because they will not listen to Me; for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted. Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.”
Moreover He said to me: “Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ whether they hear, or whether they refuse.” [Ezekiel 3:4-11 NKJV]

And so the water of life swirled round and flooded his soul. When Stuart read this, he knew that he would not become an overseas missionary. “You are not sent to a people of unfamiliar speech and of hard language…” The question still remained, would he be a Home Missionary for a while to test his call. Neither of us felt particularly confident of our ability to lead in church ministry. The mailman came that very day and delivered a letter from the Church Office in Brisbane. In it, the Principal of the College, Dr Harold Whitney offered Stuart a place in the next intake of students to train for the ministry.

And so we spent the next four years in Brisbane. Stuart graduated top of his Greek class. He went into the Theological Hall with a Science Degree and supplemented this with degrees in Arts and Theology.

Chapter 1 – HONOUR THE SABBATH DAY!

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Ecclesiastes 5:1

I think of this verse when I see children climbing on the rock wall on their way up to St Stephen’s. I think of these words when I see someone with reduced mobility slowly climbing the steep hill path. Our King’s Hill was named after a man, Gidley King, not the King of kings. Yet all of Scripture sings of going up the hill of the Lord, glorious Mount Zion, city of the great King, to worship Him. We are more privileged than many Christians, even in Tamworth, to have our church building sitting on the top of a hill, especially a hill that bears a name like King’s Hill.

And yet if you go over the river and up to Oxley Lookout, King’s Hill hardly stands out. In the bigger picture its steep roads and paths hardly count. They look quite flat. Flagstaff Mountain is the king of mountains surrounding the Peel Valley. And so, perspective helps to keep us humble and reminds me that today’s steep climb will be of no consequence when we reach the city of the great King.

For Stuart and me, Sunday is the Flagstaff Mountain-top of the week. Every other day leads up to it, and those following are a descent from the summit. The Lord’s Day is a full day in a clergy household, and at times the most stressful. Very early in our ministry Stuart and I realized that as Sunday is so demanding, we needed Saturday to be our ‘preparation for the Sabbath’. We needed to prepare the way. This meant sacrificing many weekend pleasures that others enjoy.

Some people like to joke that ministers work only on Sundays. Think again! A minister is on-call any time of the day or night, any day of the week, besides having a programme that often fills up 60 or more hours a week. Only this week, Stuart was called to the hospital in the middle of the night. After his heart attack, Stuart tried, with limited success, to cut back to the proverbial 40 hours a week. In the service of our great King, we count all the hours as a joy and a privilege. It is only when the body starts to wear out that time seems to matter.

There’s no sleeping in on Sunday morning. Quiet Time, breakfast and family prayers all have to run like clockwork. Most mornings there is time to listen to the headlines just in case there is any earth-shattering news. Since the advent of the iPad, one has simply to tap the screen and up come the news headlines at any time. It is a bit disconcerting when a person has worked their whole morning routine around the 7.45 news for decades! And yet, tapping the iPad comes as a relief, not having to listen to the cynicism and atheistic bias of the secular media on the Lord’s Day.

In recent years we have taken to cleaning our spectacles in the hot washing-up suds on Sunday morning. One morning, we arrived at St Stephen’s and everything seemed blurred. Stuart started the service and discovered that he couldn’t read clearly. Then we realized simultaneously: he had my glasses on and I had his. They had been mixed up in the washing. Since then I have procured a pink pair that are not so easy to confuse. Glitches like this, rather than drawing criticism from the congregation as once I feared, now elicit a smile or chuckle from many.

In our early years when we had babies and young children, Sunday mornings before church were particularly rushed. One little girl liked to make an issue of what she wore to church. In particular she did not want to wear a matching outfit with her sister. There was one Sunday morning run-in when I was away having a new baby. Stuart’s parents were holding the fort and Nanna remembered that battle of the wills for a long time.

One advantage of living near the church was getting to church on time. We never had a big problem with this though I know some ministry families do. I guess both Stuart and I were raised by old soldiers who required punctuality of their families.

We time things so that Stuart has half an hour alone with the Lord before the service. I have a mental check-list before I step out the front door. Beside the children’s notebooks and pencils in previous years, I still check off a handkerchief, offering, biro and keys.

In the 1970’s, I read the books of Edith Schaeffer from ‘L’Abri’ in Switzerland. She wrote about taking children to worship and showed examples of some of the notes and stick figure drawings she did to help her children and then her grandchildren follow the sermon. I pursued this practice with my pre-school children. Once they were at school, I encouraged them to make their own notes.

Before the children went to school, we taught them short memory verses. While they sat waiting for the service to begin, I showed them where these verses were in the Bible, and encouraged them to pick out the words. What better way to learn to read than by reading the Scripture! One memorable verse was “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The sense of achievement of a four-year-old when he realized he had just read a long word like ‘beginning’ is palpable.

Of course, those days were not all good days. By the time I had four children, one a baby and one a very active five-year-old with two in between, our pew was a busy place. Occasionally a toddler would break free and run up to join her father in the pulpit. I was mortified and ashamed with my lack of control, especially as Grandma Gilmour and Auntie Sidney sat right behind us. I felt the weight of criticism of the whole congregation on my shoulders. I needn’t have worried. I know now that they were on my side. Then one Sunday, little Duncan fell through the back of the pew and hit his head. Everyone heard the rumpus and people came from all over to help. The two Gilmour ladies offered to have Stuart James sit between them. From then on, SJ sat with young Reg between Reg’s grandmother and auntie. That was mutually agreeable to all parties and certainly gave me a break.

There was the occasion when stronger measures were needed. Elder Ted Little told me that most children, especially little boys (he had five), need one good spanking on the bottom for misbehaviour in church. His advice was that that encounter set them up for the rest of their lives. As the nurture and admonition fell on my shoulders on a Sunday morning, I took his advice. Both little boys, before they went to school, were taken outside once and received their measure of discipline. Ted’s advice was good and his prediction held true. (I wonder if those who plan to outlaw spanking will make their legislation retrospective! A lot of us may be in trouble.)

Where should the minister’s family sit in church? At Ashfield in Sydney there is a little brass plaque on the second back pew right-hand side indicating this is the minister’s family pew. (A Scottish friend told me the back pew was ‘sinner’s row’. I wonder why they put the minister’s family just in front of it. ) I preferred to sit in the second front pew right hand side when I had children with me. There they could see all that was happening and they knew their father could see them. Although they were fully exposed to the view of the congregation and any critical eyes in it, I believe they were less aware of this sort of thing than when we sat further back, making worship a positive experience for our children.

These days, I usually sit up the back. Until recently I worked the overhead projection. As well, I have a roll of regular worshippers that I mark off. I started marking my roll so that people wouldn’t get forgotten. We have had people away sick and no one has realized. From the back corner I can check names so that we know who has not been for a while, and find out if they are in need of a visit.

For many years, I invited people home for lunch in an effort to get to know the members as well as to welcome visitors. This did not satisfy me, though, as I realized there were many people who never received an invitation. So we devised a scheme that meant everyone on the roll at St Stephen’s did have an opportunity to come to our place.

On nine Sundays in 2008, we served High Tea at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Our Elders have a certain number of people under their care, usually ten or twelve people. So we invited each Elder and his people as a group. Each Elder spoke at the beginning of the programme, telling something of Christ, something of his personal experience with God. (We have yet to invite the Moonbi people, and of course God has blessed us with new members since 2008.)

I researched what a traditional High Tea consisted of, and served something hot and savoury along with cakes and slices, not forgetting cucumber sandwiches. Cold water was served in a silver jug and crystal glasses. The bone china cups, saucers and apostle spoons Stuart’s mother had given me sat waiting for tea to be poured from a china teapot. Sometimes there were children present, and not a thing was broken, even though the china is quite old. I have found that children live up to the standard you set on such special occasions.

Those days were a rush and Stuart had to be well prepared beforehand for his evening service. I have suggested to Stuart that if we have any more High Teas, he arrange for other preachers on those days.

Many churches no longer have an evening service and we often welcome travellers wanting to worship God in the evening. I’m glad we have an evening service, though I’m not sure why more of our congregation don’t make a priority of it. It is a wonderful personal discipline for keeping the whole Sabbath day holy: it is a more intimate experience of worship and fellowship and St Stephen’s has a beauty at night that it lacks during the day. If you stand in the car park you see the changing moods of the mountains all around; you see the twinkling of the city of lights; turning around you see it all reflected in the large panes of glass along the front of both buildings. At twilight, the resident gum trees frame the picture and look more splendid than ever in the reflection.

I did not take my small children to 7.30pm evening service as they had to be in bed and get a good sleep for school the next day. Once they reached double figures they were keen to go with Daddy at night, especially when we changed the service time to 6.30pm. As teenagers, they enjoyed helping Ian with the music, learning lessons for life in being useful in the service of God.

On Sunday, as on no other day, we are dealing with spiritual realities. It is hardly surprising then that this is a day when we are often under attack from the evil one. He finds the chinks in our armour, sloth, unbelief, impatience, anger, jealousy to name a few. How often have I dragged my feet up King’s Hill, just not wanting to be there, after bitter encounters, irate phone calls or critical letters! How often has anger welled up inside me at a fellow worshipper who has crossed or annoyed me! How often have I questioned God’s sovereignty in placing us on this little hill of all the many hills and valleys needing ministers, after severe disappointment!

And yet, this is the hill where Christ has required Stuart and me to stand firm, and having done all, to stand. We come up this hill eagerly now, knowing that we will meet others who are joyful in worship and fellowship, others who are glad that we are there. We have learned to take Jesus’ advice and leap for joy as we climb the steep hills and stumble through the dark valleys of our ministry. After all, they are all the King’s hills and valleys.

Chapter 2 – MONDAY IN THE MANSE

The Sunday morning service was in progress. I was minding someone’s baby when a strange man came and squeezed into the end of the pew beside me where there was no room. The overheads were all over the place, with rogue slides popping up. There were several visitors and a couple of them got up to leave 10 minutes into the service. I raced out to see if I could persuade them to stay. Everything was in technicolour and all that had ever gone wrong over the decades was going wrong layer upon layer.

Of course it was a dream. But this is what Monday morning can feel like when a minister and his wife review Sunday, even subconsciously. Occasionally, Monday is the day we take our sandwiches and flask of tea to Oxley Lookout and spend time in prayer. Sitting on our folding chairs in the shade of the old gum tree on its raised platform encircled by roadway, we look out towards Moore Creek or Calala. We take a walk to the lookout and see the whole city of Tamworth spread before us with Duri Peak and ranges walling it in. This is the best way I know of driving away the nightmare goblins of doubt and fear that Satan sends to wound us on a Monday morning. We see the big picture more clearly, and the handi-work of God assures us of His good purposes.

Monday never worked as the minister’s day off for us. There was always follow up from Sunday to do. There are towns where the minister’s day off is so entrenched that it is difficult to arrange a funeral on Monday. When Stuart graduated from Theological College, the congregation he served as student-assistant gave him a large hot-water flask for his Monday fishing trips. The flask has long gone, and the fishing trips never happened.

Monday is the most popular day for people to ring up and request baptism for their babies. Usually, these Monday requests come from people who are not attached to the church. This may be because a couple with a new child has been to see grand-parents on Sunday, and pressure has been applied by the older generations. I have learned to hand these requests over to Stuart as I do not have the necessary tact, nor is it my responsibility to deal with them. On occasions, God uses baptismal interviews to bring people to Christ, rarely in our experience. Stuart has used “Christianity Explained” and other Bible courses to seek to win people at this important juncture of their lives. He has spent countless evenings seeking to persuade young parents to come to Christ in order to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and the ways of the Church of God. On the whole, the seed seems to have fallen on poor soil, with some exceptions to rejoice our hearts.

Monday, for Stuart, is the day he prepares the outlines of his sermons for the next Sunday. Unusual in this day and age, Stuart prepares two new sermons every week. Starting early in the week he avoids a last minute rush. The rest of the week can be as busy as it can get, but he knows that something is ready for Sunday. He takes his morning sermon from the “Bible Guideposts” printed in “Church Matters”, our weekly notice sheet. He preaches systematically through books of the Bible in the evening. On Monday morning, he chooses Bible Readings and Hymns and types them with his sermon points in the file for next Sunday’s Church Matters. Computers make this easy.

We are blessed with godly instrumentalists and Stuart and his musicians work well together. Time is spent on the phone or in meetings to review the listed hymns on a six-monthly plan. They consider the capacity of the congregation to sing each song with heart and voice. They find known tunes or change the song if it is not suitable. Not every musician has chosen to work with Stuart.

Early in our ministry, the regular organist rang up on Saturday evening to say she would no longer be coming to the Presbyterian Church because Stuart was not ‘charismatic’. What were we to do? Who would play the next morning? Before the service began, Stuart stood up and announced that there was no organist. It was the Sunday in January before school began and there were several new families in the pews. Stuart asked if any of our visitors could help. It turned out that the new High School Principal’s wife and a young farmer both had “Letters” in music, and from then on we had first class music played agreeably in the right spirit. It was a lesson for us that “The Lord will provide”! (There are musicians who enjoy transmitting their moods through their music. If they happen to be in a bad mood they can thoroughly spoil a worship service. The best musician plays above the mood of the moment.)

For me, Monday morning is Family Letter morning. During the week, I jot down news from our four children, Stuart’s mother and my aunt, type it up over the weekend and add photos. On Monday, I print out one copy first. Often, the colours are faded or striped and printer needs re-inking. This would be a continuation of the Monday morning nightmare for me, were it not that Stuart comes to the rescue. I am always grateful that Stuart is willing and able to help me with technical problems. He also proof-reads my letter, and then it is ready to print out – six copies. I used to print out envelopes in colour, until my aunt did not receive hers till weeks later because rain had washed away the house number and it was delivered to a neighbour. Since then, we have a plain black and white envelope from Stuart’s laser printer which uses permanent ink.

Is letter writing a waste of time and postage? Why not just phone or send an email? Weekly letters are a strong tradition in our family, scattered around the world for three generations. Letter writing was the ‘work of mercy and necessity’ we were encouraged to do on Sunday as children. In the last decade, we have realized how much Mum Andrews and Auntie Ruth White enjoy getting this weekly missal. Even the children, though they rarely say so, look forward to the regular ‘snail mail’ letter. It is ‘hard copy’ that the grandchildren can pick up and look at. Stuart’s mother keeps her letters beside her armchair, looks at them often and prays for us. Brother Geoffrey reads them to her. Auntie Ruth rings late afternoon after receiving her copy, usually on Thursday. Her alert and cheerful voice tells me how much she enjoys reading about us and our young ones, and she prays every day for each one by name. It is interesting to observe the efficiency of Australia Post and the Royal Mail. Posted on Monday, one letter arrives at Redland Bay, Queensland on Thursday, another at Broughshane in Northern Ireland on Saturday and yet another in Townsville, Queensland the next Tuesday. How it can take three days less to get to the other side of the world is beyond my comprehension!

My secondary job on Monday is to make sure the Catechism, Bible Guideposts and Who’s Who have been added to the Church Matters file for printing on Friday, along with a suitable picture for the front cover. Members of the congregation have contributed files of photos from time to time, and more are welcome.

Stuart has avoided regular meetings on Monday so that he can be fully prepared for the days ahead. Often there are pastoral visits to be made at the hospital, aged care facility or homes. Sometimes there are funerals. However, just this year one important meeting has been squeezed in – a lunch time get-together with Glenn and Dale, our new Pastoral Assistants. They sit in our downstairs parlour, eat their sandwiches and talk and pray about the exciting prospects for ministry in Tamworth through St Stephen’s and St Mark’s. May the Lord bless them and their efforts!

Like a dream that is past, or the discarded suds of an old-fashioned Monday wash, the memories of Sunday failures disperse into thin air. We come to the end of a productive day and go for a walk together with the Lord in the cool of the evening. It’s a good day, Monday!

CHAPTER 3
TUESDAY OUT AND ABOUT

Farmer Brown was busy down at the big shed getting his machinery ready for harvest. Everything had to be checked. There is nothing worse than having to stop the harvest because the tractor or harvester breaks down. A couple of hundred metres away, near the house, he saw a strange car draw up. He could see a man get out of the car and call out to his wife who was hanging washing on the line. ‘The wife’ put her pegs down, gave him a wave and led the stranger in by the back door.

“She must know him,” thought the farmer. “Oh well, it’s time for a cuppa. I’ll go and see who it is. Perhaps it’s the new stock and station agent.”

Farmer Brown was a sceptic, though his wife went to church when he let her. It is easy enough to make it difficult for ‘the wife’ when you are on an isolated property with a black soil road between your place and the church. Any cloud in the distance or rattle of an engine was a good enough excuse to persuade her to stay at home. “Religion is OK in its place for the women and children,” the farmer was wont to say.
The ‘young fella’ introduced himself by name while the wife bustled round cheerfully getting a cuppa and biscuits. The farmer wondered why she seemed so happy to see the visitor, but then they hadn’t had any visitors lately. “She’s glad of the company,” he thought, “and he’s nice enough, easy going.”

They discussed the drought and the cattle prices and how much grain to the acre was likely this harvest. The young man turned out to be a good listener. Brown liked that. An agent who listened to the farmer is a good agent.

“It’s been good to meet you, Mr Brown,” said the young man. “Would you like me to read a Psalm and pray before I go?”

Brown’s jaw hung open, he spluttered and getting hold of himself, grunted “OK”.

It suddenly hit him that this must be the new minister in town. His wife gave him a certain look. He dropped his eyes and let all the confusing thoughts race round in his head while the minister read and prayed. He thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t like Old Macdonald down Goondiwindi way, who was up in the ceiling fixing something when the minister called. Macdonald decided to stay quiet in the roof cavity until he left. Mrs Macdonald kept saying she was sure her good man would be in soon, and kept pouring more cups of tea. By the time the minister went, Macdonald was prostrate with heat exhaustion and dehydration!

Stuart called on the Browns regularly after that initial episode. In retirement, living in town, Farmer Brown became quite dependant on these visits, especially when his wife died. No longer a sceptic, he looked forward to Stuart’s Psalm and Prayer and told him all about the Christian upbringing he had left behind for so long.

Often on a Tuesday Stuart visits members of the church. This has been a rewarding and refreshing aspect of his work, and many who have now gone to glory will welcome him with open arms when he arrives in the Eternal City. Of course, there have been those who have not welcomed him, but that is to be expected, and all part of a pastoral ministry.

At St Stephen’s, the Presbyterian Women’s Association meets on the first Tuesday of the month here. I attended PWA for many years, both at Miles, Dulacca, Condamine and Tamworth and took my turn as President both at Miles and Tamworth. After Stuart’s heart attack it became evident that my vision for the PWA and that of the most vocal members was at odds. At a time when I felt rejected I was given the opportunity to help start a new home-based women’s Bible Study group. This has been a blessing to me over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, it suited all the other women to meet at the same time as PWA, so I am rarely able to attend PWA meetings now. Stuart attends PWA regularly. He gives a devotional message and answers questions at each monthly meeting. I maintain my financial membership and a subscription to the magazine, SPAN. I must say that I have a loving relationship with the present members of the PWA. I think and hope they understand my absence from Tuesday meetings.

On the other weeks of the month, Stuart starts Tuesday with a Bible Study group at the church. All those involved look forward to this. As well as sometimes buying study books, Stuart also uses the inductive method of systematic Bible Study which is suitable for most passages. Those present read the chosen passage and fill in a sheet under the following headings:
DATE PASSAGE
SUBJECT
Key Verse
Key Person
Five Important facts: (with verse references)
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
The main lesson for me today:

After working through successive passages, participants begin to sense the strength of this form of Bible Study. The main lesson at the end surprises people with its originality, simplicity and depth, and often becomes the substance of personal prayer.

Recently, the group decided to study the book of Revelation. The inductive form has proved unsuitable for studying this great revelation, and Stuart is working through the chapters little by little, reading, explaining, clarifying and answering questions.

On the home front, members of both our charges have been very generous in sharing their good things with us: fresh bread three mornings a week and eggs every Tuesday morning for a decade or more; milk and butter when a cow was milking, meat when a beast was slaughtered; fruit and vegetables fresh picked that morning. Individual people have been very kind, especially during the years when our home was full of children. At Miles, the kitchen oven was not working properly. Elder Ron Dunn sowed a paddock of birdseed especially to buy a new stove for the Manse. The Murilla Shire centred on Miles was marginal farming country: five of the seven years we spent there were drought years. We do appreciate the sacrifice that provided our salary all that time. Some may have thought we were over paid, but neither Stuart nor I went into ministry to receive a big pay packet. We were both on higher wages in the secular work-force.

Some rural congregations expect that a minister will stay for three years and then move on. They look forward to a year or so of vacancy when the lay-preachers and interim moderator work overtime, in order to save up for another three year ministry. This is not a good practice. In the 1970’s the elders and managers at Miles decided to give the equivalent of the minister’s salary to missions during any vacancy and thus maintain their sacrificial giving. God has blessed them with a viable church when many other rural congregations in bigger towns than Miles have had to close their doors.

One of the crueller things an elder or manager can do to a minister is to arrive on his doorstep and say that the church can no longer pay him. This does happen! The person who does this sort of thing usually does it on his or her own initiative and the rest of the Session or Committee is not involved. Thankfully, Stuart is impervious to this manipulative ploy. He knows that the congregation took a vow before God to meet his salary as part of The Call. One year, when chatter about inability to meet the salary went on like a dripping tap, Stuart gathered financial data and made a table of all the giving for the last decade. He proved by means of a graph that the giving then always went down in July and always recovered by the end of the year. Since then, we have had no more trouble of that kind.

We have been blessed with excellent treasurers who regard the money offered as the Lord’s and not as their own. Such treasurers are to be prized by both minister and congregation.

Our Master warned us that God’s servants should expect to be treated as He was by some in the church, with hatred, sidelining and slander. It still comes as a shock when it happens. We have had nasty phone calls and horrible letters, some of them anonymous. We have entertained confronting visitors, people with a ministry of correction or those who demand to know when we plan to move on. We have had to remind people that we are God’s servants, not theirs. Worse than all this was the persecution of our children! Our sons were threatened with homelessness and beaten up by other children associated with the church on several occasions, just because they belonged to us. That’s why we changed their school. Thankfully, our sons seem to have come through all the stronger. Their nick-names at school were ‘Moses’ and ‘Jesus’. What did God teach us in all of this?

Stuart and I have made practical use of our Lord Jesus’ advice in Luke 6:22 and 23 (ESV):
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”

When we feel sore or sorry for ourselves, or even when we are simply exhausted, we hold hands and “JUMP FOR JOY”. It is quite therapeutic! We usually end up laughing at ourselves. Regaining our composure, we feel energised to get on with the job.

After lunch on Tuesday, Stuart goes to St Mark’s Pre-School and Long Day Care Centre. He spends time with the staff and sees to the welfare of the Centre. St Mark’s has prospered in recent years so that now it can help fund our new evangelistic ministry to families at St Stephen’s and St Mark’s. We see the hand of God in this and praise Him.

Tuesday used to be a Scripture in Schools day. At Miles, Stuart would sometimes take our four-year-old with him out to Drillham and Dulacca or Condamine. The children loved hearing the next exciting adventure of Alchemus The Dragon and his redemption. We lived on the corner of two highways, one going north and the other going west, with the best part of an acre of bitumen paving the junction. The road was very wide. One morning, two-year-old Duncan decided he should go to school with Daddy. He persuaded three-year-old Laura to take him. They held hands and somehow made their way across this wide stretch of road. I didn’t realize they’d gone until the phone rang. A kind business lady brought them back to the yard and rang me to let me know of their adventure. It only took a few minutes!

Stuart enjoyed teaching in the state primary and high schools for over 20 years. Only eternity will tell what fruit this bore for the Kingdom of God. He had to give up something after his heart attack and this was it. St Stephen’s sends individual volunteer teachers into schools and supports this ministry financially with the purchase of lesson materials.

Once our children were all attending school, I felt free to take up Scripture teaching myself. While I was school teaching in Brisbane in the 1960’s and 70’s, there was never a day I did not feel fulfilled. In 1970 I was asked by the Department of Education to go to Townsville as a “Teacher–in-charge”. Most of my peers had no University qualifications as we all trained at Teachers’ College. I did uni subjects at night, and ended up being one of the highest paid female teachers in the department. I say this not to boast, but to show how the mighty have fallen! Scripture teaching was the pits for me. In some schools, Scripture teachers are treated like scum by permanent staff and pupils alike. My experience included half-metre metal rulers hitting other boys’ legs under the tables, loud questions about whether I was pregnant, and general boorish behaviour. I decided not to waste my time on boys who were past masters in disrupting classes. I taught Scripture to Year 9 for two terms but realized very quickly that I did not have the temperament or the gifts of the Spirit to handle those boys. I was punching above my weight. That’s quite a confession from a once-confident school teacher!

Why did I never go back school teaching? God knows: I don’t. My life has been fulfilled at home, caring for my husband and children, as well as the seven young people who boarded with us. I love gardening, cooking, sewing and all the home crafts. I learnt to make ends meet, and the Lord provided, not everything I wanted but everything we needed. It was not easy, financially. I knew however that if I gave my energy teaching other people’s children all day, I would have no strength left for my own family at the end of the day. (In those days it was all or nothing. You could not choose to teach a couple of days a week.) My husband never pressured me to work outside the home and I had the support of my mother-in-law as a ‘stay at home’ wife and mother.

Making home-life my career and calling has paid off, especially with Stuart’s health challenges. I am able to keep things running fairly smoothly at home so that he is free to do his work of ministry. It is of secondary importance for me to attend every function. The main thing is that he is able to be where and when he should be, without fuss and bother.

The other morning a spectacular sunrise greeted me between the curtains as I opened my eyes. I hurried out to take a photo. The whole sky was flooded with red-gold light glowing on the clouds in the west, while the rising sun exploded light on the billows over the eastern mountains. A rainbow was forming within the thin clouds in the north-west.

As I watched, the hand of God sketched and filled in a complete arc across the hills and plains. My heart welled up with wonder. The afternoon rainbows in Tamworth come toward the east. I’ve never seen one in the west before, nor in the morning. How the Lord keeps surprising us with splendid new treasures! The Lord has promised good to us. Every rainbow reminds us of this. And His mercies are new every morning! Great is His faithfulness!

LENT

This year, as never in the last thirty years, Protestant Christians have been promoting Lent. Why? Do we no longer believe that Jesus Christ made the One Sacrifice that renders all others obsolete?

Why we have not practised Lent:

1. It is not Biblical. Jesus did not command it and the Apostles did not commend it.

2. When we become Christians, only what is commanded becomes our obligation. Whatever is not commanded in Scripture has no hold on us.

3. We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ every Lord’s Day and make every Saturday a Day of Preparation, spiritually as well as physically.

4. Lent has been a breeding ground for hypocrisy and has brought ridicule on the church.

5. Special prayer and fasting is to be done in secret – Matthew 6:16-18. There is nothing secret about Lent. There is great temptation for people to boast and feel spiritually smug about themselves.

6. It is a religion of good works. The true parameters of Christianity are Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone. (Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fides) Matthew records many times when Jesus challenged the religious leaders about their religion of good deeds and loading God’s people with burdens too heavy to bear.
Why I would never practise Lent:

1. Jesus made the One Sacrifice that makes all others obsolete. It is wrong for me to think I can add anything that will enhance either my salvation or my sanctification.

2. My time and effort is fully taken up obeying the Great Commandments of Jesus: Matthew 22:37-40. I will not add my own from some pick-a-box of options, whether it be no meat on Friday or no social media for a few weeks.

3. All bases are covered by way of preparation for Easter because we prepare for the Lord’s Day every week. ‘A humble and a contrite spirit’ is to be our every-day attitude in approach to God.

4. All my years at school, most of my class mates were either, in 1950’s parlance, CofE (Anglican) or RC (Roman Catholic). My memory of Lent each year was a time when my classmates ridiculed the hypocrisy of their elders. It was a joke: no icing on a birthday cake, no meat but everyone rushed to the fish and chips shop on Friday night, and so on. Is it any wonder so few nominally Christian Baby Boomers followed Christ into adult-hood? Is it any wonder so many became agnostic or atheist?

5. Jesus commands that I fast and pray in secret. (Matthew 6:16-18) Lent is very public.

6. “Nothing in my hand I bring…” I can add nothing that is any good in making right what I have done wrong. My righteousness comes solely and completely from Christ. My motivation to keep Christ’s commandments comes from gratitude.

[This is my own personal expression. I want to put the other side of the question as to why evangelical Christians have not practised Lent. I wish those better equipped than me were doing so, and if they are I would like to know about it.  I still love my friends and relatives who have recently adopted this practice and do not stand in judgment on them personally. Rather, I am concerned that this may be a by-path leading away from the straight road to heaven. ]

SEEING THINGS GROW

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Yesterday, we had steady, soaking rain all morning, the first good rain for many months. How we rejoice to see our newly planted winter veges holding up their fragile drooping heads! How we rejoice to see the garden clear shining after rain!

But this is nothing to the relief of those whose livelihoods depend on getting some grass in the paddocks before winter. This rain may be too late, or it may produce some winter feed for the flocks and herds. We shall have to wait and see whether the weather stays warm enough for the pastures to grow.

Why bother with the chances of the farming and grazing life? A few weeks before he died in 2001, my father was in a lot of pain with arthritis. Even so, he kept digging and planting his vege patch. He was about to turn 90.

“Dad,” I said, “why don’t you sit in your chair and rest? Surely you’ve earned it.”

The pain was so severe that sometimes he found it hard to get up from his kneeling position by the garden bed. Then he would call his companion dog, the old grey Irish Wolfhound, Go Go. She would stand beside him and allow him to climb up using her height and strength as leverage.

“Well,” he said to me in the firm gentle voice he once used to persuade me to eat my porridge, “I like seeing things grow.”

Right to the end, he loved watching things grow! I stopped urging him to take it easy. And so it was in his garden, a fortnight after he turned ninety, that the final pain of kidney failure struck him down. Though Go Go helped him get upstairs to his chair and the phone, she never walked by his side down to the garden again.

I think it is something like that for the people we know on the land, people who have stayed on their farms through thick and thin, some never really getting ahead. Some of them prosper during good seasons and hold on during the bad. They love to see things grow and thrive. They love caring for animals and watching the green pick come through the soil after rain. They have their own props and levers to help them get up again, just as my father had Go Go.

Those who have heeded Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you …” know how to borrow the soul strength that makes them get up and go again after hard times. If a large shaggy dog can act as a yoke to help an old man get up and go, how much more can our Lord Jesus help us up and on our way, whether we see things grow or not.

‘And may the grass grow green and tall in pathways of the drover!’

 

THE GENEVA GOWN

 

ImageThe Geneva gown is a simple yet curious garment. It is a plain outer gown, modelled on the undergraduate student gown of the Reformation era. [1517-1648] Since then it has been worn by ordained ministers in the Christian churches that arose out of the Protestant Reformation.

The simple yet dignified gown is meant to convey the authority and solemn duty of the ordained ministry. Those who wear it are to be those called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and preach the biblical Word of God. The bearer is to be a learned minister of the Word and teaching elder (presbyter) over faithful members of the Church.

Worn over street clothes, this gown avoids ostentation, obscuring individual grooming and concealing fashion preferences. Instead it draws attention to the wearer’s office and not the person.

In being an undergraduate gown, it signifies that the wearer is a student of the Word, no matter how senior or qualified he is in the church. There is no graduation day, no colourful silk hood to put over it this side of eternity. John Calvin and other reformers wore this style of gown. For many of them it was their warmest coat and a blanket at night. There’s a story of an old Scottish minister who sewed layers of newspaper inside his for extra warmth in winter.

Stuart wears his gown on Communion Sundays. People often ask him to wear a gown for funerals and he respects their wishes. His Geneva gown was professionally crafted as a gift for him by Mrs Narelle Irwin, wife of Elder Ian Irwin. It is made of heavy woollen material. If he needs to wear a gown in the heat of summer, Stuart has a cotton undergraduate gown that belonged to his father-in-law, Rev FWF White.

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These photos were taken at Walcha cemetery 13th March 2014.

WARRIOR WOMEN OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

The twentieth century was the most bloody this world has experienced. The atheistic regimes of the twentieth century killed more people than all the wars of human history. Is it any wonder we who were born in the middle of it styled ourselves as warrior women? We gathered during school lunch break, called ourselves Crusaders and sang energetically:
The Lord hath need of me
His soldier I will be
He gave Himself my life to win
And so I mean to follow Him
And serve Him faithfully.
So though the fight be fierce and long
I’ll carry on, He makes me strong
And then one day His face I’ll see
And oh the joy when He says to me
‘Well done’, my brave Crusader.

Fifty years ago, Crusaders was what schools now call ISCF. There is still a Crusader Movement in some schools. My son rejoices that Crusaders is now flourishing at his old school, where 20 years ago the few members felt alone and lonely. He tells of the shining witness of the Principal and one of the Head Boys, and how Christian boys now lead Chapel Services.

In the 1960’s, I dreamt of the Crusader King, Richard the Lion-Heart. I followed him to Palestine and back again! And if, because I was a girl, I couldn’t do that, I would be waiting to give him a right-royal welcome on his return. He might even choose me as his Queen. This was the King Richard of ‘Ivanhoe’, far more romantic that the historical man, no doubt.

As a young Christian, the words, “though the fight be fierce and long …” held no fear for this warrior woman! I fully believed I could carry on in the strength of the Lord, fitted out in His armour. I’m glad I had such confidence then, as there have been times since when my courage has been tested to the limit.

Later, as young adults, some of us rejected the opening line: “The Lord hath need of me!” as poor theology. Our Creator God made the universe and everything in it. What need does He have of mere human flesh and blood? Doesn’t Jesus say that He could have called twelve legions of angels? That’s more than 60,000 angels, on the spot, immediately! The Warrior King David left us many Psalms. The tenor of them is how much he needs God. He never wrote that God needed him.

So where did the idea of “the Lord hath need of me” come from? Think of the wartime recruitment posters that shouted: “Your king needs you!” “Your country needs you!” That, it would seem, is the context in which this chorus was written. Jesus calls us to be Soldiers of the Cross in the spiritual war waged by our great enemies, sin, the devil and death. This epic war lasts until the trumpet of God announces the day of resurrection and judgment. Whether we think we are needed or not, every Christian is CALLED to “put on the whole armour of God,” and to “fight the good fight of faith!” Knowing you are called is compelling and energizing!

As for being needed; feeling ‘needed’ is warm and fuzzy and comfortable and perhaps God knows we ‘need’ that too! On the sole occasion Jesus announced that He needed one of His creatures, He was referring to a donkey! Perhaps, if I keep that in mind, I can once again sing this 20th century battle song with gusto and a grin.

TO HATE AND TO LOVE AN ADVENT ANTHEM

HILLS OF THE NORTH REJOICE

HILLS OF THE NORTH REJOICE

It has taken 50 years for hate to turn to love! In 1962, our Wavell High School Choir Mistress chose “Hills of the North Rejoice” to sing at the schools eisteddfod in the Hymn Section. I hated it! I hated it along with almost everything else about Year Nine. I hated Mothercraft Classes. Caring for babies was part of life to me, the eldest of seven, not something to study for an exam. I hated “Wind in the Willows”. How dare they demand I waste my time reading an infantile story! I hated the boys, but I loved beating them at arm wrestling! That was about the only thing I loved about Year Nine, being the unofficial arm wrestling champion of the class. That was fun!

Now our Choir Mistress knew my parents. She knew that my mother could hold a strong alto harmony, and she thought I would too. Sadly, I did not inherit her ability. I was happy enough to be in the choir and sing soprano, but our Choir Mistress insisted I join the altos. Hence, I hated choir too, as only a crossed fourteen year old can do! I was even suspicious of the words. They were probably some unbelieving nonsense. They didn’t have the theological import of “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Immortal Invisible”, nor the rattling good tunes of “To God Be The Glory” or “Tell Me The Old Old Story”. I slipped into the mode of singing words in tune without meaning. I didn’t even try to follow the sense or thought pattern through the verses, hardly remembering anything except the name from then on.

Now on Friday mornings at St Stephen’s, the Office Staff and Musicians get together to check that we know the tunes of the chosen hymns. My husband, our minister chooses hymns for their words and meaning and it is up to us to make sure the congregation can sing them. Mostly, we get it right. Some weeks ago, another hymn was set to the tune “Little Cornard (66 66 88)”.  Suddenly, the floodgates of memory opened and I remembered “Hills Of The North Rejoice”.

Later I went home and found the hymn in the old blue hymnbook. I studied the verses and fell in love with this anthem of vast missionary vision –
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South…

Spanning the Day of the Lord, that Age between the first and second advents of Christ, it is a prophetic Christmas anthem.

Then I researched the writer, Charles Edward Oakley. This young Welsh clergyman was loved and admired for his ‘noble and gentle nature’ as well as ‘mental powers of the highest order’ and ‘brilliant and impressive eloquence’. After two years as Rector of St Paul’s Covent Garden he died aged but 33.

And so, whether they liked it or not, our Choir sang “Hills of the North Rejoice” as the doxology for our carol service last Sunday. I hope they liked it, or will come to at some time in the future. Its incubation of half a century has been worth it for me!

Hills of the North, rejoice;
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing;
Though absent long, your Lord is nigh;
He judgment brings and victory.

Isles of the southern seas,
Deep in your coral caves
Pent be each warring breeze,
Lulled be your restless waves:
He comes to reign with boundless sway,
And makes your wastes His great highway.

Lands of the East, awake,
Soon shall your sons be free;
The sleep of ages break,
And rise to liberty.
On your far hills, long cold and gray,
Has dawned the everlasting day.

Shores of the utmost West,
Ye that have waited long,
Unvisited, unblest,
Break forth to swelling song;
High raise the note, that Jesus died,
Yet lives and reigns, the Crucified.

Shout, while ye journey home;
Songs be in every mouth;
Lo, from the North we come,
From East, and West, and South.
City of God, the bond are free,
We come to live and reign in thee!

FOUR MINISTER’S MESSAGES FOR 2013

March 2013
FORWARD MARCH

We’ve been searching for someone to come to St Stephen’s to make connections with and minister to younger folk for over a year now – and no show as yet. How should we feel? It has become obvious that one difficulty before us is asking someone to come and start virtually by themselves. We need some creative way forward – one that we can’t quite see yet, but which the Lord will bring us to in His good timing.

I’ve been challenged myself as I’ve been reading through Exodus. In the book of Exodus, God’s people believed His promises and had the encouragement of His provision at the Red Sea. As the days went on though, they faced such difficulties and disappointments that their faith often was tested and sometimes failed. God did not fail them however.

Now God has brought us to the point of utilising our resources to begin a further ministry into the younger demographic of Tamworth. God has moved us in a wonderful way – a way I’d been praying over for many years. We don’t need any outside finance as we once did when we started TCPC with a Ministry & Mission subsidy. This is extraordinary! This is a very great blessing and encouragement! May we be confident that having begun this God will finish it in His own best time!

We have need of patience and perseverance, that, after having done the will of God, we might receive the promise!  This is the good advice of Hebrews 10:36!

On another front, Presbyterian Aged Care (PAC) is interested in looking at Tamworth as a possible town within which to develop their ministry to the aged. I have been talking with Paul Sadler (Chief Executive officer of PAC) for Session (both St Stephen’s and Scots Moonbi) and have some suggestions from him to place before both sessions. We would value your prayers and interest.

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

June 2013
FORWARD MARCH

This June Communion Service will be our first Sunday without TCPC using our facilities. They have been with us for several years now. The last visit of Jeoff Falls in November 2011 marked a watershed for us all. Up to that point we had been in limbo regarding vision and planning for the future. Until we knew what TCPC’s plans and desires were for their future, we could not go forward. The last eighteen months has seen us develop our strategic plan and look at ways forward. We have the necessary resources to go forward and God has given us the will.

I believe that we need to be optimistic realists as Christians. I know I have said this many times, but it is good to be reminded again. Our congregation’s age and stage and limited future are one side of that coin – the realistic side. While we must be realistic about ourselves, we must also be optimistic about God. He is Someone who keeps His Word. What He begins, he finishes. As Hudson Taylor (the famous China Inland Mission first director in the 19th Century) said: “God’s work done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply!”

Firstly, we need to be confident in God. Secondly, we need to be doers of his Word.

One doing that the Presbytery recommended to us during their visitation to the St Stephen’s & Scots Churches, is hospitality. Hospitality is a wonderful way of showing care and friendship towards each other and to newcomers. Age and infirmity has placed many amongst us unable to take part in such a ministry. Please pray that the Lord will call enough of us to this ministry of hospitality, especially when new people turn up at worship.

The key principle to successful hospitality is the KISS Principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE STU…!

Hospitality is the offering of ordinary good food, simply prepared and served with love and friendship. It is a sharing of sandwiches or whatever you would normally be having for a meal with others. Hospitality is not costly, nor does it take a lot of energy.

May God make us fruitful in small ways to the praise of His glory and the future growth of the Gospel in Tamworth and the well-being of St Stephen’s.
Your thankful minister,
Stuart

September 2013
FINDING OUR WAY FORWARD

One of our members, Glenn Mercer, will be starting soon as Chaplain to two BUPA aged care services – at Tamworth and Armidale. Please pray for Glenn as he starts this ministry within these BUPA centres.

As most of you know, I have struggled with severe back pain since June. I have had an MRI scan of my pinched nerve Wednesday August 7th. The main result of the MRI is that I will most likely have to have surgery on my back. A central disc bulge between my Lumbar L4/5 vertebrae combined with a ligament inflammation has caused the spinal canal to narrow and pinch the spinal cord. I will see spine specialist Dr Gordon Dandie on September 2nd. After September 2nd, session will be able to arrange things for supply while I’m away for that surgery. I’m also taking a fortnight’s annual leave to go and see my mother. Mum is not doing too well at present. While I’m away, St Stephen’s is employing Glenn Mercer to preach at both services each Sunday and to do one day a week pastoral visiting for me. I’ve been getting way behind in that. It is wonderful that the Lord has dovetailed things together so that Glenn is available at just this time. This is one answer to our prayers of the past year. I am also proposing that Glenn be contracted to continue some pastoral work after he starts at BUPA.

Hopefully too we’ll have the new data projector up and running for our September communion service. This will make a big difference. Glenda Mercer has been a big help in this with her expertise in using all this new technology as a high school teacher.

Paul Sadler, the CEO of Presbyterian Aged Care NSW, spoke to us on Thursday 8th August regarding Presbyterian aged care possibilities for Tamworth. What is very possible is the option of PAC applying for government funding to establish a community aged care service in Tamworth.  This would not require substantial property holdings, but could be based in an office linked to the church.  It would work in with PAC’s existing community care service in Walcha.  This could be a useful first step for future long-term developments.

Community aged care is funded and regulated by the Australian Department of Health & Ageing (DoHA), with the Department of Veterans Affairs directly funding some programs for veterans.  There are three main funding programs in community aged care:
•    Home Care Packages – Support services in the home equivalent to low or high residential aged care. New home care packages are distributed via annual Aged Care Approvals Rounds.  In late 2012, DoHA advertised 108 new packages in the New England region.
•    Home and Community Care – Provides range of low level home support services such as meals on wheels, domestic assistance, home nursing, day-care.  Annual competitive funding rounds for new services need to be applied for, and PAC deals with this.
•    National Respite for Carers Program – Provides services which give a break from caring for the family carers of older people. [This programme funds Walcha Day Respite Centre at Riverview.]

Please also be in prayer for me as I talk with some other young ministers about ministry here at St Stephen’s. When I’m in Sydney for the General Assembly of Australia in September 9th-13th 2013 I hope to discuss this with one of those I am approaching.

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

December 2013
MOVEMENT AT THE STATION

No younger ministers have yet been willing to look at a position here. However, the Lord has provided two older men who are willing to do ministry here within St Stephen’s – Dale Martin as Chaplain at St Mark’s and Family ministry Worker here at St Stephen’s, and Glenn Mercer as Pastoral Assistant responsible for ministry to older Members. Session is processing these possible ministries and will come to the congregation when we have something definite in the way of contracts and of how to finance these ministries. Hopefully this congregational meeting will be in early December.

After almost two years of searching for an assistant, I have come to the opinion that the time for the congregations of St Stephen’s and Scots Moonbi to call a younger minister will be when I retire. Having an existing ministry team will most certainly be very attractive for any prospective minister. The stumbling block before has been the weight of the task of rebuilding a younger part of our congregation. It is too great a weight for one person to bear.

It is fairly impossible for one minister to minister to an older congregation and, at the same time, to rebuild younger age-groups in the congregation. The hard reality is that the necessary time needed for rebuilding leaves very little time for ministry to older members. I have certainly found it outside my capabilities. We need a team to cover both. With Glenn and Dale we will have such a team for any minister to work with in providing ministry to these two necessary and vital groups within our membership.

Let us go forward with joy and hope into the new year. Christmas reminds us of that incredible gift of the Lord Jesus. In Him and with Him, we have all that the Church needs to grow and go forward. May this coming year be one that gladdens all our hearts in Him!

Your thankful minister,
Stuart

[Published in St Stephen's Church News for March, June, September and December 2013]

BRUSHFIRES AND BOILING WATER

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It was an obscure sort of question on Isaiah 63: “Are there two sides to God’s character, to either of which we may be arbitrarily subject?”

When our leader asked the question, I jumped in feet first. “No! No! A thousand times ‘No’!” I cried. But that was not obvious to our leader, nor everyone else in the group. After all, we were studying God’s compassion and his severity side by side. Surely these are two sides to his character! He loves and cares for His people on the one hand and yet chastises them with the other. Some in the group took the point that this lined up with the tough love of a good father and the study went on to point out the repeated reference to God as Father in Isaiah 63 and 64.

Wasn’t this the big question of “Who is God?” I accessed the Shorter Catechism in an attempt to shed light on the nature and character of God. “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,” did not immediately clear up the confusion around the room. Those splendid words needed more than a few minutes to digest and apply. Each adjective and noun is a study in itself.

So then we looked up the meaning of the word ‘character’: the set of qualities that make somebody or something distinctive; the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another. Ah… Light dawned. A combination of qualities distinguish God’s character. No, there are not two sides to God’s character. Among human beings it is considered very serious for a person to have two sides to their character. Many with this problem end up being locked away.

The passage itself gave us a clue. “…as when the fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil.” Our God is a consuming fire, a fire among the dry undergrowth on a hot windy day. This destructive flame burning against those who reject Him, especially among his blood-bought children, is a theme of Scripture. But God is also a fire that warms and nourishes. The same pillar of fire that warned off Pharaoh’s army provided comfort to God’s people in the desert. The fire that lighted on the heads of the first Christians and burns in the hearts of His children ever since, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence for our well-being.

And yet the fire is one! Are there two sides to God’s character? No, never! There are not two sides to God’s character! The fire that boils the billy burns the brushwood!

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