|From the Minister||Some months ago, on the way to deciding what the future of Mark the Evangelist would be, the members of the congregation were given a task of considering what they regarded were the Treasures it was thought important to keep.
For this Winter edition of Mark the Word, we have asked members to share memories they treasure of previous churches they have attended, no matter how far away in time and place it was. We hoped this would provide valuable insights as we prepare to move to a new church home. We have been rewarded with a diversity of contributions.
Although a lifelong churchgoer from childhood, Bruce’s story tells us, as a teenager, of the “transformative experiences” of worship which impacted his spiritual journey thereafter. Ann and Alan recall being members of churches during their childhood and young adult years, and thereafter talk about the churches they were involved in as a married couple. A number of these churches were a result of Alan’s work overseas.
Rosemary presents both her and Alec’s contrasting early church experiences – Rosemary in Adelaide and Alec in country South Australia. Later, in the US, as a married couple, they had very different church experiences during a period when the country was going through difficult political times. Mary talks about the years of producing the beautifully decorated Paschal candles with the children. Although causing anxious times (for her) and fun times (for the children), we are sure these events will be an everlasting memory for them all.
Craig’s church experiences are a little different from most in that he was both an “ordinary” member in two of the congregations where he later was the minister of these same congregations as well as minister in many other churches.
While Wendy’s church experiences covered time in the PNG and remote Anglican Missions, it was her time with the Student Christian Movement at Sydney University and her 30-year membership with the Epping Uniting Church which “nourished” her spiritual life.
As one of MtE’s “treasures”, Donald’s music fills the hall to the rafters each week. He has selected two pieces, an anonymous Moldovan piece “Bulgarash de gyatse wretched” and Hildegard von Bingen’s “O virtus Sapientie” and has also given his thoughts on why he chose these pieces for this Edition.
In this time of transition for Mark the Evangelist, may the memories and treasures of the present and past sustain us in the changes ahead.
Vicki Radcliffe and Rosemary Wearing
From the Minister
For this issue of MtW, Vicki and Rosemary have requested reminiscences on experiences of congregations past. I’ve been an “ordinary” member of three congregations, within two of which I have subsequently been placed as minister – somewhat unusually, I suspect! – and have been a minister in 7 or 8 other congregations for various shorter and longer periods. Not exactly a normal person’s experience of congregations!
Whatever experiences we’ve each had, they have brought us all to MtE and are now to be extended as we enter a few(!?) months of thinking about the possibilities and viability of life together at the CTM. This will mean more experiences of each other – congregation of congregation, minister of congregation, congregation of minister, congregation of Presbytery/Synod, and doubtless other combinations.
We can’t expect that what happens next will be straightforward, entirely satisfactory, even remotely without risk, or without need of considerable goodwill and charitable intention from each of us. But, while all this will mean us experiencing each other in new ways, it will nonetheless be an expressing and experiencing of church: a community preaching, listening, repenting, serving and loving its way into some new tomorrow.
Let’s enter into our next work with such things in mind, for Christ’s sake, our own sake, and God’s greater glory.
News from Church Council
Comments, queries and suggestions are welcomed by the Church Councillors: Gaye Champion (Elder), Mark Duckworth (Chairperson of Hotham Mission Board), John Langmore (Elder), Rod Mummery (Elder, Treasurer and Deputy Chair), Tim O’Connor (Elder and Secretary of Church Council), David Radcliffe (Elder), Craig Thompson (Minister), Rosemary Wearing (Elder) and Alan Wilkinson (Mark the Evangelist Futures Project Coordinator)
On Being Formed as Church
At the age of twenty when applying for a position in an oil company, a referee wrote: “He is extremely fortunate in his choice of parents”. Incredulous at the time — what choice did I have? – I was told that this was a common formula. You may well wonder what relevance this has to the request to write about significant congregational experience. The fact is that I had little as a youth, because, as the son of the said parents, for the first twenty years of my life I lived in a house in the grounds of Melbourne University. Nothing could be further from a conventional childhood. I attended sporadically to the age of fifteen the forerunner of Church of all Nations, namely the Carlton Methodist Mission. Carlton was then an economically depressed suburb. Housing was either needing to be abolished slums, or largely decaying Victorian houses. The Church was poorly attended. Until the age of fifteen, I also attended sporadically without enthusiasm.
My “salvation” arrived in my later teenage years when I attended in term-time the evening chapel services in Queen’s College. Here I was exposed to high quality preaching and music, which was seldom the case in suburban parishes. Some three years later, I became a resident theological student in the College. These were three of the most decisive years of my life. In addition to the evening service, the then Chaplain, who was also one of my most significant theological teachers, introduced a Sunday morning Service of Morning Prayer, a slightly modified form of the Anglican service that had been celebrated by John Wesley and subsequently by Wesleyan Methodists. This was also the time that the Methodist Conference inaugurated a Church Worship Society, in revolt against the typical “hymn sandwich” worship universal in contemporary Methodism.
The music continued to be of the highest quality. For three years, I moved between the chapel and the lecture room where my teacher, Colin Williams, was a formidable presence in both. Such was this integration that I claim to have learnt as much about what preaching should be in the lecture room, as I did about the grounding of profound theology in the chapel. Naturally, there was also for the first time in my life a consistently lived congregational presence of students. I owe everything to these transformative experiences.
Paschal Candles at Mark the Evangelist
Over the last 15 years members of our congregation have been involved in painting our new Paschal candle during Lent. Each year it is first lit from a brasier in the manse garden as part of the Easter vigil on the Saturday night before Easter Day. It symbolizes the light of the risen Christ overcoming darkness. The congregation light their small individual candles from the main one and process round to the darkened church. Halfway through the service the lights come on – Christ is risen!
From the beginning our children have done most of the painting which is a remarkable and challenging feat! They have also learnt about the symbolism and, as they got older, chosen the theme for the year (like the Ethiopian Church at Lalibela carved out of the very rock and visited by the Langmores and Gallachers.)
Painting the candle has involved the children in a very demanding activity in stages, but they have been determined to produce a good result as it is used for worship for the whole year. The creative highlight is always stripping off the masking tape to reveal a neat stripe out of messy chaos!
The burnt down used candles from earlier years have been used for the small service on the Thursday before Good Friday. As we move into the darkness they are gradually tamped out during the service.
This year is (possibly) our final one in the Elm St Hall and our candle shows the starry sky. It celebrates the wonder of God’s universe seen by everyone, everywhere. So many people have been involved over 15 years, from very young children and their parents, eventually teenagers, and other helpers from among our congregation. A very special thanks to you all!
Editors’ note: Thank you Mary for your many hours of work and inspiration involved in the organising and the making of these candles over many years. The Congregation, and in particular the children who contributed to the making of these candles, have been enriched by the beauty of each year’s candle, especially when they were lit at the beginning of each Service.
The Wilkinson’s Churches Over the Years
Alan and I have been involved with many churches over the years. For me, my childhood was strongly influenced by my father being a minister. I don’t have too many memories for my earliest church experiences in Port Pirie, Derrinallum, or Hamilton, other than the memories which my parents passed down. However, I have strong memories of Ararat and Murrumbeena as churches where many of my contacts were related to the church. Ararat is remembered as a very generous congregation with lots of warmth and mutual support. We arrived in Murrumbeena just as I began secondary school and ready for the very large and active youth group already thriving at the church. My memories are of church dances, Sunday afternoon youth group which involved very spirited discussions, choir, the production of plays and musicals, the tennis club. In other words, the church was my social centre. That changed a bit when I began at university, but the local group remained central. After Murrumbeena we moved to Surrey Hills, and I began flatting and joined up with the Prahran church, known as the Cairnmillar Institute, under the leadership of Francis McNab.
During these early years Alan belonged to several church communities in Perth. He was baptised in the Anglican tradition of his parents but as a young teen he was attracted with his older sister to the Methodists – Christian Endeavour and Wesleyan hymns! In his mid-teens he followed his parents, became a member of the Society of Friends, and adjusted to an hour-long unstructured service of meditation without music, punctured by thoughtful contributions from Quakers. The Australian Student Christian Movement (ASCM) at university shepherded in another dramatic shift in his religious journey. ASCM became his new Christian community and provided the theological basis for his spiritual life from then on.
We married and I moved to Perth. Church then involved some decisions – would we be Quakers or Presbyterians. In the years that followed we kept contact with both for a while but more and more gravitated towards the Presbyterians. We both found we preferred more structure and theology in our spiritual experience than the Quakers provided. Alan was back at university by then, and three of our four children were born. It was a busy time so we were less involved in church and were attenders more than organisers. Our spiritual experience was greatly influenced by the strong ASCM group of friends Alan had known throughout his university years. Like us, many of them moved east, and we have close relationships with most of them to this day.
In Canberra in 1970 we joined an active church which had started by joining Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational traditions before the UCA emerged. It was full of young families. The minister who is still a close friend encouraged ways of getting together so that many of the families became our great friends. Trips to the coast were a regular part of the program where we families enjoyed learning and playing together. A strong memory for us was the Family Clusters program. This involved clusters of 4 or 5 families usually meeting at least monthly. As the 7 years passed, the children grew and the ministers changed, life in the church changed, but it was always vibrant. One thing which was important to us was that the congregation did not own a church but met weekly in the local school hall. Meetings were in the members’ homes. This is still the case with this congregation which we visit yearly.
In 1977 we moved with Alan’s job to Port Moresby where we joined the United Church of PNG. Again, this was an important place for us to get to know people of like mind. Out of this congregation we formed a small ‘house church’ community which met every Sunday night for a meal and a religious book discussion. All members of the family have more friends from this period of our lives than from anywhere else we have lived, and still visit them around the world. Activities at the church were very much focussed on the family group. It was also a good place to get to know local people many of whom had come to Port Moresby often to work in the government.
1985 saw us back in Canberra and we found the church we had previously belonged to was still the place where we wanted to worship. By then our children were older and gradually leaving home, and less involved in the church. It was during this period that we became interested in the ‘creation spirituality’ theology of Matthew Fox. We formed a group of around 16 who met weekly around a satisfying study and worship program. The group, although much smaller, continued to meet for more than three decades.
Before arriving in Melbourne in 2002, the previous 10 years were spent in Beijing, Dhaka and Rome. As far as church was concerned, it was completely different – you could say we mostly observed rather than belonged. In Beijing the Christian church was rebuilding its numbers and we occasionally attended a Chinese language protestant service of around a thousand in a vast warehouse space. There were several of these around the city. The service was in Mandarin which we didn’t speak but it was good to be in a worshipful place. And we enjoyed singing the familiar hymns – us in English and the locals in Mandarin! In Dhaka we sometimes attended a small Anglican congregation – again in the local Bangla language so not something in which we could fully participate. Our experience in Rome, a city of churches, was quite different. We sometimes went to church but never belonged to a particular congregation. You could say we shopped around! Close to our apartment an Italian Catholic congregation met in the Pantheon. We found that to be a very worshipful place, and thoroughly enjoyed going there. We visited many churches through the country and learned a great deal about Christianity over the ages.
Amazing as all this was, we were very grateful to be introduced to Mark the Evangelist by our friends Cherry and Hugh Collins. This church has been a great place to belong.
A Journey of Growth in Faith, – for a Church or Worship?
MtE’s present search for a place of worship has provided me with a new lens through which to reflect upon my life’s search for worship and mission including the shared 61 years with Alec, spanning many different cities and countries, changing circumstances of childhood and teenage years, marriage and parenthood (and grandparenthood), work, and political-economic environments.
Alec and I both grew up in South Australia. Alec lived on the family farm from birth until moving to boarding school in Adelaide. I lived in Adelaide from 1947 until 1966 when Alec and I married and left for the US.
My journey of faith had a difficult beginning in a small Presbyterian church in Adelaide. As a family of four girls, we drove 9 miles to church every Sunday. My father was an Elder and the Superintendent of the small Sunday School in a hall next to the church. In my early teens I assisted playing the piano and teaching.
In my childhood years I was fearful approaching our church with its darkened interior, hard wooden pews and (to me} a menacing towering structure called a pulpit from where sermons in a language I could not understand were delivered. Going to Sunday school was a release. My sister, 6 years older than me, enjoyed a youth group but the congregation was mostly of my parents’ age. I do not recall ever hearing an “address” to the children nor did I find meaningfulness in the liturgy during my teenage years. Mission may have been mentioned when it came around to thanking God for the Australian Inland Mission.
Throughout my school years, however, Sundays at home after church gave us firm rituals and peacefulness. Our lunch was roast lamb with vegetables and afterwards we could retire to our rooms usually for homework or quiet reading. The evening brought music and joy into the house. We sang hymns and Psalms (my father’s favourites selected beforehand) from a choice of Hymn Books lying proudly on the top of the piano (“The Scottish Psalter”, Methodist and Congregational Hymns with music, and “Songs of Praise”). We each had a choice.
On reflection, I am struck by a stark contrast between my church and Alec’s church which was a tiny Congregational church built in the corner of a paddock in 1885, with a hall nearby. From 1961 I shared worshipping there when visiting Alec’s family. One step inside the church and one was welcomed instantly into a warm fire-lit and lamp-lit interior with solid benches. A tiny pedal organ accompanied familiar hymns to which the farming family voices sang enthusiastically, and after the end of the service, unlike at my Adelaide church, the men swiftly moved outside to form their own group where the week’s farming news/gossip was exchanged for well over an hour, with women folk chatting happily in a separate group.
The contrast between our two churches was revived many years later on the two separate occasions of our fathers’ funeral services. For Alec’s father, the church was filled with the extended generations of the immediate family but the service was relayed on a loud speaker to the outside. At the end of the service, the coffin was wheeled to the outside and when we came to the door we were stunned to see several hundreds of farming families standing silently outside, and through this silent mass of families was a long curved “pathway” winding its way towards the far off fence of the paddock where the Hearse was waiting. The “pathway” consisted of carefully spaced farmers dressed in their best suits, hats held in front of body, heads bowed. There were no dry eyes. My own father’s funeral was at our family church, formal and well attended and filled with generations of immediate family but few others from our father’s time. Even the officiating Minister had not known our father. And outside, there was quiet grief as we walked behind the Hearse partway down the road.
Alec and I often discussed, in later years, the impact on us leaving secondary school and entering university. We agreed it was a significant rite of passage in the sense of leaving behind “the-church-as-a-significant-place-of-worship” and joining ASCM, which brought to us individually a richness, fulfilment, long life friends, a world vision and an ecumenical and theological understanding. This was a beginning of a new, but long-lasting, phase in our lives in which there was an “interlacing” of worship and mission through unexpected and profound events.
Alec and I married in 1966 and flew to Urbana, the United States, for a shared graduate study at the University of Illinois. I remember being stunned by my first walk into campus and passing, on our left side, four of what looked like white stone Opulent Temples with sweeping stone stairways and grandiose Stone Noticeboards “advertising” four Sunday Services. We agreed they were not for us and swiftly connected to the Urbana Quaker Meeting with their house in a rambling garden with Friends who were passionate about their mission for peace and their special form of worship, followed by wonderful Quaker music, singing and sharing of meals. They were a mixture of university and non-university families who demonstrated with incredible courage in translating beliefs into action which I now understood as Mission. Alec and I took turns with others to abide overnight with the few conscientious objectors who were in hiding in a sanctuary house rented by the Meeting, as well as participating in vigils and protests. These were the 1960s, the midst of not only the political turmoil of the Vietnam War but racial violence and poverty. During these years, Alec and I attended a Psychological Convention in Washington and listened to Martin Luther King deliver a two-hour address without notes, sitting only 12 feet away from us. It was my first unforgettable “sermon”.
In 1968, we moved to our new life in New Haven, Connecticut where we lived for almost 3 years, gave birth to two daughters Niki and Robin and found worship and mission in abundance in the New Haven Meeting, in a beautiful house and tranquil garden and in the company of town and gown families with young children and students. In Quaker worship, we were nurtured by this family-filled Christian community with their mission for political, economic, and racial peace.
Living on a main street which formed the border between New Haven’s ghetto and the campus and rest of the city, kept us very aware of town vs gown conflicts especially racial tensions. But a miraculous occasion brought everyone together, namely May Day 1971 at the time of the Black Panther Trial in New Haven, and Alec and I with babies on our backs, joined crowds who bravely came to the Village Green, the sun shone, and William Sloan Coffin Jnr (Yale Chaplain) delivered the second most powerful sermon of my life – to a receptive, throbbing and celebratory mass of folk of all races and religious affiliations. The miraculous nature of it should be underlined by the fear and panic which had swelled in the weeks before.
In 1972, we returned to Melbourne. We found a home in Ivanhoe and Kimberly, our third daughter, was born in 1974. As a family we searched for years for a church which would fulfil our desire for worship and music and mission. Like the Wilkinsons, we found MtE through Cherry and Hugh and knew instantly we had found a congregation to which we could relate unreservedly with its combination of worship/liturgy, mission and music. Thank you, Mark the Evangelist.
My Enriching Church Life Experiences
I was brought up in the Congregational Church at Gordon in Sydney, attending Sunday School, and Church. My first Church Family. At fifteen, I started attending the flourishing Presbyterian Fellowship, and was introduced to study groups, leadership training and Fellowship camps. The Student Christian Movement at Sydney University was a great inspiration and led into theological reading and reflection and the making of lifelong friends. On moving to PNG, where I taught in a girls’ boarding school at Lae, I attended the town English speaking Anglican Church, and later spent several years as a volunteer in two remote district Anglican missions. I was not attracted to the paternalistic hierarchy!
However, on returning to Sydney, with two-year-old twin boys in tow, I returned to the Congregational Church at Epping and felt immediately at home. In the thirty years of my membership of what became the Epping Uniting Church, I was nourished by fine preaching, wonderful examples of Christian living amongst the congregation, involvement in social justice issues, friendships and opportunities to contribute to children’s work, family discussions in a House Church evening group, as well as being an Elder. Many of the congregation had been in the SCM and were soulmates.
I feel so fortunate that this amazingly enriching experience of church life was followed by being invited by Ann and Alan Wilkinson to worship at Mark the Evangelist when I married John in 2007 and moved with him to North Melbourne.
My Musical Journey
I have been thinking about my own musical “journey” over the last ten years (ten being the magic number since I started working at Mark the Evangelist). As a composer/arranger, there’s been quite a journey.
The first piece (which is after the editorial above) is my arrangement of an anon Moldovan piece, “Bulgarash de gyatse wretched”. Latitude 37 recorded this in early 2013, but the piece had been kicking around in my mind for some months before that. With little more than a melodic line, I dreamt up the rolling ostinati which move the piece along something unsettled. Compare that to Hildegard von Bingen’s “O virtus Sapientie”, which I arranged for Van Diemen’s Band late last year. Same premise: only the melodic line (and no rhythm, at all), but what I put down was much more expansive, structured and evolved.