This, That and Much Else

Andrew Neaum

I have become a widower since last I wrote an Outreach article. It is a fate I thought would never befall me, for I was born seven years before Margaret.

How am I coping?

How am I coping? I ask and answer the question not because I am self-fascinated, though I am. It has more to do with sparing anyone who reads this magazine from feeling compelled to ask me the question themselves, should they have the good fortune to encounter me about the parish.


Perhaps because I am an Englishman, born and brought up before the mawkish Diana-Princess-of-Wales-era, I do not deplore the stiff upper lip, I admire it. Just the suspicion of a quiver to that lip, to suggest the possible presence of authentic feeling, albeit courageously controlled, I can cope with though. This little paragraph is just such a fleeting lip-quiver beneath my tatty moustache. Let it reassure my admiring readers that as I go about my daily round, galloping my galliards, and roaring at my own witticisms, there could well exist beneath my frivolous surface a little emotional turbulence that I see no need to share. I am doing fine.


The rectory is temporarily full of family. Nathan, Elizabeth and Meg have joined Rachel and myself while their new, old house in Benalla is fairly drastically upgraded. So Rachel and I are able to delight in little Meg as she staggers determinedly about the house and begins to master the miracle that is speech. They all, as does the parish too with its multitudinous tasks and busyness, contribute to me being fine.


Two unlikely evangelists for Australia

I saw a superb film about Arthur Upfield recently. If ever I am asked what brought me to Australia, I only half-jokingly point to two unlikely evangelists. The first of them is Arthur Upfield. My mother and father when missionaries in the African bush were devoted members of the distant capital city’s library, taking out great swags of books every time they went into town. I, when home from boarding school, read whatever they read. We all loved Arthur Upfield’s novels about the half-aboriginal, university educated detective, Napoleon Bonaparte, “Boney”. The books seemed to impart an authentic flavour of the Australian outback that we found very attractive. Although I might sometimes appear to be a literary snob I confess unashamedly that I far prefer Arthur Upfield to Patrick White. So how interested I was in the recent ABC film, “Three Acts of Murder”. Totally absorbing it sensitively illuminated the complicated personality of Upfield and quite brilliantly depicted life in the far outback, minding the rabbit proof fence, which Upfield, a pommie Gallipoli veteran did for years as he scribbled away.


The second evangelist for Australia was Barry Mackenzie! When I was a young teacher in London I followed, in comic strip form, his boozy frolics and futile, libidinous misadventures in the scurrilous magazine Private Eye. For all his crass vulgarity I detected in him a hint of that most attractive Australian characteristic, larrikinism. I very recently conducted a most joyous wedding for a bikie. It was great for a fading, would-be larrikin like myself to be joined by such a great swag of largely balding, aging, bearded, but genuine larrikins.


Sizzling conversations

How good it is when conversation sizzles. When an intelligent observation sparks an even more intelligent response, or when a witty riposte invites an even wittier retort and then another and another. Or when a profound comment illuminates a problem that has mystified you for years. Or when an honest comment or confession grants an insight into a friend’s personality that deepens your empathy, admiration or love.

I think back to my university days when a group of us would meet regularly to drink beer and talk at a favourite pub called “The Pit”. We didn’t meet to get drunk, as so many young folk appear to do today, we met above all else to converse: about politics, sex, art, literature, music, religion and sometimes, even sport. Just now and then the conversation would soar and sizzle and how stimulating that was. It happens to me these days most frequently at family get togethers.


I have probably learned as much about art, literature, music and theology from picking other people’s brains and bouncing my own ideas off them in animated conversation than from books. We need at least some of our friends to be people with either better brains than ourselves or brains well-stocked with information and insights that are foreign to us.


The best of all company

I was saying in conversation recently that once you attempt to objectify God (who by definition is beyond space, and therefore “nowhere”, and who is beyond time and therefore with no beginning or end) into space and into time, then he can no longer be God. Which immediately elicited the illuminating response that he becomes merely Jesus of Nazareth, who was indeed once somewhere, in Palestine, and who had a beginning in birth and an end in death. So the Incarnation succinctly put, is God plunging into space/time to become not God in any acceptable definition of the word God and yet paradoxically God.


The best of all company is intelligent and informed Christian company. In part because intelligent, wholehearted, questioning Christianity is so full of startling truths, paradoxes, heart-stopping anecdotes and epiphanies that it not infrequently lifts conversations to heavenly heights.


Thank you to Alan

Ever since I have been at Shepparton Alan Akers has been verger, and I believe long before my coming too. What is a verger? It is an ancient English church office dating back to the twelfth century. The title comes from the ceremonial rod which a verger carries, a virge (from the Latin virga, branch, staff or rod). The Maces of State used in the House of Lords and the House of Commons of the British Parliament are examples of another modern use of the medieval virge. In former times, a verger might have needed to use his virge to keep back animals or an overenthusiastic crowd from the personage he was escorting, or even to discipline unruly parishioners!


There was a lovely verger in Harare Cathedral for the three years I was assistant there. He was called Stan Hanscombe and did indeed carry a virge, escorting to their seats notable personages, as well as the preacher to and from the pulpit. This was daft really, as if the preacher was likely to lose his way! (I always termed his virge a wand, only ironically because he was certainly no fairy).


Alan at St Augustine’s has been a splendid verger, conscientious to a fault, always obliging, good humoured and amiable even with the most difficult of people. His major task has been preparing the church for weddings and funerals. This can be very strenuous and although his slim build and untroubled countenance belie the fact, he is of venerable age and so regretfully and regrettably has decided to call it a day for health reasons. Many thanks Alan for being the very best of vergers. Merv Cowland has been understudying Alan successfully for some months now, he has accepted my offer of the post from the beginning of July. Welcome Merv.


The Victoria Welsh Choir

On August the 9th which is a Sunday, at 2.30pm the Victoria Welsh Choir has a concert in St Augustine’s. This is a large and excellent choir of about fifty male voices and when in full throat raises a listener’s spirits and the hairs on the back the neck. In those largely imaginary good old days there was a decent male voice choir in pretty well every town in England and possibly in Australia too. Nowadays you can’t even find a barber’s shop quartet outside of great metropolises. I have a great respect for the Welsh. The brilliant Archbishop Rowan Williams is one, so too is R.S. Thomas, among my very favourite poets and then once upon a time I loved a Welsh damsel and spent a frigid Christmas in her home in Merthyr Tydfil, which was frigid with the disapproval of her Roman Catholic parents, alarmed at the remote possibility of their daughter’s marital liaison with a robust Anglican! However, the last time I had anything to do with the Victoria Welsh choir I put them in their place by quoting to them Flanders and Swan:


                                      The English, the English, the English are best

                                      I wouldn’t give tuppence for all of the rest......


                                     The Welshman’s dishonest and cheats when he can

                                      And little and dark, more like monkey than man

                                      He works underground with a lamp in his hat

                                     And he sings far too loud, far too often, and flat!


The cost of a ticket to this concert, which will include drinks and nibbles afterwards, is $25, and after the substantial amount that goes to the choir any profits will come to St Augustine’s. Please buy a ticket, from the Parish Office, and promote the concert as widely as you possibly can.


Back to Church Sunday

On September 13th we will be holding a “Back to Church” Sunday. This is an initiative that will be taken up by almost every diocese in the country, and our own Bishop is urging every parish in this diocese to give it a go. We are interested in the names of folk who have left us over the past years, but who might well be responsive to an invitation back, not least because they still have an affection for St Augustine’s, St Luke’s or St Mary’s and a nostalgia for worship and God! We will be going through our rolls to gather names. If you know of any likely candidates, or are yourself one, please let Heather Fitzgerald, Dorothy Cook or the parish office know.


                                              Visit the Sikh Temple

I was visited by three gracious, turbaned and bearded men recently. They left their shoes outside and issued an invitation for all of us who are interested to a special program organised by the Sikh Community. It is on Saturday the 25th of July at Guru Nanak Sikh Temple (240 Doyles Road). The program starts at 11.00am and finishes at 12.30pm after which we are invited to have langar (refreshments) together. This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know something about the Sikh community and faith and to visit their new temple. If you would like to attend please contact the parish office.


A visit from Archbishop Carnley

On Tuesday August the 18th it is almost certain that we will be visited by the retired primate, Peter Carnley who was Archbishop of Perth for many years and who is a notable scholar. The plan is for him to hold a seminar on that evening. As this is still being negotiated as I write I can give no more details, but anyone interested in thoughtful faith should book the date.


Thank you to Kay

Many thanks to Kay McGregor for doing much of the typing and marshalling of material for this edition of Outreach. This has been of great assistance to Ron Rose and myself.


Thank you to the Revd Gail Bryce

As I finish off this rambling article the Revd Gail Bryce tells me that she has been diagnosed with a mercifully mild case of shingles. A great diagnostician like myself suspects that this is in part the result of pushing herself too hard, for she is a hugely conscientious colleague and a great boon to me and us all as such. For this reason I have not asked her for a letter for this edition of ‘Outreach’ though she has submitted important material to it. Many thanks, Gail, for your good work and much appreciated support.

(Rector’s Letter for Winter Edition of the Parish Magazine)