I thought it might be good to let you know some of the ways the Lord has led St Thomas’ before I forget – so every now and again I will use the bulletin letter to record a few memories.
I was doing ministry in the Blacktown area from 1985 – 1989 (exactly five years at Lalor Park). In 1989 I was offered a “swap” with a minister in England and our family swapped house, car and pulpit with an English family for twelve weeks. When I came home I was ready to go again – but on the first Sunday back there were two elderly people in the back row who I’d never seen before [they were in suits and fur coats – everyone else was in shorts and t-shirts!].
These two people were “nominators” for St Thomas’ North Sydney – nominators being the people who go looking for a minister when a church falls vacant. We spoke briefly and I suspect they were horrified at the informal service they had been part of that morning. I had never seen or heard of St Thomas – I was just back from a time away – and was not interested in a move to a new church.
But that evening a young friend and student at Moore College, called Nick Foord, (now married to Kia – father of Mike, Rachael, Beth and Andy – and Chaplain at Shore School) dropped in to the (evening) service at Lalor Park. I asked him where he was doing “student ministry” and he said “St Thomas North Sydney”. I said we had seen the nominators that morning and Nick said that St Thomas was a place well worth thinking about for gospel ministry – it was not a standard ‘Sydney Diocese’ church but had begun to change under Peter Watson – who had just been appointed a Bishop and therefore had to leave.
If Nick had not called in that night I would not have agreed to meet the nominators. I would have said a polite “no thank you”. But his word to me made me think again and so when they rang to meet I agreed.
The five nominators could hardly have been more different in their personalities or desires for St Thomas. Two were very keen for a high churchman, two wanted someone peaceable and impressive and one (Ken Chapman) represented the gospel. I remember the questions they asked had to do with candles and traditions and making sure things stayed the same and I had no idea where this would go.
Kathy and I prayed for the Lord’s will to be done and a few weeks later the Archbishop (Donald Robinson) wrote to offer the position – on condition I came to see him first. He said that he thought I would dislike traditional ministry, that I would not be up to it and that he would offer the position only if I promised to “continue liturgical standards”. Since I planned to always have high liturgical standards I said ‘yes’ to his request.
My appointment was very unpopular with many – some left before I arrived. The induction service was very tense with many in grief that St Thomas was now in ‘evangelical’ new hands. For the first year I received angry or unhappy letters almost every week telling me what I was doing wrong – and most of them copied to the (poor) Archbishop.
But faithful people had been praying for the all too empty St Thomas and on the first Sunday a girl was converted when I said that “Jesus is God’s Son”. The lights went on for her. People began to come to St Thomas – it was still very formal and I urged them to come as ‘missionaries’ to help.
The Lord provided a treasurer – since the treasurer had left – and a visiting organist offered to be the new organist when the old one left. Interesting that when God’s grace is at work He provides the people. With no treasurer I arrived and asked someone where to find one. He said ‘you could try Jim Goldman – I think he’s a bank teller’. I walked down to Jim’s house in Waverton and he was watering his front garden – wearing a Hawaiian shirt and huge khaki shorts. I asked him if he’d be our treasurer and he said ‘yes’. It turned out he was the managing director of Westpac finance (in the good old days), the Diocese had been trying to get him to take on the whole Diocesan finances and when he presented the treasurer’s report at the first AGM (he put down a blue slide on the overhead projector for income and a red one for expenses and said ‘looks pretty good’) there was complete and reverential silence! His report took fifteen seconds.
Generous people bought chairs for the hall and bibles for the pews. The wardens were mostly old enough to be my father (I was 36) and they took an interest in my spiritual life and were very protective and wise. The Parish Council had only two or three evangelicals (among 16 members) but they were shrewd in their comments and gracious in their influences.
Though many were unhappy that I was the minister – and with good reason – our conversations were mostly courteous. In all this the Lord was at work to use His word to shape His church. Following Peter Watson was a huge help as he had prepared the way so well. The Lord loves and cares for His church!
P.S. More stories later