A Trip to Perth
We wobbled our way down the escarpment at Greenmount and into the outer suburbs of Perth, having spent two days driving 15 hours a day through the interminable sparseness of the Nullarbor. This was long before the longest golf course in the world had been installed so there had been no diversions.
And I was in the doghouse.
About 600 miles back we had stopped for a drink and some fuel at a roadhouse and Alison pulled out some toys to create a little world of familiar items in the dust of the desert. A couple of hundred miles later she realised she had left them behind and pleaded for us to turn back. I felt terrible, but refused. The extra 400 miles round trip to retrieve them would mean another night in a motel and we just didn’t have time for that.
I was taking leave to spend some time at a Teacher’s College as they were developing some interesting materials for primary schools. For example, they had a subject that taught the kids how to skin a kangaroo and make leather! (Ok, so maybe this particular skill was not so transferrable to metropolitan locations but interesting nonetheless!)
We were also going to see my mother who was dying of cancer. She was hanging on to say farewell to the family and especially her beloved granddaughters. Being incommunicado (before the days of mobile phones) we had no idea if we were too late.
After the trip had been arranged I came home one day to find Ruth in that dizzying state of uncertainty where you know that you are facing a very significant decision that may have profound implications for your future.
After putting the kids to bed she sat me down and explained that she had, in effect, been invited to act as an Interim Pastor for a church in Tim Winton country. It was a church in dire straits and in need of some help with the leadership.
This little church had always struggled financially and things got much worse when the builder overran the budget and skimped on everything to try and save money. Consequently, instead of a wall of bricks bound together by mortar they had a pile of bricks that appeared to be separated by layers of sand. A couple of young boys, who were jostling to be first into the toilet one day ran into one of the walls and knocked it over! Then one Saturday night, after a 21st celebration in hall the ceiling collapsed and a highly modified Sunday school program had to be rapidly organised for the next morning. The band had been very loud and it really had ‘razed’ the roof!
The congregation was just as fragile and the deacons were struggling with the consequences of a string of ministerial disasters.
The most recent incumbent had been dismissed for inappropriate behaviour. An earlier one had been shattered after his wife’s death, and then there was the time that a member of the youth group had suffered a psychotic episode, climbed onto the roof of the manse and rained tiles and obscenities on anyone who came within range. There were mutterings of demon possession and the need for an exorcism.
Obviously they needed some good pastoral care and some sound preaching.
We weighed it all up. We could only commit for the short term coinciding with my contract and Ruth had never had this level of responsibility before. It was in that twilight period just after Marita had been ordained and while the issue of a woman’s place in ministry was still very hot in Victoria, it had not even been raised in Western Australia.
Would Ruth be able to exercise a ministry in this situation or would it just be a fool’s errand? The latter seemed very likely as the church was very conservative and the constitution made it quite clear, no woman could hold any position of authority and she could most definitely never preach.
After much angst and many long distance phone calls we decided to accept.
When we got there the Deacons invited Ruth to be a ‘consultant’ so she could take part in their meetings. They also instituted a novelty ‘Women’s Day’ where the women led the morning service and Ruth preached.
The service was a great success and brought to light some very talented women in the congregation, one of whom has since become one of the first ordained Baptist women in W.A.
The following Easter the church celebrated by having 10 dozen hot cross buns for morning tea. Having never experienced such largesse, the congregation was blown away. In this simple act they had enough for all and then some left over. It was a most wonderful celebration. The local baker was ecstatic and it proved to be a turning point for the place.
Having been reassured that they were valuable in God’s sight, and having learned that they were far more resilient than they expected the church was now ready to move on and preach the gospel with new enthusiasm.
We returned to Melbourne and everyone lived to fight another day.