Tuesday, November 10, 2009






































37. WHO AM I?








Hi from Melbourne, Australia

You should understand that those who write books, or a bulky handful of letters, write because of what they lack, not because of what they have. I have written of what I long for, not what I possess; of how I should like to be, not of what I am... (Michael Mayne, This Sunrise of Wonder, p. 308).

I’m writing this second edition of my memoirs from a very peaceful place – the Santa Casa Retreat House in the beautiful seaside town of Queenscliff, Victoria (Australia). Our facilitator has asked the small group of retreatants: ‘Why did you come here? What are you asking the Lord to do with/for you?’ She then read the Scriptures ('Live/abide in me, and I’ll live/abide in you', Jesus in John 15). 

Update: It's now a year later (October 2010) - on a 10-day retreat at my friends Bruce and Yvonne Morey's place on the Gold Coast, Queensland. 

And later again: September 2014, to give special attention to the Blackburn Baptist Church chapter, in the context of a wonderful celebration of BBC/Crossway's 60th Anniversary. 

Again, I'm a little further removed from my birth-day and closer to my death-day! But I still want to 'Live fully, love wastefully, and be all God intends me to be...' My major concern is for Jan's health, after a succession of 'medical adventures' which have left her feeling weak and tired every day.


I've re-arranged this blog into date/theme order: you'll be able to start at the beginning (a very good place to start :-) and move through the blog to the present...

There are some interesting things happening in my 'present': 

  • I've become more progressive theologically on a couple of matters (eg. homosexuality). 
  • I'm spending less time preaching/seminaring/counselling (though I reckon I'm doing all those ministries better than ever) and 
  • more time in quiet reflection and prayer and writing. 
  • In 2011 - now 2014 - I believe the Lord is reinforcing a calling to communicate with more people online as well as through my books (current total readership - many more than a million a month from this keyboard: the fulfilment of a teenager's evangelistic/pedagogical dream). 
  • I've just posted this onto my Facebook site: Dear friends: Let's take a risk and trust one another: Complete the sentence... 'For me, this Christmas-week is awful / full of rich memories / joyful / full of grief / a nothing-week / a waste of money and emotional energy / a high-point in my year's worship experiences...' etc. etc. Because.... (complete the sentence). And let's pray for/support one another at this time... 

How does a longish book or blog get written? Mostly little by little, concept after concept, in bits and pieces over many days, months, or even years…

You are now about to witness the ongoing process of my writing an autobiography. Some of it will be messy - headings, jottings, ideas that may not make much sense (yet!). A paragraph or two will appear each few days, or weeks - or, recently, years! If I'm on holidays or I've taken a week off from seeing people to write, you might have to suffer large chunks!

I'm doing this, frankly, for my benefit. I want to reflect on my past, my present, and, yes, my future. If you have a reason to take this journey with me (I was nearly going to say, 'If you have nothing better to do!') you're welcome. I hope some of my learnings might be helpful to you. Was it Confucius who said 'The wise person learns from others' mistakes before they make their own'?

One of the key ingredients of my personal and professional life has been my tendency to be an iconoclast/maverick, a non-conformist risk-taker, something of a free spirit. Fortunately, I've mostly had jobs/ministries where I've not been encumbered by institutional pressures to 'say the right thing' if by doing so I've had to compromise the truth. But speaking my mind has sometimes got me into trouble with institutionophiles! Being a risk-taker gets the attention of two kinds of people: thought-police who are – deep down – threatened by a new idea, especially one which might attack their long-held prejudices; but the second group are my main target-audience: those who are hungry for a new reality to take the place of whatever ideas or life-habits are unsatisfying.

The brilliant Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig wrote:
If I could be a lovely chap
Life would fall into my lap
And all my words would sound so nice
You'd want to hear me say them twice.

But what I want to say to you
Is only what I think is true
And so, alas, I'll always be
A rather unattractive me.
Occasionally I get feedback about how I'm perceived 'out there'. Friend: 'Rowland, you're very much loved, but sometimes hated.' 'Who hates me?' 'Those who are threatened by your provocative encouragement to think outside the box, mostly!'

Another strange aspect of my personality is an aversion to more-of-the-same for too long. If my job gets boring, I’m outa there! So you’ll notice that I’ve moved among several very interesting vocations – or, I’d prefer to say, God moved me on. I’m constitutionally a pioneer rather than a settler. (Feedback from my denomination's officials used to be: 'Rowland doesn't stay in any ministry for very long!'). 

Continuing this confession-time: I've also been innoculated with a pedagogical serum: I love sharing what I've learned with others. Whether they agree or not is of no concern to me (with some rare exceptions if they happen to be significant others). With priest-sociologist-novelist Andrew Greeley people say I’ve never had an unpublished thought. Well, I reckon I’m in good company! 

Think about this:

The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned, is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. (Annie Dillard)

And this:

'Sir, My husband, T S Eliot, loved to recount how one evening he stopped a taxi. As he got in the driver said: "You're T S Eliot." When asked how he knew, he replied, "Ah, I've got an eye for celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell and I said to him 'Well, Lord Russell, what's it all about?' and, do you know, he couldn't tell me.'" (Letter to The Times, 7 February, 1970).

I wrote this in Facebook and also to a couple of Usenet newsgroups: ‘Thank you Lord that you love me before I change, as I change, after I change, and whether I change or not!’ That last bit always gets the attention of the Pharisee-in-all-of-us. One Usenet respondent asked ‘You mean God loves demons who will always be evil and never change?’

So today I wrote this: ‘Does God love demons?’

First, complete the sentence ‘God is…’ Second: if Jesus commands us to love our enemies, are we saying God cannot do what he asks us to do? Third, Pharisees rank order God’s creatures along a continuum of ‘easy to love’ to ‘unloveable’: and the more conservative the Pharisee the more creatures inhabit the unloveable end of the spectrum. Now, I respond, does that mean God’s love encompasses a human or demonic creature who will never be redeemed? To which I reply ‘If love is unconditional, it is therefore not contingent upon the creature’s being redeemed or not.’ Think about it. (So far more than 50 people have argued about that: here I’ve reproduced some of the most interesting responses).

Anyway, I digress (that happens often in my written and verbal communications, but I hope those rabbit-trails prove interesting). Another challenging part of this review will be to select the most life-changing experiences I've had. Emotionally, I reckon falling in love with my wife 55 years ago (it's still happening!) and the births of our four children were the most powerful. (I was present when the last two entered the outside world, but wasn't allowed back in the 1960s when the two eldest were born).

I look forward to walking with you through these 77 years, via many interesting ideas and experiences ...


Rowland Croucher

P.S.  A little note or two about my name: 

* My mother called me Rowland because she and my father had read a little Religious Tract Society booklet on the English preacher Rowland Hill  (1744-1833). Interesting character: he ran a Sunday School for 3000 children, and was passionate about members of the British and Foreign Bible Society not having to subscribe to a particular doctrinal stance (I like that - though my parents would have been more conservative on that issue). 

* I've only heard of four other humans with the same Christian and surname (spelt Rowland Croucher). 

I'm the only one alive (how am I supposed to think about that?). 

From the Mormon site familysearch.org.: 

Rowland Croucher - buried 22 May, 1826, York, England
Rowland Russell Croucher - christening 1869, Hampshire, England 
Rowland Henry Basil Croucher - christening 21 November 1888, Hampshire, England

Another was a gentleman who lived on the north island of New Zealand, who died a decade ago. 

There are several gents with the name Roland Croucher living in the U.S....

(Add all that to your store of useless information)!


Come, let's travel together. The next chapter's about my childhood. 

October 2010


I was born to a godly Plymouth Brethren couple in the 1930s. My mother says I could recite Psalm 23 (KJV of course) when I was three! A text I memorized early: Proverbs 3:5: 'Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct thy paths'. 

As a child I remember World War 2 air-raid sirens; catching (and killing, sadly) blue-tongued lizards; wandering away from home and getting thrashed with a military belt when I returned; a schoolboy friend riding his bicycle downhill out of control and into a bus. At Mortdale Primary School I remember watching an amazing athlete - Reg Gasnier - excel at any sport he chose (he later became Australia's best-ever rugby league centre); the Gould League of Bird Lovers' group practising their bird-calls (they won State competitions); being milk monitor and drinking up to seven cups of milk every day over a couple of years: I've never broken a bone, despite many sporting adventures! And I read all the Biggles, William, Deerfoot and R.M.Ballantyne books I could get hold of. I learned to play the piano, winning several awards until I reached 'sixth grade' by the age of 12. Whenever I hear Chopin's Military Polonaise or Paderewski's Minuet I remember with delight the joy of making piano-music.

Sayings from my parents come back to mind. One of their favourites: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child!' A variant: ''Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him!' My parents backed up a lot of things with a Bible verse. Of course, back then 'children should be seen and not heard!' My mother would scold us if we forgot something: 'You'd forget your head if it wasn't screwed on!'

Books have always been a special part of my life. A boyhood friend in our Assembly, David Clines, now a professor of Old Testament in a British University, was a great reader, as was his father. They inculcated a love for reading and a thirst for knowledge which has been with me all my life. David was also probably the only friend I ever had with whom I could exchange ideas uninhibitedly. My father had about 100 books mainly by old Brethren authors (like C.A.C., C.H.M., J.N.Darby, and William Kelly).

I read today of the trial of a pedophile (who called himself a 'hebephile'). It reminded me of Frank Beckman from our street who lived with his elderly mother, taught us to collect (and sell) junk, and who took my brother Graham and me on long trips, and told us suggestive stories.. We could easily have been victims of a pedophile's abuse. He later committed suicide.

I attended Mortdale Primary School for the whole of my pre-secondary education, and can't remember an unhappy time there. Michael Hornibrook, son of a school principal, used to come first in the class, and I'd be second, and Malcolm Butters would be up there as well.

At recess and lunchtime we'd play 'cockylora' ('British Bulldog'), with two teams and a couple of taggers in the middle. We'd run from one place to another, and the taggers would have to catch and hold us while they said 'Cockylora 1-2-3'. Good training for my later Rugby Union years!

One of the tricks I learned was to shake hands with people holding some 'itchy powder' in one's hand (from a tree at the bottom of the school-yard). Or worse: put it down someone's back. Another trick: when some-one is chasing you down the hill, drop to the ground in front of them, curl up, and enjoy them falling over you!

On the way home to Oatley we played 'follow on' marbles. One afternoon someone on a pushbike ran over my precious 'connie agate' marble and I never saw it again. I vaguely remember a friend who lived around the corner - Brian Lutterell - and another who lived up the street - Malcolm Butters (and who was the only other boy from Mortdale Primary School to accompany me to Sydney Boys' High). I think he taught me to poke fun at Oatley's 'village idiot' - a sad man who walked the streets incessantly who when prompted with 'Clark Click' used to click his fingers very loudly.

The List of Principals during my time at Mortdale included Alfred Vaughan (1944) and William Edgar (1946). Those names are only dimly remembered (which probably means that I didn't get into trouble too much).


Some Christian songs (from our Oatley Brethren Assembly meetings) and secular/folk songs (from school) arrive without warning into my brain from time to time:

* Songs from Brethren meetings: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, 

* 'Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart Lord Jesus; Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart Lord Jesus'.

* "Open My Eyes, That I May See"

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.


Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth Thou sendest clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.


Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with Thy children thus to share.



At school (Mortdale Primary) we had regular ABC school broadcasts, which emanated from a box on the wall at the front of the classroom. In Mr Farrell's class (3rd and 5th grade) and Mr Gardiner's (4th grade) we learned lots of songs - mainly English folk songs. Like:

* All Through the Night

* Where have you been all the day, Billie Boy?

* The Song of the Volga Boatmen

* Where'ere You Walk

Others I'll add when they come to mind!


(17 December 2002): My mother passed away last week. Yesterday Jan and I with our three daughters Karen, Amanda and Lindy returned from Sydney, where with about 70 others we had a wonderful celebration of her life. A Brethren Assembly elder Ray Cooke began his tribute with this story:

Three old mothers are sitting on a park bench in Miami Beach talking about how much their sons love them.

Sadie says, "You know the Chagall painting hanging in my living room? My son, Arnold, bought that for me for my 75th birthday. What a good boy he is and how much he loves his mother."

Minnie says, "You call that love? You know the Eldorado Cadillac I just got for Mother's Day? That's from my son Bernie. What a doll."

Shirley says, "That's nothing. You know my son Stanley? He's in analysis with a psychoanalyst on Park Ave. Five sessions a week. And what does he talk about? Me."


My mother was called 'Sadie' most of her life, but was born Sabina Alice McKenzie, at Lilyfield, Sydney, on the 29th August, 1911, the third of seven girls. She met my father, Albert Reginald Croucher at a Christian camp at Wyee on the central north coast of New South Wales, then conducted a courtship where they met regularly at the corner of Bay and Cameron Streets, Rockdale, Sydney. (Hence the middle name - Cameron - for their firstborn).

(Mum and Dad were married on 15/2/36. Dad died on 27/12/ 94. Therefore they were married 58 nearly 59 years.)

'Motherhood' is a universal cliché for unconditional love and goodness. Mothers, more than anyone else in the human race, mean well. They want the best for us. And they know exactly what's best for us, because they spent countless hours thinking about it, even before we were born.

On our website, there's over 3,000 funny stories. But not many jokes about mothers. Motherhood, apparently, isn't very funny, compared to other human roles and predicaments!


Our family was averagely happy (and in material terms fairly well-provided-for: though I have memories of going to school without shoes). I can remember a bit of niggling here and there between my parents, but only one row that I would put into the category of 'spectacular'. (My father came home from working all day on 'the block' (our property in Louisa Street Oatley) and he complained when Mum had no meat for his dinner. They raged at each other and my mother collapsed crying, whereupon my father picked her up and carried her on to a sofa.)

Socially, all our friends were from 'the Assemblies'. The Goss family (four girls! and a son) were the closest. Heather Goss is one of the most amazing Christian saints I've known. She taught 'Scripture classes' until well into her 90s to half a dozen classes a week!

My mother was the stronger of my two parents - intellectually (though her knowledge about many things was minimal, and many of her opinions uninformed) and emotionally. Like most over-mothered / under-fathered males my emotional journey, negatively, has been away from dominant women.

I've only had one female spiritual director, and the moment she got 'directive' was the moment to leave that encounter. I recently attended a conference where we formed 'response groups'. There were no appointed leaders or suggested processes, so it was 'survival of the fittest', at least in our group. A dominant (though smiling and quietly-spoken) middle-aged female sort of took charge, suggested protocols like no one speaking twice until everyone had spoken once, etc. This man-hating angry feminist began one session by responding to one male's input by saying 'I don't think we need to hear any more of this...' with which another female agreed. And she didn't abide by her own suggested protocols: in one session she had (by my count) seven inputs to four others' one. Argggh!!! I found a reason after that to avoid attending the group. Life's too short...
Back to mum: the dominant character trait of my mother was her goodness.

She was a good woman. Emphasis, first, on 'woman': she was somewhat ambivalent about males: they were an enigma/mystery to her (no wonder: she had six sisters and no brothers). 'Boys!' she would tsck! tsck! to the three of us. 'You're just like your father' was not usually said as a compliment. 'Men get the best end of the stick' she said often. As I said, in her marriage to Reg she was undoubtedly the stronger personality - and probably got her way more often than vice versa. (Certainly most of the put-downs came from her direction.). He was probably frustrated sexually: sex was only for producing babies she once sagely told my then-wife-to-be!

But she was a good parent. We knew she loved us. As a high-schooler I remember her anxious tears when the train from the city was an hour late. She was there when I came home from school - right through Primary School years (common back then, unusual now). She forced me to sit at the piano for an hour to practice every day for many years. (The old fashioned chiming clock sat on the piano, and the minute hand would often be mysteriously encouraged to move ahead to the end of the hour.. But as there was no other clock to check the time with, I think my manipulations of time were never discovered).

One of the most important sagas in our family history was the time Graham was sent to buy 2lbs of sausages, but when he got home and they were weighed, mum said the butcher had not given him the correct amount. She probably suspected that he had sucked the innards out of several sausages on the way home. But she sent him back to the butcher's to complain. We can't remember the outcome of that episode.

One of our parents' favourite texts was 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it!' That was their justification for corporal punishment. (The ultimate weapon was my father's 'military belt': we never told him that because its leather was wider it hurt less!).

She was an old-fashioned parent, in some ways. Whenever I have diarrhoea I think of her enemas, glauber salts, castor oil, and senna powder (yuck!).

My mother bequeathed some important slogans to us. If we were looking for something which was in front of us, she would say 'If it had teeth it would bite you.' Or if we lost something: 'You'd lose your head if it wasn't screwed on!' We had to stay out of draughts, 'cos we might catch a cold, which might develop into pneumonia and we might die.

She was a good cook. I remember fondly the rhubarb pies, and the bread-and-butter puddings and the Christmas puddings with threepences in them. We also had foods we don't eat any more - like bread and dripping, and tripe, and lambs' brains, and stewed rabbit.

From my brother Graham:

"A few reminiscences that come to mind concerning Mum are:

* Her favourite quotation "You wait till your father gets home!" You'll recall Mum's bruising easily and punishment was generally Dad's problem.
* Her favourite authority was "Professor Kirk". Whenever a remedy was needed Professor Kirk's book came off the shelf.
* Usually castor oil for stomach upsets and cod liver oil for coughs. I still don't know why we had to undergo the weekly glauber salts / senna ritual!!
* Her favourite pastime - mending socks mainly but elbows of jumpers sometimes with that little wooden thing that looks like a mushroom.
* Her favourite afternoon chore - making bread and dripping sandwiches for when we came home from school.
* Her hardest task - trying to get us to help her weed the gardens and lawns.
* One of her best friends - Mrs Smart - the Salvation Army lady who made clothes for you, Rowland, which were later passed on to me and finally to David. They were that good."

My mother was a good money-manager. They had two mortgages when we lived at Mortdale, and no car, no radio (and no pets!). One reason we had no radio was because it was an instrument of the devil - who was 'the prince of the power of the air'.

We got pocket-money for collecting horse-manure to fertilize our garden (sixpence per billy-cart full). But when I qualified to enter a prestigious and selective high school, Sydney Boys' High, her pride knew no bounds. She took me to David Jones' store in the city (of Sydney) to buy the whole recommended school uniform (some of it - like the school hat - I don't think I ever wore!).

She worked as a legal secretary, at 'Reed, Hanigan and Turner's' for many years after her three boys all went to school. She worked hard to provide the educational opportunities she felt deprived of.

Above all, my mother was a good Christian.

My earliest memory was her singing old-time hymns while doing the housework: I was in the sun-room of our home in Broughton Street in the middle-class Sydney suburb of Mortdale, and I can still see the sunbeams coming through the window.

She was an old-fashioned Christian. If you enjoyed doing something on Sundays there was probably something wrong with it. Sport was not encouraged ('Bodily exercise profiteth little.').

My mother was the one who instilled a sense of 'good morals' in me - mainly motivated by the prospect of facing God's judgment. Her favorite text: 'Thou God seest me'. She made me sing a little song whenever I was caught telling a lie: 'Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true; Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true; There's a race that I must run, there are victories to be won; Keep me true, Lord Jesus, keep me true.'

This morning on the Irish Jesuit prayer site this was the Scripture reading (from Matthew 19: 16-22): Then someone came to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which ones?" And Jesus said, "You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honour your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbour as yourself."

We three sons honour her. She was a good mother, a good woman, and a very good Christian.


Eight or nine Christmases ago I buried my father. My two brothers asked if I - the professional clergyperson - would offer the eulogy at his funeral. That was a difficult ask, because, well, I didn't know my father. Never had. When I was a young teenager I despised him. I was reading a book a day back then, and I would occasionally be silly enough to ask him a question - only to be told 'Get your head out of those books, Rowland, they're giving you wrong ideas!' As a mid-teen (fortunately) I made a conscious decision to forgive him, and accept him, even if he was the most uncreative, boring person I knew. Occasionally since then I tried to get close to him, especially when in his 60s he had a psychotic breakdown, but, no, he responded with 'Don't ask those personal questions, Rowland.'

Now what are fathers for? Role-models about how to solve problems and take responsibility, initiators into manhood, leaders and providers, yes, yes, yes. When I was preparing the eulogy, and with a blank page in front of me after many hours of thinking about him, I phoned some of his old friends. 'What would you say?' I asked them. Their consensus: 'Well, to be honest Rowland, your dad probably lived the last sixty years of his life without welcoming a new idea. He got the same train from Mortdale or Oatley to the city (of Sydney) every day, moved paper across the face of the earth for the government, and got the same train home again. He didn't have to think on his job, or in our church (a small Brethren assembly - more of that later). But one thing you can say about him: he was predictable, yes, but you could also call it faithful.

Now that was an 'aha' experience for me. In the wash-up of a person's life, someone who was supposed to be your mentor - what would you prefer him to be, if you had to make the tough choice: brilliant, or faithful? You can find brilliance anywhere, but faithfulness? I am now deeply grateful for my father's life, even though I can't remember ever exchanging a meaningful sentence about anything. He has modeled a faithful life, and I too am a disciplined person as a direct result of his influence.

I've told a few people and a few conferences that I've never really felt I had anything to grieve about since my father died. I have never shed a tear for him, nor felt inclined to. That has been a liberating thing for many who heard me say it: and for me, too, I guess.

Update: I've just returned (July 2007) from a speaking trip to the Anglican diocesan clergy conference in Bathurst NSW. There I jotted down this wisdom from someone: 'Each of us has to mourn the parent we had, and also, very importantly, the parent we didn't have'.

Update 2010. Reading Margaret Marcuson's Leaders Who Last - excellent by the way - I've realized again why am I a Baptist pastor and not an Anglican! Ecclesiology/theology yes; but mainly family systems theory. As an eldest/responsible son of an underfunctioning father I could not easily cope in my one short life with similar bishops! When I was a school-teacher, a staffworker with InterVarsity Fellowship, World Vision etc. the only 'good' bosses (Lew Ellem, Ian Burnard, and Harold Henderson respectively) gave me maximum autonomy. Anyone else identify with that?

And another important note: My father's father was a simple man: he polished brass in a building at Redfern for a living. I remember he came by train to our home in Oatley one night, and my father asked him: how did you find your way here? My grandfather said: 'Oh I got off the train, and simply followed another person'. I remember as a kid having an 'aha' moment then! My father did a better job than his father, and I think I've done a better job of fathering than my father did. But my kids are better parents than I was. And hopefully that will continue through to our grandchildren's parenting!

Update 2014: Wednesday is a highlight every week: I drive our 11-year-old grand-daughter Millie to school then home again. This morning, she told me her regular teacher was on long-service leave, and for two months they had a substitute teacher. 'I'm her favourite,' Millie told me. 'Why is that Millie?' 'Oh, all the other kids chatter too much and this teacher gets frustrated. I don't: I quietly do what I'm supposed to do...'

Forgive me for being a proud grandpa! 


The so-called Brethren ('Plymouth Brethren', but we preferred to be called 'Christian Brethren') have had an influence on Western Christianity out of all proportion to their numbers. The missionary work they have done in places like the Sahel regions of Africa, Russia, and Argentina, has not yet been fully told. They began in England and Ireland in the 1800's as a reaction to the formalism and clericalism of the Established Church. Their household names include people like Darby, Kelly, Muller... However, in reacting against the traditionalism of other churches they have fallen into the trap of developing their own hard, unbending traditions. As a result, Brethren Assemblies are dying everywhere, if they are not changing.

The Assembly in which I grew up met in the Masonic Hall in the Sydney suburb of Oatley. People had to get there early to open windows to let out the smell of beer and cigarettes. It was a semi-open (or semi-closed) Assembly. That is, they believed that non-Brethren Christians might get to heaven (God is gracious) but they couldn't partake of the Lord's Supper. We were not encouraged to read anything by non-Brethren authors or attend non-Brethren churches. But when Billy Graham came to Sydney in 1959 he threw a cat among the pigeons. Just about everyone in our Assemblies believed Billy Graham 'preached the gospel' but about a third of them believed he was in error in consorting with 'the churches', and not denouncing 'error' in those churches. But the Billy Graham Crusades were a catalyst, in my memory, for Brethren meeting with, praying with, and counseling with other Christians. That was the beginning of the end of the exclusivism in most Australian Open Brethren Assemblies.

The 'Morning Meeting' / 'Breaking of Bread' was held every Sunday morning. We sat in a large circle, with those not baptized or received into fellowship, or visitors without a 'letter of commendation' from another Assembly having to sit at the back. (I remember the local visiting evangelical Anglican minister sitting back there with us kids one day). The Spirit led various brothers to announce a hymn, or read from the Bible, or pray, and at 11.45 the Spirit led someone to 'give thanks for the bread' (always a loaf which was broken and passed around on two china plates), then after some silence another brother would 'give thanks for the cup' (always a common cup, and real wine). Then someone would 'bring a word'. Then at about 12.10 my father, who was termed 'the corresponding brother' gave the announcements; a closing hymn was sung and at 12.15 (unless there was a visiting brother who didn't know how the Spirit led us and spoke too long) it would be over.

Because the preachers were all self-taught, we had to endure a lot of cliches, and some very simplistic 'addresses' or 'messages' (never 'sermons'). I heard 'The story is told of...' introducing an illustration at least once every Sunday. The cliches extended into the prayers: those who were absent because of illness were 'lying on beds of weakness' (I used to think a good carpenter could fix that!), or were absent and needed 'traveling mercies'. On a positive note, nine out of ten of the men (never women in our assembly) preached fairly regularly, so they had an incentive to do some Bible Study and some thinking - which is quite absent except for the professional clergy in most mainline churches.

Sunday School was at 3pm 'sharp!' Sunday afternoons. We sang choruses like Wide, Wide as the Ocean, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, I Will Make You Fishers of Men, Deep and Wide, Two Little Eyes to Look to God etc. One I particularly remember was 'Into the tent where the gipsy boy lay / dying alone at the close of the day / "News of salvation we carry", said he: "Nobody ever has told it to me"... With the refrain: "Tell it again, tell it again, news of salvation repeat o'er and o'er"' - and we certainly did. The choruses told us who was in and who was out. For example: ‘One door and only one/ And yet its sides are two; / I’m on the inside, / On which side are you? / One door and only one, / And yet its sides are two; / I’m on the Lord’s side, / On which side are you?’

My Sunday School teacher when I was about 10 or 11 - George Walker - promised to take us kids to the zoo sometime soon. I got excited about that, and saved my pennies until I had two shillings ready for that trip... which never eventuated.

Every Sunday night there was a Gospel Meeting with messages for the 'unsaved'. I can't ever remember any unsaved ever being there (except some of us kids), but as 'My Word shall not return unto me void' we believed that such preaching absolved us from any other evangelistic activity (except for a few fervent soul-winners who did it with friends/neighbours or visiting sailors). The songs at this meeting were salvation/invitational, like 'Oh the love that sought me/ Oh the blood that bought me / Oh the grace that brought me to himself... Wondrous grace that brought me to himself.' (That stanza jumped into my mind recently after 55 years: what does that say about early memories and approaching dementia?). Another hymn we used to sing on Sunday nights was 'Bringing in the sheaves' - 'We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves'. I hadn't visited a farm when I was a kid, and had no idea what that song meant (and later realized that it was sung more in hope than in realization!).

Some of the most thrilling experiences each boyhood year were the Brethren Assemblies' Harbour Cruise. We would land at Parsley Bay in Sydney Harbour and for the only time I can remember would do something (play soccer) with the men. Then there were the Christian Youth Camps held each year at Towradji or Corrimal on the South Coast of NSW, later at Mt. Victoria in the Blue Mountains. I also enjoyed our annual Sunday School picnics at Carrs' Park in Sydney, with races and games and a man wearing lots of cherries whom we chased.

In our Assembly we never did 'churchy' things like saying the Lord's Prayer or singing 'The Day Thou Gavest Lord is Ended' or reading from written/formal prayers.

But my most enduring memories are of one or two of our elders (they were never called that back then, because of the objections of a Darbyite brother who believed elders were no longer necessary in post-apostolic times) weeping as they talked about Jesus' love and dying. And of Uncle John Clark who always had an open Bible in his home. Mr Harold Messer - who had an important job with the Bush Fires bureaucracy - used to walk two miles morning and night to and from his home in South Hurstville. Mr Alf Clines 
had a study lined with 1000 books, and was an avid 'Bible student' (and speaker at Brethren bible conferences)...

There were hot discussions about the evils of radio. (One brother said that as Satan was the 'Prince of the power of the air' he controlled radio waves. Later his wife had some sort of nervous breakdown, and the doctor suggested he buy her a radio, so his theology changed at that point. I remember that brother saying to me once as we were talking on the footpath, and a car's brakes screeched nearby: 'If there's an accident, always go straight inside your home!' I wonder if he ever preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan? ). And about whether the 'warning passages' in Hebrews meant some who were once Christians may be in hell. And about the program for the second coming and 'future events' (though most of them were Darby-Scofield Dispensationalists. P.S. Don't worry if you don't know what that means: as Tony Campolo says, it's better to be on the welcoming committee than the program committee for the Second Coming! And as a wise person suggested to me once, ‘Stick to the material between Scofield’s notes’!). There was also the visiting speaker with his model of the tabernacle: it was amazing what 'truths' he discerned from such things as the colours of this and that, and even badgers' skins!

However, my memories of Brethren meetings are not all negative, by any means. David Clines and I used to take copious notes of the 'addresses' of G.C.D. Howley, E. R. Rogers and other visiting speakers at Saturday Bible conferences, then type them up. Alfred P. Gibbs was the only Brethren preacher I can remember who had a sense of humour (but, then, he was the only American speaker I'd ever heard!). R. H. Clayton was something of a legend among 'The Assemblies', especially in Victoria: he'd tell us how many squares or whatever were in the mural above the platform. Roly Slade was an imperious-looking man who compered youth rallies: he told us he knew the racing form guide off by heart before he was converted in his 20s or 30s. Dr. Bruce Stephen, a psychiatrist from Scotland, got the Festival of Male Voice Praise going: he was a brilliant pianist. Then there were the Saxby's and the Buckley Bros (from whom we later bought a hi-fi music system for $400), And we were very proud that one of the world's leading evangelical scholars - Professor F F Bruce - belonged to our movement. (But how he coped with a lot of the theological nonsense he had to listen to is a bit mystifying).

When I went to Bathurst Teachers' College in 1957 I had the sort of 'aha' experience that happens to anyone in a sect who meets committed Christians in 'the denominations'. They were godly, prayerful, humble, lovers of Jesus and the Bible - more so I judged than we were in our Assembly. How could they be like this if they were 'in error'? During one holiday-period from Teachers' College our Assembly had a question-session with a renowned Brethren Bible teacher, Mr. Tom Carson. I wrote down several questions for him. One of them was: 'If the Brethren are the only Christian group that has the truth why are there some very powerful evangelical Christians in other churches? What did Hudson Taylor lack that we have?’ To which the answer, as I recall, was: 'If only he had been one of us, how much more effective he would have been!'

I got an email from an ex-Brethren evangelical leader in the U.S. to the effect that many people's testimonies he'd heard ran like this: 'The best decision I ever made was to follow Christ; the second best was to join the Assemblies; the third best was to leave the Assemblies!'

More on the Brethren...


Secret Rapture said... My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand! May 11, 2007 6:41 AM Rowland Croucher said... Put me down as someone who used to know more than the apostles about the subject of the second coming :-)


Three people who had a significant influence on my life as a young teenager were my grandmother (Croucher), Heather Goss (my mother's bridesmaid, who always seemed to be smiling, despite having a cranky husband), and my Sunday School teacher George Clark.

My occasional visits to Hilltop (Grandma's home was in Stanley Street) were memorable: I can still hear the sounds of the currawongs; I caught a wounded redhead finch one time there and took it home, built a cage for it, bought some others at Paddy's Market, and thus began an interest in pets (small ones - birds and fish). 

My father's younger brother, Les, lived with his mother: he was a simple man, but godly - and I spied him a few times kneeling in prayer (something I never saw my father do). 

I remember a question Grandma asked me (me!) - 'How can I understand the Book of Revelation?' I'd been reading books about 'Last Things' and probably had a bit of encouragement for her. 

George Clark was the man who more than any other, initiated me into manhood. We worked in his garden, he taught me to drive, we had serious conversations, and to men's groups I tell the story of George telling me one afternoon: 'Rowland, I believe God has a great future for you. I reckon you'll do well at whatever you choose... and you'll be successful.' No one had ever said anything like that to me, and those words changed my life. But they were a blessing and a curse. A blessing: you have significance. Curse: your significance will be associated with what you do well in terms of out-performing your peers!' I've lived with that blessing/curse ever since.  


I spent five of my teenage years at Sydney Boys’ High School, a selective school to which I traveled half an hour by train, then 15 minutes by tram each way each day. 

What did I learn there? 

* To wonder at the first Jewish boys I’d ever come across – many of them went around like little old men. They were different (and bright). 

* 'Globite' school-bags, made of brown pressed-cardboard, with plenty of room for vegemite sandwiches, fruit, pencil/biro cases, textbooks and notebooks... they were almost indestructible (I still have mine).  

* During recess and lunch-time we played soccer with a tennis-ball, or draughts (checkers) or 'sticks' (where you begin with six or eight a foot apart, then step between them without touching, moving a stick where you jump at the end for your opponent to take his turn... 

* At the beginning of ‘fifth year’ when teachers were recapping last year’s Leaving Certificate, I learned that you say acquiesce in!

* English teachers cruelled literature - especially Shakespeare - mostly. Pity that. But some poems reverberate in my memory. Like the evocative 'Break, break, break,/ On they cold grey stones, O Sea!/ And I wish that my tongue could utter/ The thoughts that arise in me' (and you know the rest of Tennyson's masterpiece)...

One of the best experiences at SBHS was during my Leaving Certificate when my favourite subject - Geography - was taught by someone who didn't know much about the subject. So I determined to do it on my own - and got 15 marks above an 'A' in the final exam (a grade which pushed up my average, allowing me to earn a Commonwealth Scholarship, and go to University).

I was a self-conscious young teenager. I spent quite a sizeable lump of my pocket-money on Charles' Atlas's mail-order isotonic/isometric exercises, so that I wouldn't be a 70 pound weakling and have sand kicked in my face. Quite a waste of money, as the exercises were boring, and he could have told me in one sentence what to do: 'Just push every part of your body against any other part, or the floor or wall, and by exercising all your muscles you'll grow big and strong and have high self-esteem!'

I was fairly lonely as a teenager, and felt out of it often. In another post I've talked about the Outsider Syndrome.

I was a voracious reader: mostly a book a day when I was 12-15 (later years saw me doing more serious study-reading). I'd go to the Sydney City Library in the Queen Victoria Building, and borrow all the Biggles, William, and Deerfoot books they had. I'd go to secondhand bookshops and Paddy's Markets in Haymarket and buy self-help books (like Dale Carnegie's or Norman Vincent Peale's or Arnold Bennett's) and books about End-times.

(Arnold Bennett came back to the memory of this 70-year-old this morning when I read this in a 30-year-old Expository Times sermon: "A young woman, captivated by the idea of Arnold Bennett's How to Live on Twenty-four Hours a Day met the author at a reception. 'Oh, Mr Bennett,' she said eagerly, 'I'm going to concentrate.' 'That's good', replied Mr. Bennett. 'On what?' 'Oh,' was the answer, 'on lots of things!'").

Friends? A few. There was David Clines - the only other boy in our Assembly roughly my age and with my reading interests. At SBHS I was 'friends in the train' with Mal Butters, ? Indelkofer, ? Hargreaves

Girls? Of course. There was Margaret Goss (who died recently, and phoned me from her Sydney death-bed for a chat, after many long years of being out of touch), and Yvonne, Janette, and Janice Moar, and a few others I glanced at briefly. Fortunately, I was saved from any complicated romantic arrangements until I met my wife, Janice Higgs, at Bathurst Teachers' College in 1957.


This week I was counseling a woman who began, nervously, telling me she was an outsider in her church. They did not understand where she was coming from. After gentle listening for some time she confessed that she had a confusing sexual orientation, and was probably a lesbian.
People feel 'outsiders' for all kinds of reasons. Among them, of course, is that one is 'odd'. Have you heard of Jemmy Hirst (there's a Wikipedia article about him)? He was an English eccentric who trained a hedgehog to follow him around, a bull he named Jupiter to be ridden like a horse, and pigs to chase foxes like pointer dogs. He used a coffin in his dining-room as a sideboard, and printed his own bank-notes (to the value of fivepence-halfpenny). I first heard of Jemmy Hirst in a sermon, encouraging followers of Jesus not to be afraid of being deemed to be a little odd! 
I’ve felt I was an outsider about half my life since about 13 years of age. Right through high school    (Sydney Boys' High) I did not really feel I belonged. On sports days (Friday afternoons, as I recall) I wasn't in the school or house rugby teams, but got a run in the 'Leftovers'. (Ironic that later, at Teachers' College, I was chosen to play for the Central West of N.S.W. against the New Zealand All Blacks, but it was then the policy of the College not to allow students to participate in representative sporting fixtures).
Now Outsiders do not treat with great respect the group they’d like to be part of, if anger or rejection compounds the sense of not belonging…

On the positive side well-read Outsiders often become 'autodidacts' and may have insights into phenomena which elude others. I hope I'm in that category: I have minority opinions on lots of things, and when I think back to some of these opinions expressed 30 years ago, just about all of them are now regarded as 'orthodox'. See an article I've written titled 'The Elephant in the Room' .


Today’s lead item in several Australian TV newscasts was about an Airbus A380 flying here for the first time. Thousands lined the perimeters of airports, many standing with cameras on the roofs of cars. In The Age newspaper there’s a story about the death of Peter Drucker, guru of 20th century management theory, aged 95. And of course the latest Guinness Book of Records is in the best-seller lists (do some people – not just libraries – buy it every year?)

I grew up believing that bigger and brighter and stronger and more famous is better. It was a legacy of the books on How to Win Friends and Influence People / How to Succeed in Business etc. I devoured as a teenager. As a 15-year old I secretly wrote for the Charles Atlas ‘Dynamic Tension’ body-building program. (You needed no equipment, other than pitting your muscles against each other and/or the floor and the wall for just half an hour each day, and you too won’t have bullies kicking sand in your face).

But I never really succeeded (at least in my thinking) in being the best or the brightest. Someone always ‘pipped me at the post’. Or else (as happened in the last year of Primary School) I won the race but was disqualified ‘cos I finished in my neighbour’s lane…

Now in my 60s I’m rewriting my little bit of history, a history previously dominated more by hubris than humility. The yogic saying ‘He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom’ now appeals to me. So does Richard Rohr’s suggestion that holiness is only ‘attained’ with at least one humiliation each day. I’m not very holy: I recall an average of roughly one humiliation a month over the course of my life…

Back in 1949 at Mortdale Primary School, the Education Department Inspector came when I was in the sixth grade. He did an intelligence test on the class, and guess where I scored? Yep, second, after Michael Hornibrook, a very bright teacher’s kid. We both, with Malcolm Butters who was third, were chosen to go to Sydney Boys’ High School, a selective school for bright students. There I was sixth or seventh bottom of 2nd Year, and just squeaked into 3rd Year. I played sport with the Leftovers at Centennial Park, read a book a day, and was your typical teenage introvert. 
At our little church David Clines always did better academically (look him up – Emeritus Professor of Biblical Literature and Languages at Sheffield University). Second again… 

At Teachers’ College – I topped the boys in my year academically, but got beaten by four or five girls. If one lecturer had not downgraded a research project from an A to a C for being submitted late I’d have topped the College. I was chosen – second to Don Gray – to play Rugby Union for the NSW Central West team against the All Blacks. (Fortunately it was College policy not to permit its students engaging in representative sport… Phew!). But I was awarded the athletics’ ‘blue’…

The NSW Baptist College? Second again in many subjects to Dr. John Olley (who had a 

PhD in nuclear physics, then went on to earn another one in biblical studies). But the church I was privileged to pastor during those four years – Narwee Baptist – was second-to-none. They were four good years…

Blackburn Baptist Church may have been the largest non-Catholic congregation in the country for a few months (!), but then a couple of AOG churches passed us… It’s still the largest Baptist church in Australia (and has changed its name to Crossway). Seven and a half years there taught me more about ministry and life and relationships than any other similar period before or since. While there I studied for a post-graduate theology degree – a BD with the Melbourne College of Divinity. As you can imagine some of those years were busy, and when November came and I felt I hadn’t done enough work to justify sitting an exam, I didn’t show up. So in my records they put ‘fail’ four or five times, together with some High Distinctions. Typical of my life really…

Not all of my Baptist pastorates were good. I was senior pastor for a short time at First Baptist Church, Vancouver (third largest Baptist Church in Canada), but four powerful people (average age 77.5 – true!) made it clear they did not like my style, and I resigned. That story has been an encouragement to others who've 'failed', and that experience was the worst and best of my pastoral life… The only other ‘downtown/city’ church I pastored (as part-time interim) – Central Baptist Church in Sydney in 1971-2 – finished similarly. Folks attended the meeting - where I did not score the requisite 75% vote to stay - whom most didn’t know, but who were non-attending church members.

After Vancouver, a decade with World Vision Australia as their ‘Leadership Enhancement Consultant’ (or ‘Minister at Large’) – traveling the country and the world speaking to churches and pastors’ conferences. Second? Well, I was granted a fair degree of autonomy to follow my calling, but some bureaucratic types couldn’t figure why I should not report for duty in an office each morning like they had to. Being ‘second’ to institutional people is no joy for someone like me, and so on April Fools’ Day 1991 I 'burnt my bridges behind me' and a few of us set up a little ministry which survives to this day – John Mark Ministries. These years have been some of the most fulfilling of my life.

During the World Vision days I was told that I probably spoke face to face with, and was read by, more pastors and church leaders than anyone else in Australia. So what? (to use an Australian expression). Soon a few others had higher visibility – John Smith, Gordon Moyes, and later Tim Costello and Mike Frost.

Fuller Theological Seminary: a wonderful place for study and teaching. I was privileged to be ‘second’ to Eugene Peterson, teaching a Doctor of Ministry Intensive course on Spirituality and Ministry until he was available.

We have four terrific adult children. Two of them are committed Christians, and two aren’t. According to a 1998 survey only 37% of Christians’ kids follow their parents’ habit of attending church regularly, so we’re scoring better-than-average! All our children have post-graduate degrees/ qualifications, and two of us – our son Paul and I - are PhD candidates who have ‘demitted’. I have a Doctor of Ministry degree – a ‘second’ sort of doctorate (or as they say a ‘poor pastor’s doctorate')!

Oh, that’ll do for now. The Christian ethic is about ‘preferring others to oneself’, about living agreeably with the ‘bridesmaid’ / ‘second fiddle’ tag. Isn’t John the Baptist a good model for us in this regard? And Paul, in Colossians 3:13 (Eugene Peterson, The Message), encourages us to be 'even-tempered, content with second place...'

In later posts I'll talk more about some of these episodes...


Rowland Croucher


I wandered - psychologically - through two somewhat wasted years at The University of Sydney. Nothing had prepared me for the anonymity of University life. These days young people often take a 'gap year' to mature a bit before tertiary study. I had two 'gap years' - passing only one subject (geography) in first year before giving up, and applying half-way through second year to go to Bathurst Teachers' College.

Interestingly, my wife Jan was at Sydney Uni studying (and failing) science at the same time (1955) but we never met then. She went to Bathurst TC a year ahead of me... and the rest is history.

In the second year I worked at several day-time jobs, including manual labour with the Sydney Water Board digging sewer trenches (in the Narwee area - later to be my parish!), driving the lift at the Sydney harbour bridge pylon lookout, tram conductor, after-school English coaching, selling subscriptions to Hammondville - an old people's establishment - and to Time Magazine, door-to-door salesman (of books - that job fizzled), teaching at St. Andrew's Cathedral Choir School, running a local council-sponsored vacation club for kids, and a few factory jobs. All good educational experiences especially the teaching job: of course I had no idea how to control a class of teenagers, and the Principal - Canon Neuth, something of a legend in the school - sometimes used to line up the whole class at the end of my lessons and give every boy 'the cane' (on their fingers). Very humiliating!

Perhaps the most profound 'work experience' was the three months' National Service in an Infantry Corps. I spent two periods of six weeks being trained to shoot, throw grenades, carry a pack in the bush in Mt Royal, somewhere near Newcastle (and, once, sleeping exhausted in a mud-puddle) - a month and a half between Uni and Bathurst TC, and a similar period between first and second year at Bathurst. The base-location - mostly Ingleburn Army Camp in Sydney's south-west. During that time I developed some skill playing snooker, and an admiration for the army chaplains. I came across a couple of Christian guys, and sometimes we'd go into the bush to pray together. Speaking of praying: for the only time in my life I knelt beside my bed in an army barracks to pray: that puts iron in your soul (and reminders of pray-ers who have shoes thrown at them in situations like that!). Nothing untoward happened to me, and none of my army mates mentioned anything. I got into trouble only once: because we spent a lot of time sitting around, I used to carry a paperback book in my pocket. The seargent saw it and asked me to show it to him - The Dam Busters. 'So private, seeing you like water stories, you can water the gardens around your barracks for the next week! For some reason I was 'promoted' to lance-corporal for the second six-week stint: and had the privilege of carrying a lightweight weapon (forgotten its name) instead of a rifle or machine-gun.

I fell into philately before and during our Narwee years (when decimal currency was introduced to Australia, and some rare pounds/shillings/pence stamps could be bought from Post Offices for a brief time). I'd been collecting used envelopes/stamps from several city stores/offices, soaked them and put them into 'Surprise packs' for resale. I was gratified by the number of local shops who'd take a piece of cardboard with packs of stamps attached to it. And for a short time we made some nice pocket-money from this little industry!

Later part-time jobs included two stints of taxi-driving, buying and selling real estate (with no money to start with - I'll tell that story sometime), and collecting and selling (latterly on eBay) books, booklets and memorabilia by/about the only Australian religious collectible author, F W Boreham. I eventually sold my lifetime collection of Borehams to a Canadian collector for $20,000+ when we needed the money to buy a ministry-car. I'm back to collecting Borehams again if anyone has some lying around!

But then I found my ‘self’, perhaps for the first time in my life, at Bathurst Teachers' College.


I found my ‘self’, perhaps for the first time, at Bathurst Teachers' College (Student # 58000031), situated in a semi-rural area at the foot of Mount Panorama (famous for its Easter car rallies). For the first time I lived away from a city –and loved the solitude of the natural beauty of those Central Western plains – especially spectacular when filled with purple ‘Paterson’s curse’ weeds.
These were two of the happiest years of my life. Academically, I was beaten by five women, (partly because I submitted an assignment late to a lecturer who downed my grade from an 'A' to a 'C'), president of the Christian Fellowship, earned an athletics blue, and played in the first grade rugby union team.

(That's me in the photo above scoring a try in a 40-3 drubbing by the Sydney Teachers' College team, which included one or two internationals. Ken Stafford, our captain, was following me, and looking pretty pleased!).

A spiritual awakening occurred in our dormitory when many of the non-Catholic guys made some sort of commitment to Christ. One night I fell asleep 'witnessing' to one of these men, Don Gray, who became an outstanding convert. My room-mate, Barry Maxwell, committed his life to Christ, and later entered the Anglican ministry in Sydney. Another special friend, who was a Christian before he came to College, was Alan Watson. His humility and prayer-life were an inspiration to us all. The 'C.F.' boomed, and they were heady days. Especially memorable were the prayer meetings at the cowshed, when up to 50 people would sing songs and pray together. They were two wonderful years, and the 'clincher' was meeting my future wife, Janice Higgs, there. More of that later.

Update (October 2009): Last weekend Jan and I attended the 50th anniversary of our BTC days. As we drove up the hill out of town towards the College (now Sturt University) we relived the occasion when we first held hands, walking home from church (Bathurst Baptist). Jan reminded me she had gloves on (back then women wore hat and gloves to church) and it ‘felt strange’… We were so innocent!

On the Sunday morning of the Reunion we enjoyed a service of remembrance, organized by Bruce Morey, the CF president who followed me. We named those who’d passed away: vale Frank Goodwin, Don Gray, Fred Waqa (we heard he was killed in a motor-bike accident in his home-country Nauru), Beverly O’Connor (electrocuted in PNG while serving as a missionary), Anne Wescott – a beautiful Christian girl from a well-known Methodist family, who in her twenties suffered severe post-natal depression and committed suicide. [Who else, anyone?] Neville Hatton, an accomplished musician played the keyboard for our hymns. We reminisced as a few spoke of the importance of those two years in terms of their Christian faith. Then I led a short devotion: reminding us that just as, 50 years ago, those two years were a preparation-time for a vocation of teaching or other work, so our whole lives are a preparation for an eternal vocation.

It was interesting to hear the stories: one colleague was a Christian in college, but, he said, left the place an agnostic: but in mid-life experienced a mystical ‘epiphany’ which renewed his faith in God. Others unfortunately were strong Christians then, but fell by the wayside later. One outstanding man, who later earned a PhD and occupies several important positions in the church, was not a Christian at College, but came to faith later… Bruce Morey is still his authentic evangelical gentle self, and continues reading significant theological authors (like, these days, Bishop N T Wright). Sally Audet recently lost her husband, but I hear she is coping well. Mike Wood sent a memo to one of the Alumni newsletters telling us he’d had a serious brain injury of some sort and had to retire from teaching.

I think of many people from those two years: I wonder what’s happened to Peter Jones, Peter O’Connor, Ken McConville, Janet Roberts, Julia Browett (who was married for a time to Ken Stafford), Colin Bass? In Jan’s year (1956-57) I remember Grace Flint, Fred Cook, George Windsor, Jim Irvine, Meredith Johnson. Each November (on the Tuesday after Melbourne Cup-day) some from our cohort meet for lunch at the RSL club in Epping, Sydney. I’ve flown up twice, and enjoyed catching up with Scott Chadwick, Peter Foss, Frank Hiob (my room-mate with Barry for the first year until he left to study at the ASOPA college in Mosman for a career in Papua New Guinea), Margaret Adams (as I knew her – secretary of the CF and still a committed evangelical Christian, married to a Uniting Church minister), Peter and Elizabeth Smart (Peter was the CF president the year before ours, and set – for me - a wonderful example of godly thoroughness: he also became an Anglican clergyman)… and others who’ll come to mind. Can’t get there this year, but may try on future occasions…

I read through an inch-thick folder of memorabilia from those times, and before I consign most of it to the recycling bin, here’s a miscellany of memories (which may only interest anyone from that cohort who’s read this far):

* We were fundamentalists back then. Here’s a question from an October 1958 ‘roneoed’ sheet, prepared for private study: ‘Are YOU a Christian, and ABSOLUTELY SURE about it? Make a list of all the reasons for and against a decision for Christ.’ Wow! But this direct approach apparently worked: I heard a couple of stories recently of people who came to faith – especially at the Mt Victoria camps. 

* Books I read and enjoyed at Bathurst: Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Roy Hession's The Calvary Road, John Stott's Basic Christianity, C S Lewis' Mere Christianity.

* I broke the inter-collegiate athletics record for the long jump early 1957 (22 feet something), but hadn’t remembered breaking BTC’s hop step and jump record the previous year (‘43ft 10 ½ in. Previous record 43ft 7 ½ in.) – but that has to be put into context: the College had only been in existence for half a dozen years before then! I also came second in the 440 yards sprint, long jump, and high jump. I forget what happened the following year athletics-wise, except for winning the 440 yards and earning the College’s athletics blue.

* L.J.Allen BA BEc was the principal – I think since the College’s commencement. I note he used to chair the AGM’s of the Christian Fellowship. (On a later visit to the College I chatted to him about the CF and he remembered it thriving in our time). Re academic qualifications: I note that only two or three of the lecturing staff had Masters’ degrees: none had a doctorate. However, several from our cohort went on to earn doctorates – Laurie LeClaire, Alan Watson, Peter O’Connor [anyone else?]. I have in front of me a letter L J Allen wrote to me (c/- 19 Louisa St. Oatley): ‘Dear Rowland, I wish to let you know that I have recommended to the Acting Director-General that, should you be posted to a school convenient to a University, you might be considered for the issue of a Warrant to undertake a University Course.’ Well, I did – I eventually completed an arts degree externally from the University of New England. 

* Back to the College Staff: I don’t remember any meaningful conversations with any of them, except one with Archie Millar. Same with the lecturers at the Baptist Theological College 6-9 years later… Now I wonder why? I’ve not usually been someone who seeks out authority-figures to talk with them – a confidence thing perhaps. That changed later in life: I’ve been privileged to enjoy many meaningful conversations with high-profile people: you’ll read about some of them on other blogs – or in later chapters here. 

* I’ve just re-read, probably for only the second time ever, four page-long ‘Practice Teaching’ reports. They had hardly any critical comments: one was positive but wondered if I relied too much on what we might now call ‘winging it’. I got an A+ for practice teaching – and words/phrases like ‘confidence’, ‘pupil response excellent’ etc. reoccur in them. Others of my colleagues probably didn’t find those experiences easy: and I’m thankful for the Brethren upbringing’s opportunities to speak in public since the age of 13! 

* Arch Millar composed the ‘College Anthem’ while I was there: I used to think singing it was school-boy-ish (‘And when others gather here/ In our age and in their youth/ May we all with gratitude / find her youthful, honoured, strong’). 

* I note that one of our lecturers, Theo Barker, has written a history of the ‘Mitchell College of Advanced Education’ (as BTC came to be known): I must get hold of a copy.

I gave a little homily at the 50th reunion, and have just come across the notes. I mentioned some of the 'notables' in the Christian Fellowship (Margaret Adams secretary, Alan Watson Vice-President. I recalled singing a solo part in Iolanthe (Lord Mountararat - first and last time I ever did that). I expressed my consternation that some Christians who were not Brethren I sensed were actually 'closer to God' than my childhood friends. We sang again a hymn which was a CF favourite: 'Thine Be the Glory'. I'd learned to pray aloud for the first time. Conclusion: 'They were two years of preparation for a lifetime's vocation of teaching and/or other pursuits. And our last 50 years is preparation for an eternal vocation - glorious, beyond words to describe. I for one am looking forward to that!'

Memories, memories… If anyone from my cohort is reading this and wants to comment or reminisce, feel free!