Phil Byrne-Hoffmann originally came to Brougham Place as a student minister in February 1995. He had lived previously in Tel Aviv and Canberra where his wife, Jessie worked in the Australian diplomatic service. They had three children: Fabian, Matilda and Clancy. During his student days, he and his wife separated, and he later married Karen Granger, who sang in the choir, on 5 October 1997. Phil was ordained at the end of 1998 and was inducted here on 14 February 1999 as a second minister. When Steven Koski left, Phil took his place as the senior minister. Phil served for five years here as his family with Karen continued to grow with the addition of two adopted babies from South Korea. For Phil, one of the highlights of his years here was seeing the flags of 20 nations in the “Celebration of Backgrounds” in August 2002. Three of those flags represented members of his own family.
Phil placed much emphasis on building up the relationships in the church and strengthening the community through these relationships. He encouraged us to take pride in our community life and to offer one another love, in practical, caring and faithful ways. He also continued the tradition of strong preaching, with some personal additions: he always started his sermon with a joke, which was sometimes relevant to the text, but always funny. He preached biblically, taking the text from the lectionary seriously, but not necessarily literally. His experience of living in Israel often gave his sermons an authentic colouring. He also launched ‘Story Sermons’ during his time here, an innovation he really believed in.
On Maundy Thursday 2001, a most memorable service was held downstairs with 40 people present. It was a genuine shared meal, in the spirit of the original Lord’s Supper, with food brought by all the people there. The tables were set in a continuous line along three sides of the lower room. They were covered in simple white cloths and candles were placed at intervals. In the centre was a red candle, representing Christ. The Lord’s Supper was shared with real, crusty bread and red wine or dark grape juice.
On 1 September 2002, 24 adults and their children were added to the community. Phil commented on this growth in membership in his Annual Report, “In most church circles, this would constitute a revival. Yet we seem not to grow greatly as, for good reason, people are forever moving on from our community as well.” The group included 14 Sudanese, members of the extended family of Ben Yengi, and of the Woja family.
Phil Hoffmann and family took up a placement at Rosefield Uniting Church in April 2004. His last service here was on Easter Sunday. Phil told us when he left, “There is a strength in this community. Firstly, because there is a strength in the goodness of God who gives Brougham its place and purpose. Secondly, there is a strength in the care and support you offer each other, in Sunday School, in practical help to African families, in giving of gifts, in the music offered to God.”