Speech for the 150th Anniversary
BROUGHAM PLACE CENTENARY DINNER Sat Oct 17th, 2009
I begin with two (2) of my favourite – among many - Brougham stories
The first is May 2000 … back in the days when the organ console was front and central, in the middle of the sanctuary area … and the worship leader or preacher could take a seat behind the lectern and be side-by-side with the Organist, facing forward, her facing back … Its Pentecost … and I have just finished reading Luke’s account from Acts of the Apostles telling of a rushing wind and tongues of fire in that gathered band in the Jerusalem room … I resume my seat and Lyn leans across and says, “None here, Phil.” And I say, “What?” And Lyn says, no rushing wind here Phil. No wind at all. She’s dead!”
- Seems the 1882 Rendell Pipe Organ has given up the ghost … - And a full repair bill is of the order of $130,000!
And like the waters of the Red Sea before Moses’ raised sceptre, the community divides - “My family has worshipped that organ … I mean, worshipped God here, since I was a child” AND “Great! Its mostly made of wood, so put a match to it and be done with a major problem.” - and every conceivable position between those! - Now, in many churches the thing to do would be to discern the majority opinion, find what the power group or dominant faction says and from there, decide a solution.
But at Brougham Place there is no clear base of power … no single voice … I often said that at Brougham Place I led not three or four factions of twenty people each – not that churches have factions, of course – but that I led a community of 150 single-member groupings!!
- But back to the Organ - Subsequently it turns out that the original bellows made of kangaroo skin have dried and cracked to the point where they no longer hold air … in fact, investigations prove that they had split in 1967 and the hole been plugged with a rolled up tea towel. - Yes, that’s right, the Brougham Place organ played for 33 years on the strength of a rolled up tea towel plugged into a tear in the leathers!
Story # 2 … the same year – October, I reckon And there’s a wedding in this fine cathedral … And as I follow the Wedding Party up to the aisle, into the foyer and out onto the front steps, some bossy lady – the sister of the bride, or a boisterous cousin - hands bride and groom each a box.
… Now, none of this has been mentioned to me in wedding appointments, filling out the paper-work, rehearsals …
It seems that someone has had the good idea of the newly-wed couple releasing a symbolic pair of birds … except these are no bred homing pigeons, these are a pair of shop-bought white doves …
… so they reel and stagger briefly into the air in a flurry of feathers … eventually take flight … do a couple of groggy circuits over the parklands opposite, in which the avian communication is clearly, “My radar’s buggered! What about you?” … whereupon they, together, plummet, over the heads of the gathered congregation on the marble steps and into the safety of what they knew last … the foyer of the church!
I dutifully ring the RSPCA to describe my dilemma where a bureaucratic animal lover tells me, “OH no, that’s illegal. They needed to have a permit for those, with trained and supervised bird keeper”, which is not greatly useful to me as I now have two cooing, pooping doves trapped in the building.
Eventually we do coax them outside at which they take residence and nestle among the neo-gothic arcatraves and commence breeding and in no time we’re harbouring a colony of these feathered presences!
And again the community divides between “Isn’t it beautiful, a real sign of the Holy Spirit amongst us” AND “You could pop them off with an air rifle pretty easily, you know.” - And just about every conceivable position in between!!!
What is it about Brougham that is special?
This is a topic of café cappuccinos in our household …
And maybe ‘special’ is not the right word – what we find special in anything is really about us – and Karen and I DID meet and marry at Brougham …
Maybe, what is it that is unique about this faith community?
And the answer has many possibilities:
- The grand, wonderful building …
- The fine history and traditions …
- Congregational roots ..
- It’s open theology … Douglas Pike’s “Paradise of Dissent”
- Its accepting community …
An image that former Minister Steven Koski was fond of was the rich tapestry that makes up our lives … the many parts, the deep colours … its an image that he snuck into our Wedding service, acknowledging what Karen and I each brought to that moment!
It’s a good picture of the place and people whose 150th we celebrate in this dinner …
If you were writing a book, here’s material aplenty … characters galore … more than in all the church communities I have known and been a part of …
- Now everyone has a story. Each member of each Uniting Church in the country is a journey of living and experience to be honoured!
But Brougham is made of so many parts …
Its therefore not a mono-cultural community … as in, its not “suburban, middle-class” … its professions are not predominantly teachers and doctors … but everything! We each bring our own unique independence …
And more than that, sometimes in an attempt to define and maintain a culture and therefore an identity, groups often settle upon the criterion of ‘like us’
Brougham hasn’t done that! - And true community doesn’t demand likeness, but respects and values individuals
I don’t want to call it diversity because that means so many other things …
Perhaps its independence – maybe that’s the indefinable quality of these proud Congregationalists And that’s a fit! In the early days of the Colony of South Australia, of course, that was the name given to non-Anglicans who weren’t Catholic independents!
The Minister 100 years ago at Brougham’s 50th Anniversary described it thus: “the newly-opened church became a resort for enquiring minds, professing different creeds, or having no settled belief. Without abandoning their own views of church polity, Episcopalians< Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Jews joined our worship, many of whom entered our fellowship.” - This church has always respected, no indeed valued, the individual as the source material of its true community.
More than this independence of theology, thought and polity commented on in the histories, this is independence of character! - Individuals and their mark!
Group behaviours, the herd instincts of this community of faith have always been ‘loose’. What ties people together, what unites is who each person is and what they can contribute
And its not that individual characters are appreciated at the margins; quaint additions to the mainstream - at Brougham it appears these people are us, and we, them.
Does this sound like social theory, idealised group behaviour? Its not meant to be …
Let me illustrate from what I know – from amongst some of the faithful departed:
- Blanche Newman: the first woman – in 1962 - to lead a major denomination in our State’s history … we valued who she was and it has made our community rich
- Margaret Jamieson: resident of a local aged care facility owing to her intellectual disability, who would proudly Sunday-by-Sunday light the worship candles … we valued who she was and it has made our community rich
- Stan Goodrich; who for years would pick up boys at risk in his red Kombi van to come do Saturday morning jobs around the church – and then pay them out of his own pocket … we valued who she was and it has made our community rich
- Randall Pollard: who became a North Adelaide resident to be here for thrice-weekly dialysis as he slowly died and whose shoes when he came to worship were held together wrapped in masking tape … we valued who she was and it has made our community rich
Should I go on? Pegi Williams, Gilbert Chapman, Joan MacGillivray, Richard Timcke – characters all, individuals each – and part of a rich, rich tapestry. Independent, yet valued. Made one in community in difference, not in similarity.
Maybe the grandness of the building and the strength of tradition overwhelm the desire to shape and create and people find themselves just willing to be who they are and give what they can –
Including my own independent perspective on what should be done with a failing organ, if you don’t mind the term – and a dizzy pair of doves!
I salute the unmistakable, mysterious and glorious honour roll of individual people who have made this community over the past 150 years and who this community in turn has shaped.