The year is 1995 and as I started to prepare for my second year at college, I was forced to look back and reflect on the journey so far. With all the drama of moving and settling into a new lifestyle and study behind me, I was finally able to examine some of the things that had taken place in the previous year with some clarity.
Theologically my first year had been very challenging as I was introduced to new ways of thinking and new perspectives on issues that I felt that I had already come to terms with. I started to realise that the study of Scripture from a critical perspective was challenging my very understanding of my faith. As a result after much prayer and seeking guidance of the Holy Spirit, I knew that a decision to open myself up to change was the right one.
Having come from a very fundamental Baptist background, I tended to see things in black and white. This had the result of my tending to be a bit to rigid when looking at some of the paradoxes contained in Scripture. One of the first things I learned during my first year was that the Bible does contain errors or for want of a better word mistranslations. I had no problem believing that the Bible was the inspired word of God but to find that it contained within its pages errors of translation was at first very challenging.
One comes to mind immediately and that is in the story of Solomon where the King James Version translates the Hebrew in Second Chronicles 1:16 as "Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt, and linen yarn". This has been proven as an incorrect translation and during the 20th century archaeological research has given deeper insight to the events of the time and has enabled the more accurate translation used today as "Solomon had horses imported from Egypt and Kue;". These apparent errors in the Bible were for me very challenging and it was not until I became prepared to sit down and examine the evidence that I realised that when it comes to the overall accuracy of the biblical account and matters of faith it made no difference.
I was to realise as I opened myself to examine the evidence under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that the Bible itself teaches us that there are many grey areas when it comes to a strict and rigid interpretation of Scripture. I was to learn that the context was the important issue at hand and without understanding the historical context, it was possible to mistranslate or misinterpret what the Bible was actually saying.
This in effect turned my faith upside down. As I sat back and observed some of the other students who had started studies at the same time that I had, I realised the reason why some of them had decided not to continue with this critical study of Scripture was that it was just too challenging to one's faith. It became evident both from personal experience and from the number of students who did not return for a second year that unless your faith was deeply rooted in more than Scripture it was possible to become disillusioned. It would be nice I felt if I had just a simple faith that required no knowledge or understanding. However, I realised that my own personality was against me here and that I needed more than just a simplistic understanding of that faith.
Likewise, as I examined myself and tried to reinterpret my faith's journey so far I came to the realisation that I had made the right choice in coming to college. The uncertainties caused by the dramas during those first six months of college where I was forced to question if we had made the right decision in coming at all was gradually being washed away.
In hindsight now many years after college I realised it was this dichotomy of understanding that may well have been the cause of why many whom I have met in the intervening years were to lose their faith either temporally or permanently as a result of the experience. I realised it was the rigidness and attitudes of those with whom I had grown as a young Christian that had caused me to accept the same values.
This realisation had a transformational affect on my faith. It went from the more insular understanding of how we were to express our faith to one of openness and tolerance towards other Christians and faiths. I found rigid doctrines, archaic practices or rituals no longer bound me and this process has become part of my lifelong journey. It became obvious to me that had I not gone to college and particularly Morling College I would have risked the possibility of becoming irrelevant to that part of the community that I most identified with (the last and destitute).
During my second year at college, two important things happened in my life. Firstly, I became involved in a course called Urban Mission, which was to take me back to my roots. As part of the course, there was a requirement to get involved in some sort of inner city mission work. The result being that I became involved with a 12-step group called the Freedom group which met one weeknight each week as St John's Darlinghurst. Here I met a group of people from the inner city who are either homeless or part of the local community.
This group was working their way through a book called "The 12 Steps A Spiritual Journey" which was aimed at helping people with both emotional and mental health problems. As I sat and we started to share within the group I realised that my childhood experiences having grown up as the son of a publican had uniquely prepared me to identify with those involved in the group. Many of the stories that were shared had a lot in common with my own journey through childhood and adolescence. I had apparently gone full circle ending up where I began.
I had come from a working-class background where I shared the daily toils and trials of those around me. My childhood consisted of growing up around council workers, shearers, farmhands and labourers. I was witness to many of their insecurities and foibles as they sought to find some sort of solace in alcohol. It was not uncommon for me as a child to witness an entire family fuelled by alcohol after a long week's work in conflict with each other. These conflicts became in some cases violent with brother against brother, father against son, husband against wife, uncles and auntie's against nephews.
As I look back, I am proud of my parents who during their years of owning and working a hotel successfully avoided falling in a trap that has ruined many. Of course the trap was, starting to drink socially with customers to become popular. Once again, in hindsight with many years of prospective I can see the wisdom in their decision.
Over the next three years in college this calling to work with the outcast, destitute and oppressed was to crystallise as the basis for my future ministry.
The second event that had impact for me was being asked to work as an observer at a church in Clemton Park in Sydney's south-west. I had avoided becoming involved with a particular church during my first year at college so that I could focus on dealing with the issues that were personal to me.
Clemton Park was a middle-class church with an ageing congregation. Their pastor approached me about becoming an observer in the church and it was to become my pleasure to work with both him and the congregation. I found that within the church there was a deep need for pastoral care especially amongst the older members.
My first year with Clemton Park church was to be very rewarding as a roster was set up amongst the different members for Alison and me to share Sunday lunch each week. It became evident that over many pastorates pastoral care had been not high on the agenda. This does not mean of course that the previous pastor's neglected the congregation as such but rather they were forced to make the difficult decision that many pastors face of, where do I put my time and resources. This is a common problem for many pastors who are on call 24 hours a day seven days a week. In an effort to become effective as a pastor there needs to be a rethinking of the pastoral role. I realised that in this case their pastors had chosen to spend their time with the sick and hospitalised. This combined with their weekly preaching duties meant that they were unable to spend time with the average congregation member many of whom it turned out where in great need.
Between my involvement with the Freedom group at St John's Darlinghurst and Clemton Park, my free hours were suddenly consumed. By the end of my second year, I had settled into a routine of study, ministry and mission.