As we approach Advent and Christmas, I have been reminded of one of the greatest gifts I have received – a gift unexpected and a gift that has informed my life and ministry since that time.
While appointed to the Upper Avon Methodist Circuit in the early 1970s, I was delighted to receive an invitation to join the celebrations for the 50th anniversary for my home church – the Manjimup Methodist (now Uniting) Church.
At a special dinner on the night prior to the service of celebration, I received a remarkable gift in the form of a previously unknown family story.
I was sitting beside the Rev Thomas Burt, a minister to the Manjimup congregation in the 1930’s time of the Great Depression. Before he was ordained, Thomas Burt was a builder and he told me this story.
In 1935, my grandfather was killed in a tragic farming accident leaving my wonderful Grandma Dunn with a young family to care for in Manjimup, and no visible means of support. Thomas told how the Methodist Church bought a block of land in town for my Grandma, that he had arranged with a number of farmers to donate trees from their properties, organised the use of a sawmill and volunteers on a weekend to saw up the timber sufficient to build a house.
Putting his previous skills to work, Thomas built the unlined weatherboard house in Manjimup that my Grandma lived in till she entered care in the 1980s. As a young lad, I remember staying overnight with Grandma and waking up to the sunlight filtering through the cracks in the weatherboards.
I tell the story to affirm our church’s commitment to caring for those in need; to acknowledge that our founding churches in very real ways inform who we are as church in 2015, and to remind us all that caring begins at home in the small and generous acts of hospitality and support.
As a person whose family benefited from the generosity of a small country congregation eighty years ago this year, I wish to encourage the many grassroots community service activities, as seen in the work of the Congregational Community Services Commission, to continue to find ways of caring and giving within their communities.
And as the past chair of the UnitingCare Forum, to acknowledge the gift of hope provided through our agencies – Good Samaritan Industries, Juniper and UnitingCare West – to so many within WA and to celebrate the Uniting Church’s commitment to care for those in need. The season of Advent reminds us of the invitation, through Christ, to serve all people by creating an inclusive, connected and just world.