When Brian Heath spoke to anybody – parishioner, counselling client, a couple wishing to get married, a friend – he was right there with you, totally engaged. When you spoke to him, you felt that you were the most important person in the world to Brian. And you were. He was fully present, in the moment. This gift helped him connect with, and serve, an enormous swathe of people of different types and backgrounds.
Storyteller, passionate preacher and ‘ideas man’, Brian created whole new perspectives upon the Gospel and how to weave it into everyday life, with fun, with feeling and with authenticity.
In private life he was fully engaged with the visual arts, being a friend of many painters; the South Australian Dieter Engler, and WA artist Shirley Winstanley, for example. Brian was very keen on photography and film and he was a friend of the late, great Australian filmmaker Paul Cox. He also loved working with his hands – he built various shacks at Bush Harmony, the adventure camp he established near Boddington – and friends, Christians and clients alike enjoyed the rustic joys. A sheet of rusting corrugated iron was the basis for multiple photographic studies, with stunning effects. He was a cool guy.
Born in 1930 and raised in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, Brian could not have envisaged the extraordinary journey his life would take. It took him both across the seas to train in theology in London, at New College, to ministry with the Congregational Church in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and later to a bounteous life in Australia with the Uniting Church. He journeyed from being an enthusiastic young man to becoming an equally enthusiastic, wise, funny and passionate elder. He journeyed together with an extraordinary number of people, touching their lives and supporting them as people, in both their personal and spiritual lives – always with a smile, often with a joke or a story.
In the true tradition of the pioneer Voortrekkers who formed part of his ancestry, he ventured from South Africa to Western Australia in 1960, to Trinity Church in Applecross. He brought with him his family – his first wife Maisie and first two children.
In 1965, he took up a role in Melbourne at what is now St Michael’s Uniting Church, but was then the Collins Street Independent Church. His innovative and engaging style of leading worship was already in evidence, as in this august and beautiful church he introduced folk style singing into worship. That church’s history records that some of the older congregational members were a bit out of their comfort zone. The young people dug it, however.
His interest and capacity for service took him then to a broad pastoral role within the Wesley Central Mission. The School for Seniors was one of the projects which received his boundless energy.
Brian’s journey continued to Perth in 1975, where he has been active across many serving roles until his formal retirement.
He trained people living with an intellectual disability, a special interest of Brian’s, in part perhaps because one of his two brothers in Cape Town was similarly affected.
At Bush Harmony – the place in the bush on the Hotham River – a wide variety of troubled souls were drawn towards healing on personal and spiritual dimensions by Brian. He believed that God often spoke to people from within Nature. Connections can be made with others when bush-walking or camping in ways that are less possible in other situations.
He counselled prospective marriage partners and those with relationship problems, working much of the time with Elizabeth Dalzell, at Wesley Central Mission Perth, with a later focus on individuals who had lost their life-partner through the Rebuilding program.
He preached to congregations through formal ministry in the Midland Parish, including Swan View, Guildford and Midland Uniting Churches.
Brian’s second wife, ‘Steve’ (Stephanie), clinical psychologist, has been his support and anchor. Her intelligence, compassion and resilience have scaffolded his frenetic activities, always with loving acceptance and insight.
After Brian retired in 1995, he continued to preach within a range of churches, namely Beldon/Iluka, Carine, Duncraig, Gingin, Glen Forrest, Mundaring and Swan View. This was who he was, a story teller for the Gospel, and it really fulfilled him. As members of congregations attest, his sermons were always new, fresh and challenging – often funny and unfailingly relevant.
Truly, Brian was a Man of God in action.