Saturday, 21 June 2014

My Adventures with God Ch 11: Bishop Delbridge to the Rescue

Ch 11:  Bishop Delbridge to the Rescue

Talk about all dressed up and nowhere to go! I had completed three years at Moore College, just gained (I hoped) a Th.L. which was the basic academic qualification for being an Anglican priest in Australia, and there seemed no prospect of being ordained in my home city of Sydney.

This time both Uncle Norm and Bishop Kerle went to see the archbishop on my behalf. Archbishop Loane agreed to talk to me. It was a cordial interview and he said straight out that from the way Bishop Kerle and Norm Gelding recommended me he thought that I should be ordained. But, and this was the big 'but', no one had been ordained in Sydney Diocese in the past twenty years except on the say so of the principal of Moore College, and he could not break this tradition. He wished me well however and said he hoped I would find a diocese which would ordain me.

So I started writing application letters to neighbouring dioceses. They all replied along the lines of “thanks, but no thanks”.

Suzie was, and is, more bold than me in her prayers. She said: “OK God, we'll go to the diocese that rings us and says: 'Suzie and Dave, come to our diocese'.”

Three days later I was across the other side of town where the results of the Th.L. Exams were put up on a noticeboard. Sue was home with our six month old baby. The phone rang. The voice on the other end said: “Hello, I'm Graham Delbridge!”. Sue was about to say “We don't know anyone by that name” and hang up, but the voice got in another shot first: “You know, the bishop of Gippsland. I believe your husband is looking for a job.”

That came as quite a surprise. Gippsland had not been one of the dioceses I had sent begging letters to. I had never heard of it. We had to get out an atlas to find just where “Gippsland” was.

Gippsland diocese as it turned out comprised about thirty parishes mostly on the coastal strip several hours drive north east of Melbourne.

Suzie now saw that her flippant remark to God cut two ways. Yes he had indeed got a bishop to ring us and say “come to my diocese”. But the said diocese was nearly a thousand kilometres from our families in Sydney so that it would mean being virtually cut off from them. But the flip side of what we had said to God meant that if a diocese rang and asked then we would go!

Bishop Delbridge and his wife were at that time holidaying at Bundanoon, about two hours drive south of Sydney. So, having been given amazingly precise directions by Mrs Delbridge we set off for an interview. The Delbridges were, like the Kerle's and the Gelding's, an amazingly spiritually dynamic couple. So of course we anded up saying we would love to come to Gippsland. The mystery of the 'phone call was solved when Bishop Delbridge said that he had been talking to his old friend Archbishop Loane during a visit to Sydney.

Our next step was to go down to Sale once the Delbridge's had returned from holidays and stay for a few days with them at Bishops-court. Tere we met the various people whom the bishop wanted to check us out. That was great fun, we learned a lot about them, and of course they used the opportunity to see us in interacting in various situations.

So it was eventually all settled.

I was to be curate in the town of Morwell, about an hour's drive south of Sale and two hours north east of Melbourne. The parish didn't have a house for a curate, and wasn't prepared to pay rent in addition to a curate's meagre salary, but the Bishop assured us that housing was cheap. “You'll rent a nice house for practically nothing” he assured us.

Then everything came unstuck.

The rector of the parish at Morwell drove us all round, showing us the church, the town and the surrounding district and was quite happy for me to come as his curate. But there was a problem the bishop had not foreseen.

Morwell was in the middle of the Gippsland coal field. Only the poorer quality “brown” coal, but near the surface and easily extracted in huge open-cut mines. This was the heart of Victoria's electricity generation with the mines feeding straight into huge power stations. Just north of Morwell construction of a new even bigger power station had just begun. True, rents had been cheap in Morwell, but not since construction of the Loy Yang power station began. With worker pouring in to the area there was now nothing to rent at any price.


However Canon Lowe, the rector had his contacts with people high up in the electricity authority. He pulled all the strings he could and came up with an ingenious stop-gap.

Just south of Morwell the was an unusual town called Yallourn. It was unusual for two reasons. The first was that it had been built just after World War II by the electricity authority to house its workers based on an English 'model town' and was even in our time a very quaint and beautiful town. The second was that the electricity authority now wanted to mine the coal under it and so it was in the process of being de-populated and demolished.

We could have, at a ridiculously low rent, one of the recently vacated houses, but only until its turn for demolition came.

Well, we were sure God wanted us to go to Gippsland so we said “yes”, and trusted God for what would happen when we had to move from that house.

So with all our worldly belongings, we moved to Yallourn. It was an idyllic town, small, neatly laid out and quintessentially “English”. We had the cutest little two storey cottage to live in temporarily. The mental image that has stuck with me all these years was of the surrounding hills covered with plantation pines which gave it a Nordic feel and the friendly, ever present hum of the power station whose cooling towers one could just see peeping over a hill.

Sue, still being blunt with God said: “OK God, you are moving us away from our families: I want you to provide substitute grandparents for all our children!” Of course we only had one child at that stage, but Sue had grown up living next-door to one set of grandparents and really treasured that experience and so was upset at having to move away from our children's natural grandparents.

I was ordained “deacon” at St Paul's Cathedral in Sale February 1979 and started work at St. Mary's Morwell. It was all new, all exciting. Canon Lowe was a really good mentor, the parishioners were lovely and I felt that at last I was out in useful ministry.

Sue, being a Medical Practitioner, found part-time work in Morwell easily and the senior doctor there was a devout Christian who was a great support to her. Soon after this a lady rang up one day and said: “I was talking to someone and they said you were looking for a baby sitter”. It turned out she was an engineer who was taking time off work to look after her own toddler and thought that an extra child during the day wouldn't be much harder. This turned out fabulously well the whole time we were in Morwell. Not strictly “grandparent” I know, but a really good answer to that prayer just the same. You will have to wait a few more posts to find out how God continued to honour our request for substitute grandparents I the children's day-to-day lives.

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