City Boy in the Country


In 1986 as a graduate teacher, I packed up my (very small) life and headed down to Wagin. I knew little of this town. I had hoped to be posted to Margaret River… like every other surfer I knew.

But Wagin it was! Woohoo…

I had heard it was hoped that this young teacher would lend his energy to the local Baptist church at the time, but my first evening in the Uniting church saw me stopped in my tracks. A 32 year old farmer called Gavin was preaching that night to about 15 of us and he was calling a spade a spade. I don’t remember what he said but I remember thinking ‘we’re gonna  be mates!’ And so we were – and still are. I never made it to the Baptist church once in that year.

The Uniting church had a fairly stock (for the time) liberal minister who dottered around and preached some pretty insipid stuff, but I found I was able to look beyond this because of the wonderful people I met there who welcomed me into their lives and their homes. Gav & his wife Helen were my lifeline in that year where I got engaged and then ‘unengaged’ again all in the space of a few months. Its as dark a place as I have been in life. That said, the girl who dumped me made a very good call. I was in no state to be marrying anyone.

I have wonderful memories of an atheist dude called Rod who loved to fire up an argument with anyone silly enough to take the bait. I don’t think I was much of a threat to him so he was quite kind to me, and his wife Sylvia was a godly woman who was part of the church and always very hospitable. I joined the Pederick’s home group and again found myself in a community of people who were willing to welcome me in, even if I was a prickly, arrogant knowitall city kid. I’m sure they knew that, but they never said it or made me feel it.

The church let me preach – first time ever – and I thought I did ok, but another young Christian teacher in town tried to rip my sermon apart right there after the gathering. I didn’t really know how to respond. It was all a bit devastating. Fortunately my ego was so inflated during those years of my life that I was able to dismiss him. Who knows – he may have had something useful to say… but then ‘how you say it’ matters far more if you want to be heard.

The Wagin year was my one significant departure from the baptist mob I had been associated with for the years before and ever since. But it was valuable for getting perspective on God being much, much bigger than my small denominational world, for learning to be part of a community where there weren’t many other singles – if any – and for hearing some different theological perspectives on things yet again. I saw the dedication of the country folks to their small church that was not at all sexy, but that oozed soul and heart and that left an impression.

I spent a year in Wagin but after the engagement bust up in May it was all uphill. I had left UWA with a Phys Ed degree and a Dip ed with just 4 weeks of practical teaching experience and it showed in my classroom management. I was young, over confident and badly prepared for any kind of teaching. Add to that emotional devastation, and to get a fresh start after just one year of teaching was an undeserved bonus.

I headed back to the city – where I belonged – to teach at Kingsway Christian College and rejoin Scarborough Baptist, grateful for some country folks who loved me and cared for me when I was raw and ragged. While I wasn’t all that enamoured with what happened on Sundays, the experience of a loving community sustained me during some dark days and I still have good friends to this day from that time.

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