When we left Northern Ireland in 1974 and sailed for Australia on a 28 day all expenses paid cruise, courtesy of the Australian government we finished up at Scarborough Baptist, the same church as our Irish friends who had gone before us. We didn’t spend any time looking around, we just followed them as they knew us and figured they would probably lead us in the right direction.
I think we lasted a year at Scarborough before the church hit a bump and split. I had no idea at the time what was happening – simply that one week we were meeting with these people and the next we were going to a new church. I knew there had been a bit of a kerfuffle over the interim minister whose call was not renewed and some folks were pretty dark that he had been tossed out.
Later I learned that he was a ‘hypercalvinist’ (which would have been very scary – modern day calvinists can be frightening enough!) and this theological issue was enough to break the deal. I’m not sure if this was the real issue, or just the one that got a public airing. I’ve been around long enough now to know that theological differences are often a mask for the fact that we just don’t like someone.
Either way, it seems we sided with the ‘hyper-calvinist’ – or we didn’t like the way he was treated – so we left. I say ‘we’, but as a kid I had no say in the matter. I just hopped in the car when asked and finished up at the church of my parents choice.
In those days Scarborough was a large church, with a big Sunday School and I even recall sitting Sunday School exams (and yes they felt like exams). I have fond memories of our church camp and the odd picnic but church itself was fairly forgettable yet again for a 10 year old.
From Scarborough we moved to Maylands Baptist, after a short period meeting in the family room of our home where it seems we tried to start our own church – but that fizzled pretty quick.
At Maylands the pastor was an Irish bloke by the name of George Blayney. Our friends came too and we settled in here for the next 6 years. Maylands was an energetic church in the 70’s and always seemed packed full of people.
At Maylands I learnt to play basketball courtesy of an older guy called Steve who picked me up in his mini each week and took me to training. He was my first basketball coach and a bloke who showed some interest in a young kid who didn’t enjoy church much but was willing to suck it up to play basketball and hang with the girls who went there. I liked Steve and am grateful for his influence at that time.
On Sunday mornings I discovered Maylands had a similar boarded ceiling to my old church in Ireland so I went back to counting boards until I could leave. In those days I dreaded communion because that always meant that after the service there was another ‘service’, because communion was always at the end (to allow the ‘unworthy’ to leave quietly). I wished I was more unworthy, but instead found myself blocked in my pew by my parents. I didn’t start taking communion myself until my early teens, Unlike the practice today where kids are often invited to participate early, we were of the era that saw taking communion inappropriately as ‘eating and drinking condemnation’ to ourselves… Whatever we thought that meant I wasn’t sure, but it felt bad and just not worth the risk.
Another quirky memory of the time was of the odd person who smoked outside the church – usually during communion (because they were unworthy) and how we viewed them. I’m surprised they stuck with church as it must have been a harsh space to try and survive in.
We went to church religiously every Sunday morning and evening and then there was the Wednesday night prayer meeting which the oldies went to. When Sunday church was over I got to hang with friends and that made it worth it, especially Sunday nights which always ended with a youth after church supper before someone went out of their way to drop me back home. I made some great friendships in that time and the youth group of the time was significant in shaping me and helping me see a more engaging aspect to faith. On reflection I would say the willingness of those young adults to give me a ride wherever was needed – at the expense of their time and fuel – was a key in me hanging around and becoming part of the church rather than attending resentfully with my parents.
The church service was still a place where I experienced little connection or meaning, but the people around me gave me cause to return. In those days church occupied much of our life and was in many ways a little sub-culture and community of its own, so we saw a lot of each other and I know that was valuable. Church camps, Country / city exchange weekends and BYF camp and rallies were all significant experiences for a young Christian whose faith was shady at best.
Maylands had the whole ‘Christian Endeavour’ thing going on and again in the absence of knowing about chubby bunnies, nerf wars and iceblocking we spent Friday nights leading one another in Bible studies. I still remember my first attempt at 12 years old of leading a Bible study in 1 Corinthians. The dread I felt at having to teach people older than me was palpable, but it was what we did… so I did it… I hate to think how I must have bored those who were there.
In that period I became a Christian at one of the Serpentine Baptist camps. Ironically it was also the most rebellious part of my teenage years. I no longer have most of my high school reports from years 8 & 9 as I burnt them when I was 20 years old. But this one slipped thru the cracks and I still have it somewhere. The grades were great… the attitude not so much…
There were some pretty girls at Maylands too and I guess I made it thru the teenage years still in faith partly because of sport, girls, and older youth who made me feel valuable. The church experience itself still held little appeal but it was all I knew so I just accepted that this was as good as things got and kept on counting.
I didn’t have much capacity for theological reflection in those days, but I do know we were a deeply and proudly conservative church and we ‘stood against’ things that were worldly. I was in that faith stage where I adopted the faith of the community I was part of and as a result I became deeply conservative theologically, probably closer to fundamentalism, a position I was to hold for many years to follow. It was very important to be right.
While the Maylands of the 70’s isn’t a church I could sit in theologically or culturally these days, I still remember it very fondly. We ‘only know what we know’, so even if church was a 3 hymn sandwich with a fair smattering of fire and brimstone and exegetical preaching, it was still a period that was really valuable in my own spiritual development and I’m grateful for the folks who were a little older than me who were willing to invite me into the life of the church and nurture my fragile faith.
Maylands was the last time we attended church as a family for several years. At 17 I got my license and began to wonder why we were driving half way across town to be part of a church in Maylands when there was a perfectly good church just a km down the road back in Scarborough. A car meant I was now mobile and able to make some of my own decisions about church.
Why did we leave Scarborough again?…
And was there any reason we couldn’t go back?…