Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Writing for the August issue of the Clarion

This is the editorial I wrote for The Clarion, the monthly newsletter of Romsey Uniting Church.

The photos were included, so Bossey people have now been seen by at least one of my congregations in Australia.

Actually, Bossey photos have also featured in a couple of children’s addresses – they’re great for demonstrating the international, multicultural nature of the church.

Unity: The World Council of ChurchesThe World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(From the Constitution and Rules of the World Council of Churches.)

Avril at the World Council of Churches office in Geneva

The theme of this month’s issue of the Clarion is unity, which makes it the perfect time for me to share some of what I learned during my time at the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. Not that I ever need any excuse for that; my time a Bossey was incredibly enriching and I’m happy to talk about it for hours on end at any time at all.

This month we celebrate the 59th birthday of the World Council of Churches, which officially came into existence on the 23rd of August, 1948. The WCC was the result of decades of activity by the modern ecumenical movement, beginning with the creation of the World Student Christian Federation in 1895 and followed by a number of international, ecumenical conferences: the World Mission Conference in Edinburgh in 1910; the Universal Christian Conference on Life and Work in Stockholm in 1925; and the World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne in 1927. At each of these conferences members of different denominations met each other, worshipped together, and discovered the incredible excitement and privilege of gathering together with Christians from all around the world – the joy of being part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

After several of these conferences it was decided to link the Life and Work and the Faith and Order streams of the ecumenical movement in one Council of Churches. In 1937, a meeting was held in London and the ‘World Council of Churches in the Process of Formation’ was created. Sadly, before the World Council could be convened, World War Two broke out.

The World Council of Churches in the Process of Formation had an office in Geneva with W. A. Visser ‘t Hooft acting as its general secretary. Visser ‘t Hooft worked in Geneva to assist refugees from Nazi Germany and maintain liaison between churches in occupied territories and the outside world. In his report to the 1946 meeting of the Provisional Committee of the World Council in Geneva Visser ‘t Hooft said that ‘For those who have had the privilege to be intimately associated with the Council in war-time, those years will always stand out as the time when the ecumenical task was spiritually easy and simple because, in spite of the enormous technical difficulties, the marching orders were so very clear and the basic unity of the defenders of the faith was so deeply felt’.

The World Council of Churches was finally formally established by the official representatives of 57 churches from the Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox traditions at the First General Assembly in Amsterdam in 1948, and Visser ‘t Hooft became the first General Secretary. The three denominations that would later form the Uniting Church were among the 57.

Today, the WCC has more than 340 member churches in over 100 countries, representing some 550 million Christians. The work it has done to resource and encourage these churches and Christians over the past 59 years has been phenomenal. The website gives information about what the WCC is doing today: from fighting AIDS through the Ecumenical HIV/AIDS Initiative in Africa to supporting peace-building in the Middle East through the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.

Most importantly, the WCC continues to unite Christians from around the world and reminds us that although we speak different languages, live in different countries, and worship God in different ways, we are united by our confession of the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. We are part of the global Christian family.

Bossey students from all around the world


July 29, 2007 Posted by | Life, etc., Ministry | 2 Comments

Eight Years with Harry

I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at about 6 pm on Saturday. It would have been earlier, but I wasted some of the day driving home from Melbourne to Romsey, with Harry sitting on the seat beside me. Anyone who knows me should be full of admiration because I did not try to read and drive simultaneously.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

I first met Harry Potter in 1999, when the second in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in paperback. At the time I had just started my PhD and was wasting a lot of time on an email list that discussed ‘girlsown’ fiction; Elinor M. Brent-Dyer’s Chalet School series, etc. Someone mentioned this new series that was updating the boarding-school genre and after reading various enthusiastic posts I decided that these were my sort of books. I bought the two then available and, like millions of others, was hooked. Eight years later, I still am.

harry-potter_0005.jpg harry-potter_0004.jpg

The Age review of Book Threeharry-potter_0003.jpg 


From 1999 onwards the release of a Harry Potter book became an event in my life. If I was in Melbourne I bought the latest book at Readings on Lygon Street on the day that it was released, and then read the first chapter eating a pain au chocolat and drinking an Iced Coffee Big M at Thresherpersons. I cut out the reviews of the books and put them behind the book’s dust jacket, where they still remain, yellowing and becoming brittle. The historian in me can’t help it.

The one exception to my Readings – Thresherpersons ritual was the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That came out when I was in Adelaide, doing research for my PhD and waiting for the 2000 National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia to begin. Reading Harry then kept me sane during the absolutely horrible debate about sexuality that happened at that Assembly. The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, came out three years later, in time for the next UCA Assembly, where the debate was slightly less horrible, but where I still needed comfort reading.

Harry, with The Lord of the Rings and the entire Chalet School series, remains one of my favourite sources of comfort reading. Just before Easter 2005 I was told that I would not be exiting from Theological College at the end of that year; that the Faculty had decided that I needed an extra year of formation. I was devastated. My call to ministry, my vocation, was in question. Luckily my placement that year was at Trinity College and Janet Clarke Hall, so I didn’t have any duties over the Easter break, since the last thing I felt able to do that Easter was go to church and see other Uniting Church people. I pulled out all five Harry Potter books, bought two litres of Iced Coffee Big M and a family-sized block of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and read for four days straight. At the end I felt able to interact with other people again, which was a good thing, because that Easter, followed by tragedy after tragedy, was the last moment of quiet I was to have for a very long time.

Book Six, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released in paperback just before I went to Switzerland. I had serious theology ready to read on the plane (what else was I going to do for 24 hours) but when I got to the final pre-plane shops at Tullamarine, having cried through customs, I put the theology away, bought the Half-Blood Prince, and read it all the way to the other side of the world. I reread it in January this year, still on the other side of the world, after my beloved step-father died, I read it, and I cried. That copy is still over in Bossey, and I hope it comforts some other homesick Bossey student.

And now I’ve finished the series. It’s over. Saturday night I felt empty and restless, not unusual for me after a truly satisfying read. But on Sunday I began rereading the series from the beginning; now that I know what is coming I can pick up the hints that Rowling has been dropping from the start.

On Saturday I described Harry to Veryan as our generation’s Narnia. It isn’t our generation’s Lord of the Rings – there’s only one of those, no matter how many other fantasy authors have been compared to Tolkien. But the Narnia series, aimed at children, full of mixed-up mythology and legend and fairytales, with over-arching themes of good and evil and the ultimate triumph of good, plus some completely anachronistic mentions of Christmas – that’s what Harry reminds me of. And when Damian and Olivia and Teagan and all the other children I know hit 10, I’ll introduce them to Lewis’s Narnia and to Rowling’s Harry and hope that they enjoy them as much as I have.

So, thank you, J. K. Rowling.

July 23, 2007 Posted by | Pop Culture | 5 Comments

Something weird – don’t mention the title of the book.

My last post, published less than an hour ago, mentioned the name of the book about the wizard that is going to be published on Saturday. Because the whole name was mentioned, a program found my blog and as a comment on the entry sent me what purported to be a picture of the final page of the book. I am hoping that it is a scam. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to Spoil the end for people.  I have NOT approved that comment.

I tracked back from the comment to find a page that lists every blog that mentions the title. This list now includes entries on blogs by some very, very angry people.

 Well, I’m just not going to mention the name of the book or anyone in it until after Saturday. Be careful if you blog.

July 17, 2007 Posted by | Pop Culture | 3 Comments

It snowed, it snowed!

After experiencing Europe’s warmest winter in record, I’m now experiencing an extremely cold Australia. The Chair of the Romsey Church Council compared today to a winter in the 1950s. It snowed! It really snowed here.

This morning I finally made it to the Romsey Walking Group, which meets every Tuesday morning and is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. I’ve been trying to walk with it ever since I moved to Romsey, but there’s always been something else happening. I couldn’t have chosen a better day to begin. We walked along Black Range Road, off the road to Woodend. As we began the snow began to fall; by the time we finished there was snow on the ground, and on our cars, and all over my coat. I stupidly wasn’t wearing my Swiss coat and boots because they seemed excessive in Australia – I’ll know better next time.

I think I would be less excited about all this snow if I hadn’r recieved a wonderful gift from two members of the Romsey congregation last week: a load of wood. My pot-belly-stove-thing is running hot, heating my kitchen and study. The only trouble is that a real fire is so mesmerising – I keep standing in front of it and staring into the flames. 

On another note altogether: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is released this Saturday. I predict that Snape will redeem himself by a noble death. I also predict that Dumbledore will return in some form or another, either resurrected like Aslan, or “sent back” like Gandalf, or as a benign presence like Obi-Wan Kenobi. When I mentioned to my Professor of New Testament (whom I met in the queue to collect Book Six at Readings) that I couldn’t believe that Dumbledore was gone forever because there were resurrection precedents like these, she said “And Jesus.” Cannot believe I forgot the paradigmatic resurrection, the one that I believe in. And when talking to Rev. Prof. Dorothy Lee, too. 

These photos were taken by Jay Brooks of the Romsey congregation. Check out Australian snow!

In the Macedon Ranges   My little car   It’s snowing!


July 17, 2007 Posted by | Life, etc. | 1 Comment