Pilgrims: a selection of personal stories from members of St Philip's

Learning to be a pillar

by Dr Brian McKinlay

PomborneitAs well as being Labour Day, the first of May is our patronal festival, the feast of St. Philip. It's also the feast of "St. James the Less", as he is called. This reminds me of when as a boy of nine, ten and eleven, I attended the St. James the Less Church of England Sunday School in the tiny hamlet of Pomborneit North in the Western District of Victoria. (At the time, my father was the only teacher at the local primary school.)

It was a rather traditional Sunday school and we older children were being prepared for confirmation. I learnt Anglican customs and much of the Book of Common Prayer catechism by heart.

So on the feast day of St. Philip and St. James each year, I gave thanks for our family at St Philip's, but also for a little Sunday school named after St James, where a faithful lady named Marguerite taught me to remember that, in God's good grace, I have become, as the Catechism says, "a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven."

From the earliest years of my life, I have always felt an assurance that there is a heavenly Father who loves me. From that time in Pomborneit North, I have also known that I am a person of the church and that my life is bound up with the fellowship of God's people.

A second life-forming event from my youngest days is that as I grew, I began to limp more and more. The medical specialists eventually worked out that I had had poliomyelitis as an infant. The treatment, though painless, was long and tedious. I have been much better off than many that encountered polio, but some effects remain and it has caused some problem or some kind of ache almost every day of my life. The results of polio forced me to be vulnerable and open, to be someone that needs and accepts help, comfort and support. Once again, I was drawn towards the Christian family. I deeply, deeply, value the love, care and community of God's people, the church.

In the year that I went to university, a new church was beginning not far from where I lived. I joined that church when there were just a few dozen members and stayed for most of the next twenty-one years. As the church grew, many Southeast Asian people from the university and nearby joined us. I became a deacon and was much involved in pastoral care and teaching among the Asian members of the fellowship. I spent thousands of hours in church work and practical help of all kinds. But equally, I received fellowship, friendship and learning experiences beyond value.

The great commandment is to serve the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. I love the idea of serving God with the best possible theology, liturgy and thinking, while at the same time being open and responsive to the Holy Spirit and the mysteries of our faith. This is one reason why I appreciate now being an Anglican.

As my former church in Melbourne had not been part of a denomination, when I came to Canberra I looked for a fellowship to join. I eventually settled in the Anglican church and was received by the Bishop as a member.

Over the years I believe God has taught me that, even though I may have gifts and strengths, for my own safety and growth I must stay under the covering of leadership — it's part of that vulnerability I mentioned earlier. My job is to be a skilful servant, an encourager — someone like Aaron and Hur, who held up the arms of Moses so that the battle could be won. Do you remember the story? You can find it Exodus 17. I also like St Barnabas, who name means "son of consolation" or "son of encouragement" (Acts 4.36). I love to give and receive encouragement!

All this, then, to say that what gives me confidence in Christ — who give me confidence actually — is God's people, indwelt by the Spirit, living together as God's house. I want to illustrate this with some scripture verses especially precious to me.

Psalm 27: One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 84: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. … Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. … For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

Psalm 93: The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.

Abraham's journey (Genesis 12.1-9, Romans 4.13-25) speaks to me of the journey that I believe God has challenged me, and perhaps all of us, to undertake in our different ways. I love the commentary on Abraham's faith found in Hebrews chapter 11:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. … For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

That's what I look for, that's my hope: a city, the church, the people of God, glorious, spotless, beautiful, redeemed, and brought to a glorious inheritance in Christ. "Fine words," one might say. But for me, they mean simple, practical, expression of love and worshipful work, here, now, today and every day. It's simply because I really, really care about God's people and God's family. James and I are honored and thankful for the welcome we have received at St Philip's.

It is my desire above all, to be a pillar in God's house — not to be shaken, but to stand, to support, to encourage and, once again, to serve, with skill, hopefully with humility and, God willing, with wisdom.

Revelation 3: And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: "I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. … [H]old fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name."

That's what I look towards.