Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today was a good day

Life moves forward.

Today Mum went to tennis (her weekly 'hit and giggle' with friends) for the first time since Dad died, and said that it went ok for her.

I also managed to speak to a solicitor who is going to charge us significantly less to help us settle Dad's estate than the cost quoted to me by another solicitor last week.

Today we also received in the mail Dad's death certificate (which means we can now actually move ahead with the things we need to do to settle the estate) and the DVD recording of the funeral service (so this afternoon, Mum and I watched it through and had a good cry together, and I actually got to take in more of the sermon than I did on the day- Randall is such a good preacher! :-).

We also received more cards (we are up to 52 now, with at least one more on the way, being redirected from Melbourne).

Tomorrow will be busy, with lots of visits to banks and other agencies to start the official transfer process, and a visit to the solicitor in town early next week.

It's looking like things will now definitely be in hand by the time I leave to go home on Friday week, which is good :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reflecting on the last week

After a flying visit to Melbourne over the weekend, I now have my laptop with me in Sydney, which also contains my full email address book, so this afternoon I took the opportunity to send out an email update to my rather extensive and eclectic group of friends, with the main news of Dad's death.

One response I received from a friend who had also had some difficult times during the year seemed very apt:

Don’t you wonder how folk cope who don’t have the support and care of a faithful group? Our experience of being sustained by the ‘cloud of witnesses’ this year brought home to me how important it is to claim, if you like, the need to be prayed for.

I have certainly found this to be true. Without the incredible support both through prayer and other more concrete expressions of care, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to cope with Dad's passing, and provide some support for Mum in the process.

I had coffee yesterday with the minister from my home congregation, and I commented to him that it feels like I have experienced "Church" at its best, through the fellowship and prayerful support of the people of God at this time.

A tribute to my father

As mentioned in an earlier entry, here is the Tribute/Eulogy that I delivered at my father's funeral.

We’re here today to remember and celebrate the life of my father, Neville George Field. Neville was the only child of George and Gladys, and lived most of his life in the Ryde area.

He left school at the age of 14, and in his working life held down a variety of jobs, the first as a courier for Greater Union, delivering canisters of film to cinemas on his pushbike (and he got to watch lots of movies, which he quite enjoyed). Later he worked with his father for a company that laid parquetry floors, and became a self-appointed expert and critic of parquetry floors.

It’s interesting the things that stick with you- on Tuesday when Mum and I were having a cuppa in the hospital cafĂ©, she looked at the floor and said, “Dad would have liked this floor- it’s real parquetry, not like those pretend modern jobs”.

Neville also worked in a service station, and I think “BPeeeee” was one of the first words that I learnt to say as a child. He later worked as a postal contractor in West Pennant Hills, where he was known to many on his run as “Laughing Boy” because of his cheerful and jovial demeanour.

After the postal run, he moved on to a job as Out Door Attendant on the maintenance staff at Macquarie Hospital (or North Ryde Psychiatric Centre as it was then known). He worked there for about 17 years, and climbed up the corporate ladder to become Out Door Supervisor, which meant he got to drive the big white van with the flashing “Security” lights on the top.

He brought home many tall tales and true of his exploits at the hospital, which all seemed to conclude with the same observation: that most of the patients were saner and more sensible than the doctors, proving that the adage: “you don’t need to be mad to work here, but it helps” was certainly true of the Macquarie Hospital.

Neville made many deep and lasting friendships among his workmates at the hospital over the years, and it broke his heart when he was forced to retire early, at the age of 55, due to ill health.

But there was much more to Neville’s life than just work.

As a teenager, he was a member of an amateur entertainment troupe called The Merrymakers, who provided revue-style entertainment at places like hospitals and nursing homes. It was there that he met the most gorgeous girl in the world, who also just happened to have the best – and longest – legs in the company.

Now it may come as a surprise to those of you who have only known Neville during the past 30 years or so, to discover that he was in fact a very timid, shy little thing as a young man, and as such, was pretty hopeless when it came to the opposite sex. However, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Isobel got so sick of waiting for Neville to make the first move that she asked him out, and their first official date was at the Woolworths staff Christmas party, where Isobel worked.

One thing led to another, and it came time for Neville to meet the family. You can imagine the culture shock for an only child like Neville to find himself dating a girl who was the youngest of 11 children- and whose older siblings were a tad protective of their baby sister. So off he goes, to afternoon tea, being very careful to mind his P’s and Q’s; eager to make a good impression on Isobel’s mother and sisters.

When served up his cup of tea, he helped himself to his usual 2 spoons of sugar, and in a supreme act of self control, managed to not pull a face, or gag when he tasted the first mouthful. He said that the thought running through his mind at the time was: “Geee…. This doesn’t taste like the tea Mum makes”. But, stoically, always the polite young man, he fought his way to the bottom of the cup without a word, and only after he finished the last drop, did Isobel’s sister Lew collapse with laughter, and confess that she had substituted salt for the sugar.

Before you feel too sorry for him, you need to know that Neville did manage to get his own back on Lew at a later date, with the old ‘foam rubber lamington’ trick, so it seems that he fitted into the family well, and the rest, as they say, is history. He and Isobel were married on Jan 26, 1957, and in January this year, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, which was a particularly joyous occasion for all of us.

As you have probably gathered from the guard of honour present today, the fire brigade played a significant part in Neville’s life, and his dear friend Doug Crampton (who introduced him to the brigade) will share more about that aspect of Nev’s life in a few minutes.

Having lived at 91 Parklands Rd for over 40 years, neighbours played an important part in Neville’s life. During the course of building their house, Neville and Isobel got to know John and Kay Shepherd, their next door neighbours. The Shepherds allowed them to use their electricity for various jobs, and in return, Neville gave their plumber permission to run their plumbing across part of his land, thus giving them access to the new sewer system (and making the Shepherds and Fields the envy of the whole street, as the first properties to be connected to the sewerage system, which was a pretty big deal at the time). This was the start of a beautiful relationship across the side fence, and over the years John and Kay have been indispensable friends, especially during times when Neville was ill.

When all the neighbours in our street had young families, we had regular street parties- every Christmas Eve we would get together at the Standens’, and on New Year’s Eve at the Fields’, when Nev would be King of the Barbie. He developed this ‘special technique’ for ‘tidy’ BBQing, without the need for wood or charcoal. Simply take one metal kidney dish, pack it full of sawdust, drench it with metho, and let her rip!... Sound like a neat trick? Don’t try it at home.

After he retired, Neville became very active in his own style of Neighbourhood Watch – when he was in the neighbourhood, he was always watching. Nothing escaped his eagle eyes, and so when he saw a strange young couple poking about in the house next door (on the other side), he felt duty bound to bail them up, and check out who they were and what they were up to.

This same young couple later reported that as they were inspecting the house for sale, they thought it rather touching that “The Old Man” next door had his daughter pegging out his washing for him. This was not the first time… or the last, that the age difference between Isobel and Neville (a whole year!) was taken to be significantly more than it actually was.

Despite this rather unauspicious introduction, Justin and Michelle, did end up buying the house and moving in next door. Since then they have become fast friends to Nev and Is, and provided them with a brood of surrogate grandkids, which took the pressure to procreate off me, (for which I thank you).

Neville always loved kids, and the arrival of Jessica, Beth and his special mate Joe, along with the visits of Kay and John’s grandchildren, gave him a new lease on life, and he loved using his woodworking skills to make some special toys for them to enjoy.

It’s interesting how even when you’ve known someone all your life, there are still new things to discover about them. I was surprised to learn, a dozen or so years ago, after I had been singing with various choirs for many years, that Dad quite enjoyed choral music- something he had never told me before. After that, we were able to share that interest together a bit more, and he even got to attend a couple of concerts where I was singing.

Likewise, something I learned about Dad only this week was that he had an inherent sense of spirituality. Mum told me about a conversation she had with him only a few weeks ago, when she was reflecting on the path that my life has taken in recent years, to train to become a minister in the Uniting Church.

She said to him, “I don’t know where Carolyn gets this religion thing from”, to which Dad replied, “I do. She gets it from me.” This caused me to think back to some significant times in my life, when Dad was there in the background quietly supporting some of the things I was interested in, and encouraging me to practise my own faith. One example of this was when we went together to see the film Jesus of Nazareth. When it first came out, in its original, unedited format, it was quite a marathon (and made the Lord of the Rings films look like shorts) and Dad didn’t just endure it for my sake, but actually quite enjoyed it (which is more than can be said for his response to Jesus Christ Superstar).

This new insight into Dad’s relationship with God, whatever form that might have taken, reinforces my confidence that, after a life wrought with pain and illness, especially in the past few years, he is now safe in God’s care, and for that I give thanks.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A few days on...

It's been an interesting few days. Our main focus has been on planning for Dad's funeral, and ensuring that all the details that won't be covered by the funeral director are done and sorted out.

As I said the other day, I'm very grateful that Randall Prior, the Principal of our Theological College is coming to Sydney to conduct the funeral, and in addition, 4 of my friends from Melbourne are also making the trip up for the funeral.

I have been so overwhelmed by people's kindness and love, shown in so many ways at this time. At home, we have received numerous cards (including one from my former work colleagues in Hobart, which was lovely), and a number of floral arrangements (I think the total count is up to 6 now), and numerous people have been dropping by with gifts of food, so we are certainly not short of things to offer visitors who drop in.

I have just finished writing a eulogy (tribute to my father), for the funeral, and hope that I don't get so overwhelmed with emotion that I lose the plot and can't get through it on the day. I remember a few years ago, looking on in admiration as friend of mine spoke at her father's funeral, and thought that I would never be able to hold myself together to do that... (hopefully I was wrong).

We have also selected some rather lovely pieces of music to play in the background as people are entering and leaving the chapel, and I have put together a Powerpoint slide presentation of pictures from my Dad's life to play during the service.

After the funeral, Mum and I will have lots of other things to work through as we attempt to sort out Dad's estate.

Apart from all the pragmatics, Mum and I are experiencing grief in waves... waves of control and feeling ok, and waves of just bursting into tears at the slightest provocation... all in all it feels like a pretty normal grief response, so I suppose we just have to ride it all out, and eventually things will even out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Was it really only yesterday?

It feels like so much has happened in the hours since Dad died yesterday morning. The phone has been running hot all day, folk have been popping in to offer their condolances, and flowers have started arriving.

By far the most touching tributes were the cards made for us by the children who live next door (aged 8, 5 and 4) who have been 'surrogate grandkids' to Mum and Dad for many years. After their parents broke the news to them of Dad's death, their spontaneous reaction was to make these cards for Mum and me, because they knew we were sad. I suspect Mum will treasure these cards above all the others.

Today we met with the funeral director, who was marvellous, and we planned the details of the funeral process- pending, of course, the Coroner's release of Dad's body (which fortunately was confirmed later this afternoon, so all can go ahead). I am very grateful to the Principal of the Theological College in Melbourne, who has very kindly agreed to come up to Sydney to conduct the funeral service for us. I'm very relieved to have someone so experienced and skilled in pastoral ministry to be leading the service, and by our side for the occasion.

We are hoping that the funeral will be held on Tuesday at 2pm at the Macquarie Park Crematorium (the official notice will be in Friday's Telegraph newspaper)

The pointy end of life

... and I thought the pointy end of the semester was bad enough!

Today my father died.

When I received the call on Sunday night from Mum to tell me that he was in hospital (again!), I had a strange sense that this time something was different... then when I received a further call from the ICU doctor on Monday morning to say that Dad's kidneys were failing and he was refusing dialysis (without which he wouldn't last more than 24 hours), I dropped everything and booked a flight to Sydney as soon as I could manage.

I arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon, and found that Mum had managed to convince Dad to have the dialysis, so he was alert and lucid and aware that I was there. Early this morning we had a call from the nurse to say that he had a good night, and was feeling better, and wanted her to let us know... but at 9:30 we received the summons to come in straight away, as he was sick.

He slipped from this life at 10am, just before Mum and I arrived at the hospital. We were greeted by the triage nurse and a doctor, who took is into the "Quiet Room", loaded us up with tissues, and explained what had happened, and what we could expect over the next little while. We then sat with Dad for a while; he looked so peaceful- finally at rest after many years of chronic illness and many hospital visits. (I used to joke with him that he had so many frequent flyer points with Concord Hospital that he could almost qualify to be an extra on All Saints*). Fortunately, I remembered to bring my camera with me from Melbourne, so I was able to take some last pictures of Dad, with both Mum and I bidding him a final farewell.

All of the hospital staff have been marvellous, both in the way they cared for Dad as a patient, and for Mum and me in our grief today. All of the nursing staff, the doctors and the social worker have gone out of their way to ensure that we understood what was going on (especially in the light of the involvement of the Coroner, which meant that we needed to hang around the hospital until 2pm, to meet with the police and formally identify the body), and that we were coping.

Throughout the past two days, as this has all unfolded, I have felt greatly loved and cared for by God, through the support of those around me: from the friend who came to drive me to the airport and held me steady as I sobbed on his shoulder, and my minister who rang to touch base and see how we were coping, and the theological college principal who also rang, and kept reassuring me that I am in the right place, and that being here is the most important thing right now, and the stuff that I've left behind in Melbourne (two weeks to the end of semester- assignments due, exams coming up etc) will all be sorted out when I get back.

I probably should stop now and go to bed (although I don't know that I'll sleep much)... but there's a funeral to plan and a whole lot of other stuff to do tomorrow, so I suppose I should at least make an effort to close my red, puffy eyes).

* for those unfamiliar with pop culture, Concord Hospital is the site used for the location shots for All Saints TV show

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Summoned home!

Well, kind of.

As a ministry candidate, it is my home Presbytery (Tasmania) which is ultimately responsible for making decisions about my progress through the different stages of my training and journey to ordination. Of course, they are advised by the Theological College here in Melbourne about my progress academically and in formation for ministry, but it's also helpful for them to see "Exhibit A" from time to time, so they can hear my reflections on how I think things are progressing, too.

So, in order to do this, the Presbytery of Tasmania made the decision that they should have at least one deliberate and formal conversation with me each year (in addition to the various ad hoc, informal opportunities that arise for me to see members of the Presbytery at various times). So, in mid-November, I'll be heading south to attend a meeting of the Tasmanian Presbytery in Launceston, to share some of my journey this year with the whole Presbytery, and then to have a slightly more in-depth time in a meeting with members of the Pastoral Relations Committee the next day.

In addition to the joys of catching up with folk from the Presbytery at the meeting, I'll be staying in the state until Sunday, specifically so I can attend worship at the congregations at Launceston North and Lilydale, where I spent the majority of my placement last summer. By that time it will be almost exactly a year since I started my placement there, so it will be great to revisit the places and people of those congregations. (And I'm also hoping it will be possible to make a side trip to Poatina whilst I'm in the state too :-)

Alive and well...

At lunchtime today, we had the Annual General Meeting of the Theological Students' Association of the United Faculty of Theology (or, if you like, the AGM of the UFT TSA :-)*

After a less than thriving year this year, at our last committee meeting, we were concerned that the TSA might need to go into recess in 2008, due to lack of student support, and people interested (and with the time) to do the job of organising the activities of the TSA.

However, at the AGM, we managed to achieve a goodly quorum, and even managed to elect a committee which includes a number of pretty keen people (and in case you're wondering, that doesn't include me. I have done my 2 years on that committee and have gracefully retired). So that's pretty exciting, especially as the bleeding-heart lefty in me was feeling pretty sad at the prospect of the TSA going into recess, as I'm a firm believer in the importance of student representation in educational institutions.

* The UFT TSA is the association that's open to all students who study at the United Faculty of Theology, which includes candidates for ordination from all three of the constituent colleges (UCA, Anglican and Jesuit), as well as a large number of independent/private students from all kinds of backgrounds. This is different from UCCA (the Uniting Church Candidates' Association- open only to candidates for ministry within the Uniting Church Theological College) to which I was elected President last week. We used to be known as the UCA TSA, but changed our name this year to avoid being confused with the UFT TSA.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What have I let myself in for?

On Friday, at the Annual General Meeting of the Uniting Church Candidates' Association (UCCA- don't you just love that acronym?), I was elected as President of UCCA for the next year.

I feel honoured that my fellow candidates have entrusted me with this role, and I hope that I will fulfil it well and diligently.

Although, I have to say that with my current level of busyness and stress over assignment deadlines (a number of which have already gone whooshing past!) and other commitments, I'm finding it a bit hard to get excited about it just yet.

Maybe after exams are over and assignments are all in :-)

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Yesterday in our College Chapel service, one of our professors preached on the topic of holiness. He talked about one of his old teachers who had recently passed away, and commented on how this man had been a truly holy person in many ways.

As the preacher expanded and expounded the theme, I had a mini-gestalt moment, as it occurred to me that this holiness thing was probably the 'X Factor' that I could never quite name, that is a characteristic of one of my dear friends from Hobart.

I can remember being somewhat awed by the earnestness of this guy's faith, and his almost childlike obsession to seek first the Kingdom- which has been a yardstick for just about everything he does and all decisions he makes. It occurs to me now that this 'earnestness' is certainly of the same ilk as the 'holiness' about which my professor was preaching.

Of course, if I said this to my friend, he would probably find that hard to believe (and his wife would no doubt roll around on the floor in hysterical laughter :-). But I can't escape the fact that over the years, as our friendship developed, and we had many D&M discussions about life, the universe and everything, whenever I spent time with this friend, I would always come away feeling like a better person, and wanting to be a better person. This wasn't because of anything in particular that he had said, but just because of who he is. I have begun to realise that this was, at least in part, due to a sense of personal holiness that is present in his life.

I thank God for friends like this; they are certainly gems.

The Burmese Crisis

One of my fellow ministry candidates sent me an email with information about a campaign by a group called to support the people of Burma in their current crisis. is a community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today. The aim of is to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decisions. members act for a more just and peaceful world and a globalisation with a human face.

One of their current campaigns is related to the crisis in Burma.
Burma is ruled by one of the worst military dictatorships in the world. Last month Buddhist monks and nuns began marching and chanting prayers to call for democracy. The protests spread and hundreds of thousands of Burmese people joined in -- but they've been brutally attacked by the military regime.

I just signed a petition calling on Burma's powerful ally China and the UN security council to step in and pressure Burma's rulers to stop the killing. The petition has exploded to over 500,000 signatures in a few days and is being advertised in newspapers around the world, delivered to the UN Security Council, and broadcast to the Burmese people by radio. The organisers are trying to get to 1 million signatures this week, please sign below and tell everyone!

The website where you can sign the petition is here.

A small, but hopefully effective, way to be a neighbour to the people of Burma.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Out in the pastures..

Or so it seems.

During the past week or so, it feels like I've had more than my fair share of pastoral conversations.

All of them were with various fellow ministerial candidates, and in most of them, there were elements of me caring for them, and also them caring for me. We are all stressed, tired, and overly busy. Yes folks, it's now officially The Pointy End of the Semester, where we feel the breeze as assignment deadlines go whooshing past, and miss meetings and commitments, as we are too busy to look at our diaries.

But I am fascinated (and more than a little relieved) by a comment made during one of these conversations about what it means to be 'pastoral' in relating to others. We were talking about another student who is managing a very heavy study load, but seeming to keep on top of it pretty well, thanks to having a very organised and focussed personality. As I was thinking that perhaps I should spend more time with this uber-focussed person, in the hope that some of that quality might rub off on me, my friend posed the question:

But I wonder what would happen if someone had a bit of a crisis on the day that this person had set aside to work on a particular assignment? How would they handle it? Whose needs would win- the friend in crisis, or the need to finish the assignment?

An interesting question indeed, and one that I think we all need to ask about ourselves on a regular basis. Made me think about last Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 16- the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It was interesting that in this parable, the rich man was not portrayed as a bad person, and had not been accused of actually doing anything wrong, yet still he ended up in Hades, whilst Lazarus ended up in a place of comfort. It has been suggested that the rich man's 'sin' was the fact that he just failed to notice the starving Lazarus sitting outside his gate. He was never mean or nasty to Lazarus, just oblivious.

I think that being truly pastoral or hospitable, has an element of allowing the chaos of another person to enter our own lives, even when that might muck up our plans. But then I reckon in ministry there are also the times when we need to be a bit hard with our priorities, and not let pastoral emergencies always take up all the time and energy that they might seem to need (because unlike uni essays, a minister can't exactly get an extension for a sermon when the week has been insanely busy.) I can just imagine it, on Sunday morning:

"Sorry folks, it's been an insane week- I've had 3 funerals to manage, so my sermon isn't quite ready yet. Come back on Wednesday, and it should be done then!"

I'm beginning to think that learning to set boundaries and priorities will probably be more important things to my ministry than all this theology I'm studying. I certainly hope that my progress into third year will bring with it some kind of automatic increase in wisdom and discernment! :-)