Sunday, April 22, 2007

Chaplain's Retreat at Fairbridge

Some of the people I spent the last three days with. No time to blog now but I had a great time, lots of good things, great stories, much fun and laughter.

Fairbridge was built as an orphanage for British children following the war and is now a conference and tourist accommodation centre. We stayed in 2-3 cottages which have several bedrooms and shared living areas, there were about 15 of us in our cottage, all blokes except for Dave's wife Nicole, they are both chaplains so got special co-habiting privileges.

I roomed with Birchy and Cam so there was plenty of talk about football, and many noxious emissions. I was beginning to think Birchy had some serious intestinal problems by the third day. In order to prevent further air pollution we hid his second can of baked beans in the freezer. When I went to bed on the second night I discovered it had been sabotaged with sugar and foreign objects. After cleaning up the mess I was forced to mete out some discipline with my pillow, but failed to notice the light hanging in the way of my first swing! The resultant noise reverberated throughout the house and drew questions the following morning. I went to bed grinning, only to burst into raucous laughter moments later when the air was split by another thunderous fart. This all followed a marathon 6 hour sitting of Trivial Pursuit. Abandoning the traditional battle of the sexes we adopted random odds and evens teams based on our birthdates. The odds won the first game, after which a number of people retired for the night. The second game became a City v Country chaplains contest with the City team narrowly winning. Nearly all the remainder went to bed after that, leaving just the die-hards to fight it out in a 3rd, modified game with a piece of pie for every correct answer. Cam and Birchy took on Justin and I and it was a close battle, with the good guys emerging victorious amidst much complaint and derision from Cam and Darren citing "easy questions" on the winning card. We then duelled it out over a few more cards before finally retiring at about 2.45am.
I love Trivial Pursuit. It's not a game everyone enjoys but I can't get enough of it and big games with big teams and lots of argument and discussion and laughter are a highlight of the retreats every year.

It wasn't all fun and games though. There were some great worship and singing times. Nick played guitar and a couple of people led the singing. That's always my favourite type of worship, simple, accoustic, strong voices, in a camp hall somewhere with a bunch of friends and like-minded people.

Geoff Westlake provided the teaching input and it was fantastic. He is one of the best speakers going around, he's highly intelligent but eminently practical and further adds to his credibility because he puts his theories into practice in the community development project they call Cheers in the perth suburb of Banksia Grove. His stuff makes great sense, reflects the different needs of this post-modern community, and resonates with people both Christian and non-Christian. On the last day I organised an offering to give to Geoff for his family and ministry and people responded very generously.

I spent some of my time painting, working on three different pictures, and Cam also did one.

On the last day as we were saying our farewells I invited a couple of people to share their stories with the group and it provided a very special and emotional finale for the retreat.
Doug told us he was leaving the next day on a trip to Thailand for an ANZAC Day pilgrimage to the Burma Railroad and Hell Fire Pass where his Dad had been a prisoner of war. His Dad died at age 52 so it will be a very special trip for Doug to go to the places where his Dad fought and suffered. He will be helping to lead the dawn service on ANZAC morning in one of the places where Australia soldiers helped establish the ANZAC spirit and tradition.

Then Gary shared with us about his impending trip to England in October to meet his birth-mother for the first time along with 2 half-sisters and a brother he's never met. He wants to make connections and tie up loose ends. By the time they finished speaking I was in tears, and I wasn't alone. Afterwards another chaplain came up and introduced herself and told us about her own experience and that she has never met her real father. She was touched by Gary's story and looks forward to a day when she too will be reunited and reconnected.

There are so many people with so many stories, we seldom know what goes on beneath the surface and it's only when we have the time and opportunity to really listen and get to know people that we find out. The retreat gave us just such time and opportunity.

On Friday night in the cab I picked up a couple of young ladies and one of them, Melissa, recognised me as the chaplain. She no longer goes to the school but while she was there her Mum had died and she had come to see me to talk about things. She thanled me and spoke glowingly to her friend about the help and support I'd offered to her at the time. It was good to see her and affirming to hear the things she said about me and my work at the school.
Later on I picked up a young bloke and his girlfriend and he also recognised me from school. He was pretty drunk and not feeling very well but he asked for my number and whether he could ring me to talk about stuff because he had a few "issues and problems".

This afternoon I was called to go round and visit a family I know because their grandmother died on Friday. Their son Kori was killed in a car crash last year and I did his funeral and now they've asked me to conduct her funeral service too. I spent a couple of hours with Rhonda and 4 of her siblings (there are 9 kids in the family! 22 Grandkids, 19 great grandkis) planning the service. It will be on Tuesday afternoon.

Coming on top of the highs and emotional experiences of the retreat both these encounters were helpful in reassuring me and confirming that I'm in the right place and doing the right thing. At times I have struggled and had doubts about whether I should still be a chaplain but these incidents encouraged me to believe in myself and what I'm doing.
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Merle said...

Hi Marcus ~~ I am so glad you had such a great time at the Chaplain's Retreat. It sounded wonderful for the stories, not so sure about the food etc !! I am also glad that you have found confirmatin that what you are doing is the right thing. Just what you needed. Love, Always, Merle.

Peter said...

Good to hear that you are at peace with what you are doing Marcus.