Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Good People continued... Kensington Lights

Three good mates. Jeff, me and Ian Corlett. We trained together and stayed friends on life's journey.

Curly Corlett on the left with my wife.

High rise public housing.
Visiting friends in Melbourne years ago, the lady of the house came to me with a little baby and a bottle of milk and said, "Here you... Feed this!"(with a good humoured twinkle in her eye.) I sat on a couch and began to feed the baby, the little daughter of a very depressed solo mum visiting the house. A partly drunk alcoholic woman sat down next to me, leaned over me and cooed at the baby. She smelt so bad that my nose twitched. Where was I? What was happening? I was at Ian and Curly Corlett's home in Kensington, Melbourne. They had a house near the high rise public housing flats of Melbourne. There they lived with their family of four kids. They had an experimental ministry to the community going and their base was their family home. If you visited you never knew who your fellow guests were going to be. There was a sort of "open home" policy operating. 

The Kensington area was an area where there were great needs. Ian and Curly became involved in the community doing lots of "community building" activities. A credit Union began. A bus was purchased and that was used for trips out of the area and bus parties. They had a Sunday night "church service" in their lounge. People would come and there would be discussion, prayers about local needs and communion handed around, bread on a normal bread and butter plate and a glass with grape juice. After church there was a big feed on the table and then people often played cards. People with a variety of needs would call and Ian and Curly would seek to meet needs, advocate for people or encourage their own growth and decision making. Ian was an important part of the community. I arrived on a plane from NZ once. Ian met me and said, "We're going to a meeting at the police station." Ian was part of a community group who met regularly with Police to discuss issues. (I recall that meeting. The young policeman sitting next to me must have felt uncomfortable with his side arm on, so pulled it out and sat it on the table next to me! Coming from NZ it was uncomfortable for me having this "canon" sitting near me! NZ police are still unarmed.)

I was inspired by Curly and Ian. Here was the Church serving the community, really involved in the community in costly ministry. Secondly here was real Christian hospitality being expressed. Curly was (still is) magnificent. With little enough to live on, she always managed to feed people well, with a sense of humour and love. (They had voluntarily put themselves on the equivalent of the unemployment benefit, since many of the people in Kensington lived on that.) Thirdly, here was true acceptance of people. The people visiting, or around the table could be smelly alcoholics, a prostitute from St Kilda, some needy mum and her kids, whoever, but they were welcomed with humour, respect and love. I once asked Curly how come she could love these people, and she said something like, "I look at them and remind myself God loves 'em." These people were practicing the love of Jesus in a very real way. I think overall it must have been quite a stressful lifestyle and maybe the model was unsustainable without a greater team of support, but its directions and principles were right. Involvement in the community, not hiding behind religious walls and practices. Truly being salt in the community.  With this, open hearted, big hearted love for people, meeting people at their point of need and respecting them. The ministry in Kensington was as much Curly's as it was Ian's. She was a rock behind Ian, and a beacon of light to many people.  Ian went on to different ministries, and then moved to Adelaide giving leadership by stimulating the work of many churches. Ill health brought early retirement for Ian. 

Ian was one of my friends when I did my theological training in Melbourne. We, and another Aussie mate Jeff, stayed friends in spite of the distance between NZ and Australia. He used to annoy me. Sometimes he could be so dogmatic with friends. He was on a journey and we knew each other so well that we bounced off each other freely in our thinking and journey through life and ministry. (I probably annoyed him at times too.) He died three years ago, and one wonders if the stress he took on board back in Kensington did not contribute to his early death?  His funeral was packed with people, many talking to me and telling of how much his ministry had changed their lives. Curly continues sharing love in her special way. Her home is still a place of loving hospitality. I could tell you much more about this couple, and their journey, but that is enough. Their experience in Kensington challenged and inspired me to find ways to express the same principles in ministry. In spite of being Australians, they are good, inspiring people that I have been privileged to know. 

Thanks to God for those inviting us to live more faithfully!
Thanks to God for those who show us richer lives of charity!
Thanks for those we see no longer, but whose mem’ries in us lie!
Thanks to God for those who teach us how to live and how to die!

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