IN REMEMBRANCE | John Sandeman
Tuesday 12 January 2016
Acts of courage and boldness will always be needed in Christian service, especially where Christianity is less than fashionable. But sometimes the boldest act is to defy other Christians when a church or organisation needs renewal. But these usually happen behind closed doors, and you don’t get to read them in Eternity.
A spectacular example of boldness behind closed doors is recounted by the Sydney Anglican leader Phillip Jensen in a piece in memory of John Reid, former Bishop of South Sydney whose funeral will be held on Thursday.
Reid understood that from the 1960s-on, society was changing rapidly and Christian institutions needed to change.
Here’s how Jensen tells the story of how Reid “fixed” the Katoomba Christian Convention, today a powerhouse for conservative evangelicals in Australia, but at that stage in terminal decline.
“One memorable episode in the history of Katoomba Convention was the night John invited the members of the Council to resign for the good of the Convention. It was a very large Council, over 20 members, and most had served on the Council for many years, if not decades.
“It was an eclectic Council, not simply reflecting a diversity of denominations but more significantly representing a diversity of para-church organisations – especially missionary societies. These were good, godly, faithful, prayerful Christian people who had laboured long and hard to reconstruct the Convention after WWII, and then had slowly seen it decline through the 1960s.
“John was younger than most of the Council members, I was a mere boy (of about 30) observing a great man at work. At a critical moment in the Convention’s history, John addressed the Council from the chair. He carefully thanked them for their years of labour, pointed out the importance of bringing in fresh energy and ideas by making way for the next generation, observed how many were really representing other interests on the Council rather than having the Convention as their primary interest, and argued that the Council was far too large and uncommitted to the task of the Convention to operate effectively. He then invited everybody to resign unless they were serving the Convention’s interests as first priority.
“The deathly silence that ensued was broken by one older saint who spoke up in agreement and immediately offered his resignation. His was the first of many such resignations and the work of the Convention went forward from there.”
It would have taken John Reid real courage to face down that room. But the courage of the first “elderly saint” to resign might even have been greater.
A second lesson is that Christian groups that have seen better days can be re-energised. But it takes a lot of courage by many people.