NEWS | John Sandeman
Gordon Moyes AC, head of Sydney’s Wesley Mission for 27 years, and a elected member of the NSW Legislative Council has passed away, on Easter Sunday, 2015.
Moyes was once described by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard as “the epitome of effective Christian leadership” when describing how Moyes had grown Sydney’s Wesley Mission, which currently has over 2,000 staff and 3,000 volunteers, making it one of Australia’s largest non-government welfare organisations.
“The example of Gordon Moyes is a combination of a very deep Christian faith, worked through in a practical common sense and as circumstances have required hard-headed fashion, but always having as his goal the spreading of the Christian message,” Mr Howard said at Moyes’ farewell from Wesley.
“And what I particularly salute is the way in which Dr Moyes has led the Wesley Mission to an understanding of the need for the church, in its various outreaches to the community to change and adapt whilst retaining a deep connection with the fundamentals of the Christian religion.”
” This week the whole family had the wonderful privilege of saying our farewells, prayers, singing hymns mixed with much laughter and plenty of tears,” his son David Moyes posted on Facebook. “My mum and family have been amazing. On Tuesday when mum suggested that we fly down I sent the following txt to dad late at night: ‘I want you to know that I love you and I am praying for you. I couldn’t asked for a better dad. You have modelled to me about the importance of loving your children by loving their mother more than anyone. U have modelled how to succeed in the tough world of local church ministry. And most importantly you have taught me to love God.’ ”
At his Wesley farewell, Gordon Moyes described himself as “Essentially I am evangelist: I just want to tell people about Jesus Christ”.
In his memoirs he describes how this call worked out as a pastor in inner city Melbourne. “During my first eight years as a Pastor to the slums of inner Melbourne, I was involved in a great deal of social work. We were helping people with food, clothing, finding accommodation, helping drunks and derelicts and particularly working as Patrol Officer and Probation Officer with young offenders. I spent as much time going in and out of the courts and the jails as I did any other place. But always there was ringing that ordination charge ‘Do the work of an Evangelist’.
“In the slum ministry I sought to do this by preaching a Gospel message every Sunday night regardless of the size of the congregation. The first time I ever preached was a Gospel service and fourteen people were present, eleven of them my friends and relatives who came visiting the little inner suburban Church to give me encouragement. Every Sunday night of my life since then I have preached a Gospel message and invited people to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.”
After ministering in Ararat in country Victoria Moyes spent thirteen energetic years building up Cheltenham Church of Christ in suburban Melbourne: “They were busy years with all the demands of a very large parish that was growing from strength to strength. In the first couple of years we overcame the inertia which was in the Church, changed some of the leadership from the very tired and elderly people who were in positions of power, removed the debts that were strangling the Church and affecting all aspects of growth, saw our offerings rise incredibly as additional people came into the membership of the Church, extended property, added staff and developed three retirement villages for elderly people.”
During this time he became a sought-after preacher for large evangelistic events but he was describes how he sought to win men for Christ in his own suburb: “I started what became a habit for many, many years of making an appointment to visit one man every Tuesday lunchtime at his work and to have lunch with him wherever he ate his lunch. I only had two rules – one was that I would eat wherever he ate, and the other was that no-one would ever buy me lunch. I was not visiting for a free lunch but I was there to talk to the man about the significance of his work, of his role as a father and a husband, of any problems he had in his own life, of how he saw his relationship with God at the moment and if he would let me outline to him the facts of the Gospel, the necessity of baptism and taking his place within the membership of our Church. Visiting those men every lunchtime became a sacred duty and a wonderful opportunity of sharing the Gospel.
“Almost every lunchtime or at least once every second week I had the joy of seeing a man make a commitment to Christ and frequently this was then followed by other members of his family whom we baptised together.
“Sometimes I had lunch at the bar of a pub, out of a paper bag sitting on a footpath with my back to the factory wall, in a Board room with the finest silver and crystal, in a works canteen or in a restaurant, but wherever that man had his lunch I would sit with him and share the Gospel, doing the work of an evangelist. One by one I saw men and more often than not other members of the family coming to faith and into the membership of the Church.”
Moyes began to train others to go visiting and share the gospel, with a prayer team from small beginnings Cheltenham became a large suburban church.
“Over the years it was my privilege to baptise hundreds of adults who came to personal faith in Christ through our Tuesday night visitation evangelism. That work did more than anything else to see the Cheltenham Church of Christ grow to become one of the largest suburban Churches of any denomination in the nation.
“After a few years we had fifteen people on the paid staff of that Church and had added several million dollars worth of buildings as well as additional services and facilities for the hundreds of people who now attended each week.”
Joining the Uniting Church, to become the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, caused an unexpected controversy when the President of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), Rev. Dr. Davis McCaughey ruled that Moyes’ ordination as a Church of Christ Minister was not valid in the UCA. Moyes had to be re-ordained. Moyes remembers it this way” “There were many surprised leaders within the Uniting Church who received this news. But I must say I found the whole experience of my re-ordination a time of remarkable spiritual blessing.”
During the Moyes’ years Wesley Mission increased from $5m to $150m. At Moyes’ 2005 farewell the Wesley Treasurer, David Greatorex said “During his time as Superintendent, Wesley Mission had grown to include 150 properties, 350-400 leased properties, aged care for 2000 people, a nursing service for another 1000 people, 55 employment centres to help people into work and an annual expenditure of $150 million.”
In 2014 Christian Media Australia presented Moyes with a lifetime award for his significant media ministry. The citation listed his achievements: “Following Gordon’s appointment at Wesley Mission, his television work began under the banner of the Christian Television Association of NSW. His first program was on Channel 10 called “Turn ‘Round Australia”. Originally it was a one hour program that ran for 12 weeks. When the CTA program manager told Gordon that the program had to stop and another denomination had to have a go, Gordon bought commercial time on Channel 10 while at the same time negotiated a ‘statutory facilities and time’ deal on Channel 9.
“Turn ‘Round Australia” began a weekly half hour program, broadcast on many television stations around the country, consistently running for over 20 years.
“During Gordon Moyes’ 27 years as Superintendent there were several other seasonal documentary series, specials, television series and radio programs produced such as: The Discovering Series, The Christmas Pageant, the music video show Swordfish and Sunday Night Live.
“The ‘Discovering’ series, was recognised around the world for its innovation. The series looked at the life of Jesus and then the growth of the early Christian church and was based on three books written by Gordon, who hosted the series on camera. The series was filmed throughout many historic sites mentioned in the New Testament.
“This unique video series set a new standard in Australian Christian television.
“In 1985, Gordon was invited to take over the 8pm to Midnight Sunday night slot on 2GB. Sunday Night Live with Gordon Moyes which ran for nearly 18 years.”
Moyes by all accounts was a strong leader. This meant that not everyone would have agreed with his actions: taking Wesley into the Federal Government Job Network, and founding a tertiary education body with a big arts emphasis – Wesley Institute (now Excelsia College) would have been controversial. Criticising the Uniting Church for having gay leaders – and for staying in the UCA despite this – is another example of Moyes’ taking a strong stance.
In a 1997 lecture Moyes described the tensions in the UCA this way: “How inconceivable that we are now entering a stage in history where the press praises the public admission of immorality within the Church! Where a Church minister prides herself on deviation from Christian morals and defies the church to remove her from leadership! Today we confront the consequences of moral neutrality. We need a fresh emphasis upon Jesus as Lord and Christ, who was more than just a Galilean thinker, but who was God’s Son who died upon a Cross to free us from our sin, liberate us from guilt and bring us into a new, moral and Godly fellowship with each other and God.”
During his time in Parliament Moyes famously fell out with Fred Nile, his Christian Democrat leader, and joined Family First. It is sad that this late controversy will have coloured his memory.
Preacher, evangelist, a builder of Christian institutions, a manager, and a Parliamentarian: Gordon Moyes had a career that might have taken up several lifetimes.