Kenneth Gilbert Frewer – A Tribute
Over 400 people attended Ken Frewer’s funeral in Perth on January 25. God was greatly glorified in it all. The following is a tribute presented by Bishop Tony Nichols.
The large number gathered here today; the interstate phone calls and activity on social media testify to the widespread sense of loss and unbelief at the passing of Ken Frewer.
Over the past three months no royalty would have had more visitors to their hospital bed than Ken – many of them young people and overseas students to whom he was a mentor and father figure. Few left his side without a reading from the Bible, the Prayer Book or the CMS Prayer Diary.
Ken had a remarkable ministry of friendship which attracted people from all walks of life. He was a man of culture, an excellent pianist and a great conversationalist. But it was his interest in people, his memory for personal details and his thoughtfulness that had an impact on so many.
Scores of people asked him to baptize their children or to be a godparent. He kept track of those children over the years and often officiated at their weddings, as he did for one of our sons.
I personally got to know Ken 45 years ago when he left the public service to train for the ordained ministry at Moore Theological College. He graduated with an Honours BD and Th. Schol. After curacies at Vaucluse and Pymble he was commissioned by the Church Missionary Society for service with the CMS team in Indonesia. (He had done Indonesian studies in his Arts degree). The Protestant Church of Irian Jaya (GKI) appointed him as its first university chaplain in 1977.
Former CMS colleagues, Frank and Diane Gee summarize their memory of Ken:
“Ken Frewer was deeply committed to nurturing and encouraging people. During his seven years in Irian Jaya (now called West Papua), he spent most of his time connecting: with students, other field workers, and older clergy. He was not daunted by the difficulty of the task. Mostly he had to create his job description as he went along, seeking to establish relationships with students where they were. He often accompanied them to their villages during the holidays. One memorable Christmas had him eating dry rice for Christmas dinner in a remote sea-side village.
He was a wonderful colleague for the Gee family, and was greatly loved by our children, for whom he was 'Uncle Ken'. He loved reading to them and telling hilarious stories of his adventures - including one notorious yarn of his encounter with an old lady when he was shaking hands with the congregation after preaching in a church in the mountainous interior of the province. The squishiness of the handshake belatedly informed him that he had seized the wrong part of her anatomy!
One time as Ken was waiting to catch a plane with a group of Papuan clergy heading for Synod, a large American standing nearby asked him in a loud voice, "Ken, would you say these brothers are on fire for the Lord?" Ken surveyed the group who were desperately finishing their cigarettes before boarding the plane and answered, "Well, I guess where there's smoke there has to be fire!"
Ken was a good teacher of the Scriptures, and served as an effective lecturer in Old Testament at the GKI theological college.
He was ecumenical in spirit, occasionally sharing fellowship and a glass of schnapps with teachers at the Roman Catholic seminary just across the road. He also sought to relate well to American Baptists who were initially suspicious of Australian Anglicans. He said, "It's really all about relationships: that is what will last". And when he was no longer in Irian as a missionary Ken kept up connections with folk he knew. For year afterwards he still visited different parts of Indonesia to meet up with people from his student chaplain days”.
May I add there are said to be quite a few boys in Indonesia who were given the name “Ken” at birth alongside their indigenous name – such was the gratitude for his friendship. So, if you ever visit those parts don’t be surprised, if you come across a Wospakrik Ken, or a Rajapono Ken or a Susilo Ken.
On a more serious note I should record Ken’s deep indignation at the unjust treatment of the native Papuans by the Javanese dominated Indonesian Government. Last year he read me a letter he had sent to the Indonesian Ambassador and copied to the Australian Foreign Minister. It reminded the Government that they would have to answer on the Day of Judgement for their treatment of West Papuans.
Ken’s whole identity was as a missionary of Jesus Christ. So it was natural for him on return from Indonesia in 1984 to serve for a year as Home Education Secretary of CMS (NSW) under Peter Tasker. Then came the invitation to cross the continent to take up the position of WA Secretary of CMS. That was not an easy decision. It was not just the issue of leaving his home constituency, where he was very popular. But he was also struggling to know whether he should get married. In the end he decided he was called to the celibate life. Other ladies subsequently made known their willingness but his course had been irrevocably set.
For twenty years Ken traversed the length and breadth of this vast state by car or by bus. Lonely clergy were encouraged, remote congregations heard lively expositions of the Bible, and hundreds of homes were entertained and blessed. His hosts always received a thank you card and words of encouragement.
Despite the general liberal catholic nature of the Anglican Church in WA, Ken was able to promote the work of CMS in parishes which had never known an evangelical ministry. This was partly because of his convivial nature but also a result of deliberate strategy. He regularly turned up at the most deadly ecclesiastical events, including Inductions of new ministers. The new incumbent would thank him and vaguely mention that Ken must come and preach some time. Within a month Ken would ring to fix a date.
On one of his deputations in the early nineties, Ken had a near fatal car accident at Sandstone in the remote Murchison. From then on, when driving long distances he sought company: often a young man he was mentoring or evangelizing, a Korean student, a Japanese tourist or a trainee pilot from China.
I note in our Visitor’s Book (where Ken’s name appeared regularly) that on 27th January 2003, the signature and address of another travel companion “Thalia Archontides” is recorded. And underneath is written,” Ken Frewer, proud uncle of Thalia.”
Ken’s faithfulness in this remarkable ministry was recognized when he was made a Canon of Holy Cross Cathedral, Geraldton in 2001 and subsequently elected a life Vice President of CMS after his retirement in 2004.
Friends, you will all have your own vivid memories of Ken Frewer - many of you from the fellowship of St Matt’s Shenton Park which meant so much to him. Some of you will have been on tours with him to Java or Kalimantan, or gone swimming or rowing or been taken to hear the WA Symphony Orchestra.
I trust you can find in my memoir things that resonate with your own experience of Ken’s friendship and his missionary heart. Both of these qualities sprang, of course, from his acceptance of God’s Word in Scripture: “We love, because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Bishop Tony Nichols
25th January, 2013 AD.
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