Arnold, John & Heather Wood (compilers)
Unleashed: Stories from All Saints’ Booval.
JF Arnold Publications, 2021.
John Arnold and Heather Wood have done us a great service by collecting and publishing these twenty-one testimonies from parishioners at All Saints’ Booval, in celebration of the parish’s 125th anniversary. The faith journeys of the contributors had their origin in the period between 1955 and 1965, during the incumbencies of the Rev Colin Ware and his wife Judith and the Rev Don Douglass and his wife Margaret.
Booval is a working class suburb near Ipswich on the western fringes of Brisbane. Members of the parish were employed at the nearby railway workshops, woollen mills and underground coal mines. In many ways these are the stories of ordinary Australians at an ordinary Anglican parish in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Yet this was no ordinary parish, as is evidenced by the extraordinary number of children in the Sunday School and Youth Group, and the extraordinary number of parishioners who went into full time vocational ministry, including service with the Church Missionary Society and Bush Church Aid (seven ordained priests and eleven missionaries). Many lives were extraordinarily transformed. Nor was the parish wealthy or educated. Yet God in His mercy delighted to make “something out of nothing”, enabling vibrant congregational life, evangelism and discipleship, substantial property improvements and even the establishment of a half-way house for residents discharged from the nearby Goodna Mental Hospital, where the parish maintained a long-standing ministry of visitation.
Very few parishes have such a record of sending so many into ministry. Furthermore, there have been few large and dynamic Anglican parishes in working class contexts. It is therefore illuminative and helpful to discern some of the common threads woven through this tapestry: A strong commitment to corporate worship and prayer – and not just on Sundays; a commitment to expository preaching; the promotion and training in daily Bible reading and prayer, using Scripture Union resources; a massive commitment to relational children’s, youth and family ministry; a commitment to systematic gospel outreach, including parish missions; together with a commitment to global mission, evidenced in a strong local Church Missionary Society League of Youth group.
Yet this was not just busyness, even if Margaret Douglass had to call her husband from a public phone once to make an appointment to see him about Mothers Union matters! Rather, it was a transformative work of the Spirit of God through the hospitable faithfulness of humble servants who prayed and placed themselves at His disposal, unleashing and training others to similarly do so. Don Douglass, in fact, was notoriously “limited” by a stutter, especially in his preaching. Jim Stonier, onetime curate and later long-term Chaplain at The Southport School commented to the compiler, “The spirit of prayer went through everything.”
The collection makes enjoyable, interesting and encouraging reading. In one sense, the contributions could come from a number of parishes scattered across the nation, although few are as considered as this, and even fewer are published for the public good. Even so, it would be easy to dismiss them as a slice of life from a time in our Australian Anglican history when a number of individual, sociological and demographic factors came together under the work of the Spirit of God so vibrantly and so fruitfully. It is at least that, for which we can give God great thanks and praise. Yet as our Western world speeds so quickly into another Dark Age we would do well to ask the difficult “So what for us?” question. Even in the 1950’s and 1960’s Booval was a standout, and is only more so as we review it historically. It didn’t necessarily happen. Perhaps we need to prune radically the time we are being managed by our devices, so that we too can give ourselves to the ministry of prayer and the word – two very hard tasks when my emails and texts are so pressing.
Adrian Lane serves as the Victorian Regional Officer for the Bush Church Aid Society and has previously served as the Warden for the Mathew Hale Public Library in Brisbane.