These are for Anita and me our twilight years. Ageing and loss are sad realities of the passing years but there is the joy of engaging with now middle-ageing children and vibrant emerging grandchildren. But most of all there is the existential anticipation of renewal in God’s good kingdom. Ageing and loss deepens hope.
Apart from routine ailments of the septuagenarian and octogenarian years I have been blessed with good health, although all the while aware of slippage, including memory. What is it about names? You are poised to mention a name, and it just takes wings and flies away. Thankfully it mostly flies back later.
I was glad to retire as a serving bishop at 66. Freedom! No more meetings to attend or pastoral crises to resolve. My time was now my own and it was and is great to be living in our own home. Anita and I joined a church and threw ourselves into various forms of ministry through which we have developed deep and abiding friendships. Our church family is a much valued parallel to our personal family. In both we are deeply blessed and feel appreciated and valued.
For Anita that means pastoral fellowship and support of some older ladies as well as having served on the board of what was Anglican Retirement Villages. Her nursing experience and involvement in geriatric care at St Vincent’s were very helpful on the Care Committee of the ARV. For Paul it means preaching periodically, leading an annual mid-week congregational teaching series, leading a largish weekly Bible Study group and being member of a small, monthly men’s group.
Until covid I was leading a fortnightly Bible Study for a dozen or so Supreme Court judges. This has been quite a challenge as well as a privilege. These are highly intelligent and experienced men and women who provide superb service to the community. I am grateful to successive principals of Moore College for opportunities to teach. This is my final year. Apart from our six years in Adelaide I have had unbroken connection with the college since 1960 — as student, lecturer, half-time lecturer, part-time lecturer. Lecturer emeritus.
I have also been part of a small Macquarie University committee that publishes the journal New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity. My association with high level scholars of classical antiquity along with travels to the lands of the Bible have contributed to my understanding of the texts of the New Testament. My main work 2002-2022 has been writing. Since retirement I have had published sixteen papers in peer reviewed journals and twenty books including five commentaries.
In these past twenty years Anita and I have travelled overseas, mostly leading study groups to Jordan- Israel, Turkey-Greece, and Malta-Sicily-Italy. It has been rewarding to see group-members deepening their Bible understanding in the setting of visiting the actual biblical sites. We have also visited the cities of the great reformers Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and also to Oxford, to be reminded of the faithfulness of the martyr bishops. One highlight was to visit missionary friends in Damascus and to travel throughout Syria. There have also been ministry visits to Canada, the US, South Africa, the UK, Singapore, Thailand. I also visited China twice to teach at universities in Chengdu, Wuhan, Shanghai and Shangchun. We also visited Uberaba in Brazil, where Anita was born and visited the grave of her missionary father, Alexander Simpson.
The pandemic probably means the end of overseas travel.
There are many challenges at this stage of life. Not least is the sense that our country along with other western cultures are moving away from Christian faith and values. I remain confident in the power of God working through clear and strong preaching in the setting of insightful pastoral ministry and warmhearted congregational fellowship. Today many instruments for ministry seem closed off to us, crusade evangelism or street evangelism, for example.
But the local church is and always has been a potential for reaching the outsider. That, certainly, was my experience many years ago. Likewise, very important are the many faith-based schools.
In one of his Synod addresses former archbishop Mowll encouraged Anglican laypeople to consider engaging vocationally in public office, a call I believe issued in a number of laypeople seeking election in local, state and federal politics. The standard of political discourse and service is and always will be open to improvement, so the challenge is there for our laypeople today.
So for us the ‘Fourth Quarter’ has been a challenge, as for others, but also very fulfilling. Our ‘golden’ years.
Bishop Paul Barnett is the former Bishop of North Sydney and has lectured at Moore College for many decades. He is the author of many books and is married to Anita.