IN MY END IS MY BEGINNING
Canon Andrew Neaum
I arrived in the Diocese of Wangaratta in 1996, a refugee from the Diocese of Ballarat. I came with a wife, four children, two cats and several budgerigars. Our means of conveyance was not a leaky boat, but what my two girls’ schoolmates had derisively christened a “vegie van”.
Hail and farewell
I leave the Diocese of Wangaratta in 2013, a retiree in a freighter, not a refugee in a “vegie van”. Diana and I head off across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal to Philadelphia in the United States. There we will meet up for three or four brief days with another Wangaratta old boy, Father Peter French, a Chaplain at Princeton. Then we catch another freighter which will deposit us in Antwerp. From there we will find our way to England.
It has taken me sixty seven years since my birth to drift ever further and further eastward back to where I began. The slowest of circumnavigations. Since the age of six England has been to me over and over again both destination and point of departure, “ave atque vale”, “hail and farewell”, but always back to, rather than right round to. To approach the land of my birth, my cultural home, from the west by travelling east is different, is a circle completed, a vocation fulfilled, a retirement tentatively achieved.
Not always entirely honourable
My time in Wangaratta Diocese has been blessed but not always easy. I allowed myself to become involved in diocesan politics. I have been a strong and active proponent of the ordination of women in a Diocese whose Establishment for most of my time was very much the opposite. Too articulate and outspoken for my own good, too insensitive and scornful in telling to those in authority brute truth as I see, I have a few scars to bear for my presumption. All in a good cause though, even if sometimes almost asked for. My motives, after all and as always, too often mixed and so not always entirely honourable.
Essentially a parish priest rather than a diocesan priest, I was dandled by parishioners on their knees from my birth into an English Vicarage in 1945. It is my parishes that have kept me sane and in touch with the wellspring of genuine faith, love and trust.
I have been a parish priest for thirty eight years in seven parishes, happy in them all. My contentment has been in part due to an awareness of and openness about my own fallibilities and foibles. This has enabled me to feel and be recognised as much myself a parishioner as a priest, genuinely a part of the parish family, rather than an imposed “holier than thou” fraud and mountebank from outside.
Whatever fundamental sanity there is in Anglicanism, it resides more in the parish than in even the best of Dioceses. So thank you and farewell Wangaratta Diocese, but especially to your parishes. In particular St John’s Wodonga and St Augustine’s Shepparton, splendid, loving and forgiving, cockles-of-your-heart warming communities, heady mixtures of saint, sinner, rat bag, do-well and ne’er do well.
Our farewell is an ambivalent farewell, I am pleased to say. Another case of “ave atque vale”. We will be frequently returning. In the parish of Benalla there reside three of the Diocese’s most adorable parishioners. They will pull us back and back and back, granddaughters Meg, Susan and Hetty, as too their splendid parents.
My retirement too is ambivalent. I hope to remain a parish priest, but unsalaried, offering two days a week plus Sundays for nothing except a house. This is called “House for Duty” in England and should be hugely rewarding, the joys of the vocation with little of the stress. It is one of the ways rural parishes are able to maintain ministry. My parish priesting up until now has all been in Africa and Australia. So “In my End is my Beginning...” I return to make an end where it all began, in the country parish priesting of my father and my grandfather.