For the first 30 years of life, I was part of a Baptist church of around 120 in Como, just south of Perth. I don’t remember the church ever growing or shrinking dramatically from that number in three decades, save the swells of Easter or Christmas. It was a strong foundation for a young fella following Jesus and many of the opportunities I’ve had down the track had their genesis in that context.
No church is perfect, and none is without its own brands of dysfunction, but I grew up blissfully unaware of the curiosities of Como – even those close to home.
One of my lasting memories of Como was the potency of the older brigade and the strength, faithfulness and consistency of their encouragement.
A lasting legacy of the church that Jesus inaugurates is the diversity of the body. Many moving parts. We may turn that diversity into a monoculture through the narrowness of our demographic, ethnicity and life-stage and, sure, the bulk of Como was as middle-class as it comes, but my memories are of diversity, not homogeneity. That is a sweet, sweet thing.
I can’t think of many other contexts beyond the church where a young kid would regularly interact in meaningful, healthy ways with older people with whom they have no blood-relation.
For me, the steadfast cohort of older folk at Como was a constant blessing.
There was one guy who sported a bumper sticker on his Leyland P76 that proclaimed “I’m not a dirty old man just a sexy senior citizen”. He was a deacon. But I digress, this isn’t about Merv. It’s about a quartet who are etched in my memory and my heart: Daisy (Aunty Pete) Ingram, Hester Styles, and Colin and Dorothy Tranter.
Each was different in their own way.
Hester was a giant of a woman who had served on a mission in Roelands for a large chunk of her life. You wouldn’t mess with Hester more than once – she’d likely crush you under her size 15 feet. Yep, she was that big. This spinster had strength to match: a soft heart for Jesus, and a fire in her belly (it would have been an ample fire) for indigenous people and missions.
Colin and Dorothy were a married couple living in Mount Pleasant. There was a determined strength and gravity to Dorothy’s personality that was firm and unflappable, coupled with a keen, pragmatic interest in what was happening for you. Colin complemented this with a warm tenderness and long, firm handshake that would engulf your hand altogether.
Aunty Pete was perhaps the sweetest of the quartet. Not that we’re examining a premiership ladder here, but you just wanted to give her gentle hugs. Not too hard, as she looked as though you might break her if you hugged too tight. Diminutive and kind, nodding and knowing, she’d long exchanged her birth name of Daisy, though never her surname. For reasons unknown, there was never a ‘Mr Pete’ found suitable. Aunty Pete had a sparkle which was only enhanced by the small collection of vivid paisley-patterned polyester dresses she wore.
One time, at the age of 9 or 10, I gave Aunty Pete a bunch of flowers for Mothers’ Day. A spinster with an obvious love of children though none of her own, she welled up with tears on receiving them (as I am now), moved by the thought of this young kid dignifying her and her matriarchal significance.
I imagine that Mum was the catalyst for those first flowers, but she rarely had to remind me on any of the 15 – 20 Mothers’ Days that followed before Aunty Pete went to be with Jesus. I remember one last bunch of flowers at her funeral. She was a wonderful woman.
Week by week, this quartet would engage with this little scrunter, reminding me of Jesus’ love. Reminding me of the plans he had for me, the growth they saw in me, and how they’d been praying for me.
They’d ask what I’d been reading. They gave me books. They’d ask how my running was going. They’d chat about school and my relationship with Jesus with a level of interest that left me in no doubt: I mattered to them.
They encouraged me.
They showed me what a vibrant relationship with Jesus looks like for those advancing in years. They may have been a little long in the tooth, but there was a fire, a feistiness, and an infectiousness to their faith that was always fresh and vibrant. For me, it was another demonstration of the depth of God’s character and it helped me understand that there is always more in Him. We can never out-deep, out-high, out-wide the love of God and their lives testified to their passion for Jesus and their growing understanding of this truth.
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to ‘encourage one another daily and all the more as you see the day approaching’.
I understand that I’m talking about a different ‘day’ from the one to which the writer is referring, but I like to think that each of this quartet had had a revelation of the power of encouragement and, as their mortality became imminent, it acted as a catalyst to encourage more and more. It certainly seemed that way.
These days, I’m closer to the age they would have been back then than the age I was back then. I’ll often talk with groups of people about the power of encouragement and the ability they have to use that power to spur others. In fact, when I talk with new runners in the ‘Band of Sisters’ program that our run club stages, I usually talk on Day 1 about the opportunity they all have to instill courage in others with their words.
I’ll often finish that conversation by saying “if you need permission to encourage others, here it is”. I say that because overt encouragement is foreign to many. Sometimes we need a little push. Sometimes I need a little push.
Aunty Pete, Hester, Dorothy, and Colin didn’t need a push; they had it in spades, and they were doing it more and more as the day approached. The little tacker who was a beneficiary of deep drafts of that encouragement has not forgotten it either.
That’s what faithfulness looks like and how legacies are perpetuated. The revelation of that legacy was that I can be to others what they were to me. I’m still working on that. More and more as the day approaches.