Residents meetings, changeovers, award nights, fundraisers, farewells, welcomes the list is endless. Sometimes I’ll expect 20 people to be in attendance and I arrive and the community hall is full other times the place is empty. At times I think I’ll be home in an hour and still be there hours later.
Last weekend was a classic example. Saturday started without too many surprises as I headed down to Cowes to watch the Phillip Island vs Cora Lynn fourths game. Nice and chilly. Caught up with a few locals who were keen to express their views on the health hub, police station, etc. Even had a laugh as the runner chased a pair of Cape Barren geese off the ground during play to avoid a collision, with the birds coming off second best.
Then off to Koo Wee Rup Football Club sponsors’ lunch. Fantastic club, KWR. Volunteers at their finest. It’s all hands on deck with former players serving the meals and pulling beers behind the bar. Strange feeling being waited on by the same people that chased a young Pakenham footballer around the ground trying to knock his head off in the early `80s. We’ve all moved on!
Straight back down to Cowes for flag presentations at the Phillip Island Scout Hall. They were proud to be presented with an Australian, Victorian and Aboriginal flag, followed by a smoking ceremony.
So far so good. The weekend was all going to plan.
A good night’s sleep and ready for the farewell service for Pastor Craig Semple from the Phillip Island Baptist Church.
I met Craig a couple of years ago when I was invited to the monthly men’s breakfast in Cowes. Craig had initiated the get together some years ago as a support group for men on the island to simply enjoy each other’s company and share a few stories. I warmed to Craig immediately and we developed a healthy friendship.
Craig is a “giver”. A giver is instantly recognisable. Warm, great communicator, humble. During a conversation, givers often say things that only sink in hours or sometimes days later. That’s when you reflect on the words and fully understand the meaning. Givers don’t deliberately set out to be givers. It comes naturally to them. And they don’t expect anything in return but appreciate it when it comes.
So off I headed to the Baptist Church on Sunday morning to farewell Craig and his family, not knowing quite what to expect. For your information I was raised a Catholic. Dad was strict, Mum wasn’t. Dad ruled, so off we headed to Mass each weekend. Fair to say when I find myself in a Catholic church these days, things have barely changed. Priests, altar boys, hymns, readings, Eucharist, more hymns, stand up, sit down, kneel, sit, stand up, sit down. Be quiet until you get outside.
The Baptist church was different. I sensed it from the moment I walked in. Not fancy or pretentious. No pews, just fold-up chairs. I was shown to my front row reserved seat. More Punt Road than Etihad. In front of me was a stage. Not an altar. Musical instruments. Not an organ.
I was seated between Pastor Michael and Pastor Rebecca, who both introduced themselves to me. They seemed friendly and showed a genuine interest on who I was and why I was there.
After a short chat the band took the stage, the musical instruments fired up and the words rolled across the screen. Large enough to read without my glasses.
The band was young. In fact when I looked around there were many young people. More than I had seen at any other function I had attended. And everyone seemed involved. The hands were clapping, feet were tapping and suddenly people around me put their arms in the air.
Not renowned for my dancing skills but seated in the front row, I needed to do something. Start with a foot tap, I thought to myself. Can’t go too far wrong. So foot tap I did. Conscious of keeping the beat I felt the urge to clap my hands. Seemed to be going well as I sang along.
Thank god for choruses, I thought to myself as the words started to sound familiar. Slight rock to the left and right, little bit of a body roll and suddenly I felt right at home. Craig looked across and gave me a wink as I started my shoulder shrugs. Not too much. Didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Resisted the urge to lead the nutbush and macarena and certainly not a conga line. Just enough to get a pass mark.
The expression “My father would be turning in his grave if he could see me now” entered my mind. Only thing is Dad is safely tucked into his bed in a nursing home in Pakenham. I had rung him on the way to the church to tell him that I was heading to Mass. That’s great, said Dad, where? Baptist Church in Cowes, I said. Only the Catholics have Mass, Dad quickly replied. You should know that!
I didn’t bother to ring him on the way home.
The entire congregation were rocking as one. Each to their own beat but as one collective unit. It was something I hadn’t experienced before. Difficult to describe. But different. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening but it felt good. An overwhelming sense of enjoyment. I couldn’t help but admire what I was seeing. Respect. Young and old. Men, women, boys and girls. Hands in the air, singing, dancing, praying. Happy.
As I walked to my car I had a spring in my step. I was confused, excited, reflective and a little guilty. I was a Catholic, after all.
I can’t explain what I felt, why the church was full, why so many young people were involved and why everyone was so enthusiastic and engaged. But whatever the secret they should keep doing it.
If I asked them for the secret I think I know how they would answer.
Goodbye Craig. If people are judged by the legacy they leave then you will be judged well.