‘A STRANGE TRAJECTORY’
A big hello to everyone from me – it’s Michael, the new minister! I am so excited to be here with you at Blackwood that it’s a little hard keeping a lid on it at times! The welcome I have received so far has been gracious and heartfelt, and I really look forward to meeting everyone over the coming weeks. In the meantime, a bit of background about me might be in order.
The life trajectory that has brought me here is, well, strange. I was born to Irish parents, and so was raised Catholic (you don’t get a choice in the matter!). My childhood faith didn’t stick though and, in my early twenties, I went absent without leave from the Christian faith, becoming for ten or more years a couldn’t-care-less agnostic. During this time, I studied science at university, and then worked initially as an analytical chemist, before moving into the field of scientific instrumentation sales, service and technical support. I married and had two beautiful sons, but my marriage did not last, with my then wife and I separating. Some months after the split I had a life-changing experience that profoundly altered the trajectory of my life, both internal and external and, as a result, I embarked on a quest to discover or perhaps to rediscover this ‘God’ that I had rejected many years earlier. My quest took me on many highways and byways, through an exploration of many religious faiths and belief systems, before finally I was led back, full of surprise and wonder, into the Christian faith, only now within the Uniting Church. At the beginning of this extraordinary period of exploration I met the love of my life, Joy. Together, we formed a blended family, with my two little boys and Joy’s three older children (two boys and a girl), one of whom had already left home. It has been a source of enduring delight for Joy and I that our kids have got on so well together, remaining close friends into adulthood. Joy and I also started our own self-employed business where we acted as the South Australian sales, service and technical support representatives for a number of scientific instrument firms, including Hewlett Packard. It was a wonderful, challenging, intellectually stimulating 12 years of working together. During that same period, our involvement with the Uniting Church continued to increase until one day I received a proverbial ‘tap on the shoulder’ about ordained ministry. “Who? Me? No way!” Hmmm…as it turned out, “Yes way!”
Since Joy and I were a couple who never did anything by halves, not only did I commence a full-time Batchelor of Ministry degree, but Joy also simultaneously started a double degree in Social Work and Social Planning! It was brilliant and we both loved it! For the first year, everything went swimmingly. Joy was loving her studies, including the intellectual and social engagement with her university friends, and also revelling in her part-time work as a carer for disabled children. Her life was rich and full until, cruelly, unfairly, it was all taken away, virtually overnight. As a result of a hyperallergic reaction to a particular medication, Joy suffered an acute health crisis. Whilst she survived it, a large part of her lungs were destroyed and she received the news that she would be on oxygen 24/7 for the rest of her life.
Joy was forced to adapt to a new reality of great pain, and a significantly diminished capacity to do those things she had loved to do, a capacity that continued to decline, year by year.
Together, we came to terms with this new reality. I completed my degree, and commenced aged care chaplaincy with Eldercare, something which I continued, and loved, for six years. During this time, as well as being Joy’s husband, I was also her carer, assisting her with those things she could no longer do.
At the beginning of 2018, I left my chaplaincy work, in order to be home full-time with Joy. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Joy continued to decline during the year, but me being at home gave us the time and the space to reconnect at a very deep level. The last year we spent together was just the best!
In the nearly ten years of her chronic ill-health, Joy demonstrated extraordinary courage as, little by little, her capacities fell away, and as her level of pain increased. The end, when it came last November, was rapid, being only four hours from Joy’s collapse to her death. During these four hours, she was surrounded by those she loved, she was able to speak and to hear words from loved ones interstate and overseas. She died pain-free, anxiety-free, and knowing deeply that she was loved. It was a good death in every sense of the term.
As for me, I miss the love of my life greatly. Scattering her ashes at her childhood home of Corindi Beach was extremely painful, but also very beautiful. The overarching feeling I have now is not grief, but rather an immense sense of gratitude for the life and love we shared, fully and without regret, for 24 years. Now, the next phase of my life has commenced, and it is with joy and wonder that I find myself here at Blackwood Uniting Church. How lucky am I?!