Australian Days 3 – Crocodiles, COffee and Churches

Saturday 10th to Sunday 11th January

Kangaroo Valley
Nowra is about two hours drive down the coast from Sydney. At 32,000 it is the largest town in the Shoalhaven area. Driving here from the North West was fascinating as we came through a place called Kangaroo Valley – it is stunning. You enter by a steep mountain pass, and you leave by a steep mountain pass. In the valley itself it is full of green grass, water and grazing cows. I suspect it’s the nearest thing to a Swiss valley you will get in the Southern Hemisphere. (Incidentally I love the way that Australians when they want to boast about something being the best will often say ‘it’s the biggest/best in the Southern Hemisphere, rather than the best in Australia!). If you get a chance, don’t just drive along the coast road, head inland to Kangaroo valley – you won’t be disappointed – except there are no kangaroos!

Nowra itself is a typically sleepy small town – it reminded me a lot of the kind of towns you get in the Southern US – with the same spacious layout and style of housing. The weather is wonderful. We are in mid-summer here and the people were a bit disappointed that there has been rain and the temperature was even down as low as 22 degrees. For us it’s like a Scottish heat wave – and the rain is very welcome – it makes everything much greener.

Reading and Coffee
Whilst on holiday I enjoy reading as much as I can. I have loved Os Guinness’s “Renaissance’ and am currently working through John Stubb’s biography of John Donne – there is something ethereal about reading the poetry of Donne on a New South Wales beach! But I have also loved reading Bill Bryson’s “Down Under”. He is such an intelligent, amusing and informative writer. When I grow up I want to be able to write travel books like him!

We are staying with Becky’s in-laws and suffice it to say that their hospitality beats the Carrington! The coffee is wonderful. I am now convinced that a proper coffee machine is a good investment for any home where good coffee is almost a necessity.

Crocodiles and Koalas
One of the marvellous things about Australia is that it has a variety of animals that you just don’t get anywhere else in the world. I was pretty keen to see kangaroos, koalas and wombats. So we headed to a small private zoo called Shoalhaven Zoo. Now zoos are not really my cup of tea (the only exception so far being Emmen zoo in the Netherlands), but Shoalhaven was well worth it. Its small but the interactive ‘shows’ are well worth the entrance price. The koalas were funny – they have got to be the laziest animal ever (maybe apart from the Sloth). They sleep for 18-22 hours per day and barely move for the remainder. I’m amazed they are not extinct already. The other animals were almost as fascinating but the highlight was undoubtedly the crocodile show. There are a couple of crocs here – one male and one female. The former is massive. Watching him being fed and listening to the lecture on how they hunt their prey (the phrase ‘easy meat’ took on a whole new meaning) was absorbing enough. But when you know what happened here a few months ago it is even more absorbing. Have a look at this!

First Sermon in Australia
On Sunday I preached my first sermon in Australia – I was going to be Australian and say in the Southern Hemisphere, but I have actually preached in South Africa, so that would not be the truth. Nowra Baptist church is an interesting church – it meets in a large hanger like building with excellent facilities and car parking. Most interestingly it runs Nowra Christian school which caters for about 350 pupils. It is wonderful that this small town has two Christian schools (the Anglican being the other – with 900 pupils). How is this possible? Because the Australian government has an enlightened policy of subsidising each pupil in ‘private’ education by around $10,000 (Australian – that’s about £5,000). If only our more militant atheistic secularists in the UK could grasp this – it is possible to be a secular government and to support Christian based education.

The Baptist Church
The church seems to be your typical largely middle class, white evangelical Baptist congregation – several young families, a good mix of ages and of course the usual problems of personality clashes, church politics and frictions caused by human sinfulness and disillusionment and the usual joys caused by the Holy Spirit working in and through His Word. I was impressed with the set up and with the people I met. Three people in particular made an impression – the young man who led the prayer was excellent – he was prepared, spiritual and there was a degree of depth and earnestness that was edifying to hear. Another lady was very appreciative of the sermon and clearly was helped by it (is there anything more that a preacher can ask – other than people are helped and God is glorified through the preaching of his Word?). And then there was George – a retired man whose warmth, humour, passion and love for my daughter shone through. He struck me as one of those ‘salt of the earth’ Christians who also shines as a light of the world.

The Anglican Church
In the evening we went to the Anglican Church which I assume was typically Aussie Anglican, in the Sydney mould. They had a mission on with 60 young people having come from all over NSW and beyond. I guess that somewhat swamped and distorted the normal congregation, but again it was good to see, hear and participate in the worship of God. The preacher was a retired bishop, whose infectious enthusiasm and jovial matey Aussie humour, was matched by his simplicity. I don’t mean that in a negative way. The sermon was very simple and clear – but biblical and no less profound because of that. Personally I would prefer a little more ‘meat’ but I suspect, given the context and congregation, it was spot on.

Maybe it’s my Presbyterian bias but I find Anglicanism in Australia to be quite different from most Anglicanism in the UK. Overall there appears to be a spiritual liveliness and a biblical faithfulness that is heart warming and encouraging. Of course there will be many exceptions to that (just as there are exceptions to the general theological liberalism and spiritual dryness one often finds in UK Anglican churches), but at least in NSW, the Sydney Anglicans have made a considerable and lasting impact. We have a lot to learn.

Just a couple of observations to finish with – the dress code in church was very casual and yet not showy or garish in any way. I think it reflects the general relaxed and good-humoured ‘banter’ that seems to be characteristic of the Aussie psyche! The children in the Anglican Church were probably the noisiest I have heard since I was preaching in a not to be named evangelical church in the Highlands, many moons ago. I love the liveliness of children, and their participation in the church and I hope that older Christians will always be understanding and tolerant when those who are new to the church sometimes find it difficult to get their children to be still and listen. However I dislike the idolatry of children – where parents just seem to indulge wee Johnnie as he throws his toys at his sister, or cute Sarah as she throws yet another hissy fit in the middle of the sermon. I don’t blame the kids…its up to the parents to teach the children that a church service is not a playground!

And finally – I love the Aussie sense of humour. Dry, acerbic, biting and yet friendly. Any Scottish Highlander would feel very at home. My favourite at the moment was the missionary at the CMS conference who was talking about being a dentist in Africa and at the same time seeking to preach…he said he was a dental Spurgeon!

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