The authority of Nairn Kerr

August 14 2005
I read this week about the Reforming Alliance's determination to get "the question of sexuality" onto the agenda of Assembly 2006. (New Times August 2005) and, I watched many of my mentors in the Faith file past Nairn Kerr's coffin. They're all so old.... Alan, Avis, Geoff. My contemporary, Peter, was there, grey, and a bit grizzled. We were at uni together. I guess he's how I look! We are old together.

For some reason, it had occurred to me in the week before Nairn's death that I am nearly one of the 'old ones.' I've spent my life with people to look up to, people who were my mentor, and a point of authority in my life. Now they are old and some are dying . I am the age they were, when they met me and began to love me. I feel somehow that I am responsible  for me in a new way. I have "grown up" a little bit more. In many ways, there is no one to fall back on. There are fewer who are older and wiser. My mentors are my age now- and even younger.

When I was young in the church, there was Nairn. He was a friend. He made me welcome. He was there- his house was open. When we came back from the bush, he was there. On those long early morning walks, miles across the suburbs with an unsleeping baby, Nairn and Jill were there for breakfast before the long walk back. When I was ill, years later, it was Nairn who came to visit.

He was a father in the faith- more than I realised. He gave me authority for my life. He believed in me, encouraged me, and spoke up for me.

And at his funeral I saw my other mothers and fathers are aging. The people-scape of my life for decades is eroding away.  (I am challenged about who and what I will be in the new geography.)

These people have been pioneers in the faith for me. They are people who have gone before, like the Christ before them. As Christs they have been part of the non-institutional authority of the church. Because I am clergy, some of them have also been part of the formal authority of the church; Marelle, Don, Charles, Margaret. It works well, when it works. Even the Moderator has his chaplain. We each have colleagues, elders, and ministers, and each of us can minister to another. There is always someone who will care. It is a benevolent authority, based- rooted- in compassion, measured against justice, modelled upon the stories of Christ our pioneer. An authority that feels wrongly named given that so much "authority" we see is corrupt or shallow.

Life can be devastating in its loneliness. Sometimes, when I meet those who are alone after trauma, deserted by, or lacking family, I see the strength of the church. I am astounded by the care I have been shown by those who had no reason to care, except that I was a brother in faith. When we were destitute, without house or money, too ill to work, the church provided. Even in its failing me, the church made CentreLink look mean, pedantic and pathetic.

But God protect us against those spiritual misanthropes like hardline EMU's and Reforming Alliance. "Authority" there is based in right belief. These are the new gnostics, claiming the knowledge of what is right, and the new Pharisees, handing out salvation and love on the basis of doctrinal purity. Come all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest- if you beljeve the right things.

I didn't see any of that crowd at the funeral- few of those for whom Nairn was college chaplain as well as ministry colleague. Instead I saw colleagues who used to get frustrated with Nairn's enthusiasms- which he sometimes couldn't seem to follow through on. And people who argued with him. They were there because what matters is not being right. What matters is love and friendship and compassion founded in the Christ. The big Kent Town church was not full at his funeral because he was right. It was full because of his generous pioneering of the way.   Andrew Prior

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