A High Churchman in Hobart

It is my first day at work in the Royal Hobart Hospital. Apart from my bride, I know no-one in this town. From the far side of the ward I become aware of a wide smile upon a moon face. The face sits above a clerical collar and a generous body and it is moving relentlessly closer to me. The nearer it comes, the wider the smile, until it is upon me and I am a bit wary.

I don’t know this bloke and he doesn’t know me. Why is he so happy to see me? It can only be the yarmulka on my head that attracts him.

I sense the imminence of uninvited salvation.

Friar Tuck sticks out his hand. The hand is soft and warm and firm. Hello, he says, welcome to the Royal. I’m Father Jim.

This bloke is irresistibly charming. I say – I’m about to go home to eat. How do you like Indonesian cooking, Father Jim? My wife is making fish, it’s a new recipe – would you like to join us?

Jim accepts and is delighted to meet Annette. He makes no comment about the fine garfish bones which are inextricable from Annette’s delectable Indonesian sauce.

It turns out that Jim is the Anglican chaplain at the hospital. That is his day job. By night and at weekends, he is one of the founders of a tiny Order of celibate Christian men who provide refuge for people who are lost or homeless or in crisis. They call their Community St. Michael’s Priory.

Every needy person, every demanding, manipulative and lost person in Hobart comes to the community and is greeted by wide smile Jim.

Celibate himself, Jim marries everyone else at the Royal. Nurses, doctors, morticians and clerks – Jim ushers them all into matrimony. But Jim’s best efforts are not proof against the rising tide of divorce that washes away his marriages. So he stops marrying people.

Father Jim joins us for Shabbat meals on Friday night. He reads the Haggadah with us at Passover, recounting our exodus from Egypt.

We leave Hobart but whenever he can, Jim visits us in Melbourne for Shabbat or Passover.

Years later, he leaves the Royal and the Priory and becomes a prison chaplain, then a chaplain to the dying in Melbourne. He welds himself to our children with the warmth of his smile. He comes to Synagogue with us, collarless, wearing one of my yarmulkas, and soon is taken for an Israeli.

He retires and goes to live in England, writing to us, posting us cuttings from texts by his favourite religious leader, Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi.

Over 35 years Father Jim is our friend. He celebrates the religious differences between us.

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