Saturday, 16 March 2013

Believe as you will

Religion has always been important in our family, and my family history, particularly on Dad's side, is an exercise in the difficult relations between Catholic and Protestant in Australian history. Dad's mum was raised Protestant by her father's sisters, but her mother and the rest of her family were Catholic, and it caused no end of friction and ill-feeling. Mum's family is a different mix. There were a number of Catholic-Protestant marriages (although George Pearce, who remained firmly Protestant throughout his life, was baptised and confirmed in the Catholic faith in the last month of his life, when the fight had gone out of him, so it must have bothered his wife, Catherine Keefe. She also got him to marry her the same day, after about 40 years together). The Kerswells were all members of the Latter Day Saints, both in England and then out here (they arrived in South Australia in 1849). William Kerswell disappeared while moving the family to New South Wales and sent them a letter 35 years later, urging them all to join him in the US, where he had been living with his new wife and family. After the struggle to survive in the intervening years, quite a lot of the family were understandably angry and expressed that anger by leaving the Church, although William's first wife, Hannah Maria ni Rhymes, kept her faith and eventually joined her husband in Utah. The marriage struggled, however, and Hannah died alone in a different town to William Kerswell and his American family.

Anne Groves Leonard and her husband Laurence O'Toole, although both brought up Anglican, became Christadelphians when they moved to Sydney, as did her sister Lucy and her husband George Puzey. Anne's and Lucy's headstones are testaments to their faith.

Women in the family active in religion - the obvious choice is my mother. Mum's beliefs have always been important to her, but she has always taught us the importance of thinking for ourselves and of being flexible. She has tried had to not be judgemental or didactic.

Mum was a missionary in Bangladesh with Dad in the late 1960s and when they came home (because of the Independence war) Dad went into the Baptist ministry, so Mum had to be a pastor's wife. In those days churches could pay what they liked and they pretty much insisted on a two-for-one offer - the minister AND his wife. So Mum took Bible studies and taught Sunday School and ran morning teas. I remember her telling us Bible stories and doing drawings while she spoke to illustrate the action. The funniest thing Mum did was arrange a talk with slides for the local Church women about her time as a missionery. She happily showed them slides of a Hindu temple and only realised part way through that the stone carvings were rather earthy and explicit (she hadn't noticed when she had taken the photos).

Mum never liked being an unpaid worker for Dad's church, and eventually said enough was enough (well, she did have six kids to care for, too), but that is different to having a belief system and living according to a creed. Mum has always done that. She has always been ready to help others, has always been kind and compassionate and has always been willing to share her faith with others, but has never done this where it was not sought or in a way that judges or belittles. She keeps an open mind and takes an interest in the beliefs of others and of other religions.

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