Reverend Who Shows Great Concern for His Parishioners
Peter Hale was always going to be a minister. He grew up in the green, damp countryside of Shropshire, his father a Church of England Minister and his mother the daughter of an Archdeacon. He had just completed studies at Cambridge when the war broke out. His time as Chaplain on the battlefields of the Somme filled him with a horror that wouldn’t leave him, day or night. Life stretched ahead in some country rectory, writing sermons to be given in ancient stone churches on Sundays. The thought filled him with despair. In fact he wondered if he believed in God at all. A chance meeting with another ex-padre and he was introduced to the Bush Brotherhood. He was told how they “preached like Apostles and rode like cowboys.” The thought of travel, distant lands and adventure appealed. The temporary vow of chastity he dismissed as of no importance as women were the last thing he wanted right now.
Farewelling his parents he crossed the oceans before arriving in Brisbane, Australia. Here he trained with other like-minded English ministers of religion. Many had war experience and all were trying to start new lives while helping others. The ability to ride a horse was paramount and being able to communicate with people came a close second. Talking to settlers and workers on far flung outback stations, listening to their stories of bad luck or bad management and soothing their fears and worries was just as important as the performance of Holy Communion on Sundays and the celebrations of the major milestones of life.
Peter spent most of his time travelling from one small settlement or station to another but was based in Charleville where he was able to conduct services once a month. In his absence lay preachers took over the reins and delivered a variety of sermons, mostly of a tedious nature. The congregation looked forward to Peter’s mellifluous voice, his stories of the war and his mantra of helping others.
Peter realised he was looking forward to Sunday’s service with more than the usual anticipation. He wanted to see Ruby’s “family” and wondered if the father would be with them. Most of all he wanted to see Ruby. He was concerned that an attractive young woman was living with a man who appeared to have an alcohol problem and a questionable reputation. He told himself he was merely looking out for his parishioners as he began his sermon.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Peter looked towards his congregation of farmers, shopkeepers, mothers, children and the elderly. “When I say charity I don’t mean giving money to the poor in the offering, or even giving your old clothes to the needy. The translation of the word from the Greek “agape” can mean charity or … love. What is this love the Bible talks about? You might think it is love of God or God’s love for you but no. It is your love for your fellow man.”
With that he looked towards the pew where Ruby sat with her cluster of little girls, freshly scrubbed and curled in their innocence. Beside them the scowling youth sat uncomfortably, gazing out the window at the distant trees. The father was there, his eyes fixed on Peter as if he knew what he was thinking. He knew then he had good reason to be concerned about Ruby Lane.