• Canon Paul Black, Rector

A funeral and a baptism

Recently, it was my privilege to conduct the funeral at St John’s of eminent Australian, Professor John Deeble. He has been called the ‘father of Medicare’. His work led to the establishment of Medicare in its original guise of Medibank during the term of the Whitlam government.

Former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard tweeted, “I honour the life and work of John Deeble. His dedication to quality health care for all Australians made Medicare among our greatest national achievements. I appreciated working with him. We are grateful for his vision, commitment, and leadership to advance our public health.”

Former Governor-General and Labor Leader, Bill Hayden, was unable to attend the funeral because of ill-health. He gave honour and remembered his colleague and friend in a letter that was read as one of the eulogies.

It reminded me of TV and press reports that Bill Hayden, who was known for being a vocal and even hostile atheist, was baptised recently at the age of 85.

He was the first Governor-General to make an affirmation, rather than an oath on the Bible. John Howard said appointing Mr Hayden Governor-General was "a bit like appointing an atheist as Archbishop of Canterbury".

His antipathy to the church was tested when he and his wife Dallas lost their eldest daughter Michaela in 1966. She was just five when she was knocked down by a car as she ran across a road.

"Don't think I was an atheist just by chance. I thought a lot about it, and I still have questions," he said.

He said it was witnessing so many selfless acts of compassion by Christians over his lifetime, and deep contemplation while recovering from a stroke, that prompted his decision.

In a letter to family and friends, he explained that the Christian principles of “humanity, social commitment and service to others” aligned with his personal and political values, had guided his return to the Catholic faith.

“Christianity represents for me the qualities I have attempted to apply in my life but from now on will strive to uphold, with faith,” he wrote.

Mr Hayden described his baptism ceremony as an ethereal and uplifting experience. “I think some people might even sneer at me, but that is life,” he said. “I decided I needed it. I’m pleased I did it and know that I did the right thing.”

Whenever it happens, whether as a baby, child or adult, baptism is at the heart of an amazing journey of faith as a follower of Jesus Christ. People are never too old to take this step!

- excerpts from ABC and The Australian


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