Struggles and joys of life at the top

Sarah Barnett

Home and Away
Stuart P Robinson talks with the Rev Bruce Southwell, rector, St James', Darwin

Bruce and Julie Southwell have been serving in Christian ministry together for almost 40 years. They both signed on as team members for the Shoalhaven Heads Beach Mission in 1965 and were married at St Luke's, Dapto four years later. Bruce is the rector of St James' Anglican Church in Darwin. He began his ministry there in January 2004. Bruce describes St James' as a fairly small parish that has only recently emerged from a very difficult decade of ministry. When asked, "why Darwin?" Bruce is unequivocal; "God made it quite clear that we should be ready to move". And they did.

SPR: Why full-time ministry, Bruce?

BS: In 1979, as a civil engineer with the State government, I was transferred to Wollongong. We attended St John's, Keiraville. They were earnestly praying that the Lord would raise up people from their congregations to train as pastors and teachers at Moore College. End of story! As with all our moves, the Lord made it very clear to both Julie and me that this was the right course of action.

After Moore College we worked at Glenquarie for 3 years and then I served as rector, Riverwood parish, for 15 years.

SPR: Please set the scene in Darwin for us.

BS: Sure. The average age of the Darwin community is around 29 years. Lots of young families and pre-school kids. A great many people serve in the Armed Forces with husbands (usually) being away for very long periods of time. And families don't stay all that long. It is difficult for newcomers to develop friendships and become integrated. Relatives and grandparents are typically living in another state. This all leads to loneliness and places family unity under great pressure.

With that in mind, there are huge opportunities for churches to fill these gaps by providing teaching, fellowship and serving situations.

SPR: How will you turn those opportunities into concrete action steps?

BS: I've spent much of the year (with Parish Council) working through Peter Corney's The Gospel and the Growing Church, in order to plan for the next three years.

My emphases to date have been to (a) exercise a strong preaching and teaching ministry on Sundays with midweek small group follow-up. My goal is to encourage people to think biblically. (B) To create a gospel focus so that people will begin to care for and look to the needs of others and (c) to encourage the development of multicultural ministries especially to urban Aboriginals and Sudanese people. An urban Aboriginal congregation was planted at St James' on Sunday evenings at the end of September. A growing number of Sudanese families are now attending our Sunday morning service.

SPR: So what does an average Sunday at St James' look like?

BS: My average Sunday comprises a 9.00am Communion service and fellowship time. This is then followed by parish council, worship committee or wardens' meeting. Sunday lunch and afternoon is our hospitality time. We then have a small group at 5.30pm. Once a month we have a fellowship tea.

SPR: Joys and challenges?

BS: The greatest joy is to see people come to Christ and grow in Him. I've been encouraged by the eagerness of many at St James' to understand the Bible and apply it to daily living. That said, in a diocese that appears to place a significant emphasis on the liturgy, I really struggle with knowing how to lead people in public worship. The wide range of churchmanship and attitudes to the Scriptures complicates the matter.

My greatest challenge is to grow in my own love and knowledge of Jesus so that I really will live a godly life before Christians and those who are yet outside the Kingdom in Darwin.