Wei-Han Kuan: Foundations of Anglican Evangelicalism in Victoria: Four Elements for Continuity 1847 -1937,  Eugene, Wipe & Stock, 2019

The Revd Dr Wei-Han Kuan is the State Director of the Church Missionary Society in Victoria, having served previously as a priest in the parishes of All Souls Ferntree Gully and St Alfred’s Blackburn North. This fascinating study of the early beginnings of Evangelicalism in Victoria was Wei-Han’s Doctoral Thesis which he obtained through the Australian College of Theology. Doctoral theses do not always make exciting reading due to the strict requirements and detail required by supervision. This book is an exception because, at least for someone as old as me, many of the characters and leaders referred to are known to me personally or are revered as Christian figures of significant character and indeed fame.

The settlement of white Australia coincided with deep divisions within the English Church of England caused by the development in the 1830s  of the Tractarian Oxford movement which placed significant emphasis on matters of church liturgy and ritual, high end choral music and a reaching out to Roman Catholicism especially in relation to the manual acts associated with the Eucharist. Opposing the Tractarians were the traditional prayer book low churchmen and a rising tide of energised Evangelicals, intent on mission to the far corners of the world with the good news of God’s atoning love. The early days of Christian faith in Victoria are also inevitably tied in with the gold rush and the rapid growth of Melbourne due to the gold fever, money and people from all nations who poured into the southern most mainland Australian State. 

A key issue of this story is the contested character of Victoria’s first Bishop, the evangelical Revd Charles Perry appointed in 1847 from England by William Grant Boughton, the first and only Bishop of Australia! Khan notes that  Bishop James Grant, in his chapter in the Diocese of Melbourne’s official sesquicentenary history, described Perry as having a “reputation as a narrow minded bigot in matters of churchmanship.” (p.115) Similarly historians Manning Clark and Alan Shaw characterise Perry as a militant low churchman and a sectarian. Kuan challenges this view of Perry in a detailed study, noting that Perry’s exceptional drive and energy created a powerful  church and evangelical movement in rapidly growing Victoria, especially in Gippsland and Bendigo but he also accommodated and was willing to appoint a number of non evangelical clergy. 

Kuan moves on to describe the impact of Bishops Moorehouse  (strong parish development) and Field Flowers Goe (cathedral builder) and Henry Lowther Clarke. At the same time, in spite of some very strong evangelical parishes, Evangelicals tended to focus less on parish life and more on mission and conversions at home and abroad, open air preaching, Societies like the Church Missionary Society, MBI , League of Youth, CSSM, CEBS, Keswick style conventions at Upwey and later Belgrave Heights, visiting preachers like Spurgeon, George Grubb and Dr Howard Guiness, University missions and eventually the founding of  Ridley College. Kuan notes that the large number of Evangelical leaders who gave their lives and talents to overseas mission, weakened the strength of evangelical parishes in this early period of Victorian Christian growth. 

Individual leaders in this story are too numerous to mention here but note must be made of the generosity of the Griffiths Family of tea business fame who originally bankrolled almost every evangelical cause. In addition the exceptional impact of the ministry of Canon C H Nash in so many lives and parishes and his fall out with Lowther Clarke is a key factor in this story. Will Dr Kuan venture to write part 2 of this story from 1937 to 2023? We must wait and see.

5 stars. 

Alathea Fitzalan Howard: The Windsor Diaries 1940-45, Forward, Isabella Naylor-Leyland;Ed. Celestria Noel, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 2020. 

Exceptional excerpts from the diary of Alathea Fitzalan Howard who was the elder daughter of the second and last Viscount Fitszalan, and of Joyce Langdale, who later became Countess Fitzwilliam. She was born at Norfolk House, Sheffield on 23 November 1923. Had she been a boy she would have succeeded as Duke of Norfolk, since her father’s first cousin Bernard, the 16th duke, had only daughters….she would have been Earl Marshall, and, as such, played a major role in state occasions after 1975, when he died. Her mother, Joyce,  was from an old Catholic family and was separated from her husband and moved between Houghton, her family home in Yorkshire, and London.  

At the beginning of World War 11 Alathea was sent to live with her rather staid, old fashioned paternal grandfather and maiden aunt Magdalen at Cumberland Lodge, on the Windsor Estate, her mother visiting rarely. Her Father, wounded in the First World War,  was ill-equipped  to deal with a teenager, and spent most of his time in London, and came to Cumberland Lodge at weekends. Old Lord Fitzalan, a widower, was a distinguished elder statesman and leading Roman Catholic layman. Cumberland Lodge had been loaned to him for his lifetime as a grace-and-favour house by King George V in 1924. His family home, Derwent Hall in Derbyshire, was compulsorily purchased in 1939 and drowned for the creation of Ladybower reservoir, serving Sheffield. 

Throughout her life Alathea had kept a daily diary and this was continued throughout the war years when she lived on the Windsor Estate just a bicycle ride away from Windsor Castle where the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret had been sent for safe-keeping during the war. The result was that a close friendship sprang up between Alathea and the two princesses resulting in their spending much time together over the five years of the war, sharing in dancing and drawing classes,  pantomimes, balls and games often staying over at the Castle and sharing meals with the princesses and on many occasions with the King and Queen. 

Alathea carefully recorded all these events in her diary and in addition her personal comments about the character, dress and behaviour of the young princesses, and the King and Queen!  In addition her diary contained regular updates on the progress of the war and its aftermath.  All of this makes for intriguing reading today especially given the carefully guarded access of journalists and other writers to the personal lives of royalty at that time.  Some of Alathea’s comments are extremely personal, not to say bitchy!  At the same time the reader gets a delightful sense of the happy early life of the royal couple and their children in spite of the horror of the war years including significant German attacks on the Windsor Estate itself including several deaths.  The diary has been carefully edited by Celestria Noel so that only significant paragraphs are included and each one has significant interest. Alethea herself would have been completely lost without  the friendship of the princesses as her war-time home was formal, barren, cold and friendless. I found this diary account totally engrossing and it provides a unique birds eye view of the upper classes at home in the midst of the chaos of war. 5 stars.

William Paul Young: The Shack: In collaboration with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings, p/b, Los Angeles, Windblown Media, 2007.  

Unusual approach to understanding the Trinity from William Paul Young, Canadian writer now living in Washington D.C., married with six children.  Young’s parents were Christian missionaries in New Guinea. Young originally wrote the story for his six children and was persuaded to publish by his two collaborators noted above. The novel was well received on publication and is certainly a different look at the Trinity.

The novel centres on the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips (Mack), a Midwest farm boy whose Church attending  father was also a drunkard and wife beater who left a bitter mark on Mack. After walking away from his father Mack was eventually happily married to Nan and they had six children. On a camping trip Mack’s youngest daughter Missy is abducted and murdered by a sociopath and the horror of this event traumatises Mack who blames himself for not being alert to protect the youngest member of his family.  Police eventually locate the shack where evidence proved  the child was murdered but there was no sign of the body. 

Gradually the horror and sadness of this event takes its toll on Mack and a grim sadness engulfs him, making him deeply moody and unable to relate easily to his world, his family or his church. At this time he receives a written message, unsigned with no stamp, from God inviting him to the Shack, the very place where the murder occurred.  Mack makes this journey alone and instead of a ramshackle murder scene he finds himself in a beautiful environment, confronted with the three persons of the Trinity who engage him on a weekend journey of discovery about the God he is so angry with. The result is an unusual theological dialogue and series of events which enable Mack to see God as Trinity through radically new eyes.  The result is an entertaining, unusual, insightful and challenging theological discussion focussing largely on the problem of evil and its ramifications in human life and God’s seeming inability to do much about the horror of many events in life on earth. 

Young’s theology takes particular aim at a Christianity based on laws, judgment, rules, requirements and responsibilities.  He replaces these rubrics with living with God in expectancy in any situation, finding a way to trust in God in the midst of no matter what trauma occurs in one’s life. Towards the end of the novel this denouement extends to folk of all faiths and none and seems eventually to lead to the salvation of all although this is not a major theme. 

There are many interesting and thought provoking ideas in Young’s novel which repay deep thinking. Some of his key ideas include: Jesus: “I’m not a Christian!” (p182); Those who love God come from all faiths and none. (p.182); Faith does not grow in the house of certainty. (p.189); True love never forces (p.190); Pearls are made by pain (p.177); religion, politics and economics have ravaged humanity. (p.179); On p.112 it is implied that the members of the Trinity have different powers.  On p.129 God makes use of fractals and on p172 God makes use of time dimension coupling. On p. 148 we have a circle of relationship…man from dust, she from man, every male since birthed through woman. 

This is a novel which invites reflection and self/church examination. I enjoyed reading this book and found it both challenging and helpful in my faith journey.  4 stars.

Review of John Carey: 100 Poets – A Little Anthology, p/b, New Haven and  London, Yale University Press, 2002. 

John Carey is Emeritus Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford.  For addicts like myself who have spent a lifetime of studying, collecting, reading and thinking about poetry this is a book to savour, pause over and be thankful that there are inspired voices throughout history who have been able to put thoughts and ideas in such extraordinary and compelling ways.

This collection takes the reader from Homer, Sappho and Virgil right up to Les Murray’s brave final verses in 2019. All the poetic heroes are here but also distinctive and beautiful words from writers I have never read or heard of.  Carey does not overwhelm the reader with screeds of poetic theory or whole of life stories but provides just enough enticement and background to make the reader pause for thought. Older readers of this book, if they are anything like me, will find themselves going back to book shelves and reminding themselves of long unread poetry which once set them thinking in a totally new idiom and direction.  Younger readers who like poetry will simply be amazed by the flexibility, wisdom and fluidity of the human mind and the unique impact good poetry can have on our sensitivity, mood, dreams and hopes.

The depth of Carey’s literary knowledge is impressive indeed and has encouraged me to locate his A Little History of Poetry, purchase of which I suspect is not far away!  5 stars.