Review by David Flowers
This book traces the parish life and work of Rev David Hodges AM from 1968 to 1983 at the Toorak Uniting Church (TUC). It gives some attention to his ministry thereafter until his retirement in 2006.
Readers of this book have three broad choices in how to approach it. It could be read sequentially from start to finish – and what a largely satisfying read it is.
Alternatively, it could be dipped into subjectively by using the contents list to identify personalities and issues of personal interest.
Or readers could be selective by themes. These include parish life evolving in these years to meet the changing needs of its members young and old, David Hodges’ challenging sermons and how this particular parish forged a role for itself in its broader community.
Read sequentially, this is a thoughtfully assembled work. Material was contributed by parishioners, participants in the programs initiated by David, colleagues, family and friends. For this reader, David’s own sermons are the enduring centrepiece of the book.
The book includes interviews of David conducted by the late Campbell McComas AM which include information about the pivotal role that David played in the formation of the social services of the Uniting Church.
The project was undertaken by David Hodges’ surviving partner, David Ross-Smith, who was closely involved with parish life at TUC during this period.
Its contents are descriptive and analytical, often highly personal and confidently celebrate the parish work of this much-loved minister.
The collator’s links between pieces successfully keep the reader abreast of the changes of narrator. The writing styles range from informal anecdotes, to more academically inclined pieces, to the scholarship and wisdom of the sermons themselves.
Assessing the merit of a work such as this can be attempted from several angles. For those fortunate enough to have had the benefit of David Hodges’ ministry, friendship or love, this is an invaluable, illustrated memento. It is a triumphant, subjective celebration of his life and endeavours during the period of his ministry at TUC and immediately thereafter.
In terms of local history, both religious and secular, it is an extremely valuable ‘time capsule’ capturing, as it does in great detail, the changing role of an active church that kept meeting the needs of the time and finding new ways of engaging constructively with its surrounding community. Many of these programs were groundbreaking and reflect the proactive position of capably-led congregations and their outreach programs at this time.
David’s sermons focus on what it is like to be human and yet to aspire to follow the tenets of the Bible. The issues addressed in them, with unfailing clarity, include ‘Self and Sacrifice’, ‘Reason and Desire’ and ‘Alone at Last’. In an Easter Sunday address, David takes this holistic approach:
The story of the Transfiguration is, in fact, the description of the other side of the cross. It is the good news, the Gospel which Jesus himself prepared for this day.
It is a book that can be read on different levels then, all of them in a very satisfying manner. For this reader, its spiritual focus and Gospel-centred humanist thrust is immensely relevant and challenging.
Proceeds from sales of this book are donated to Uniting AgeWell’s ‘Music for David’, a community-oriented music therapy program which supports people living with dementia and their carers. Available at UniChurch Resources Centre: (03) 9340 8807 or contact David Ross-Smith (03) 9809 0550.