Man of great faith

Rev Robert Brian CatfordRev Robert Brian Catford

27/06/1934 – 15/09/2015

Throughout his more than 50 years of service, first as a Presbyterian and later a Uniting Church minister, Rev Robert Catford lived out his faith by example, sharing the gospel messages of love, grace, hope, joy and peace with those around him.

As a young adult Rob experienced a strong and personal calling to be a minister, changing from a career in science to one focused on sharing and nurturing Christian faith and values. Rob was subsequently ordained in 1959 after completing degrees in both Science and Divinity at Melbourne University.

Rob’s first parish posting in 1959 was to picturesque Mt Beauty. With his new wife Val accompanying him this was the beginning of a loving partnership and shared vision spanning more than 50 years. Rob brought to his parish a youthful enthusiasm, as well as warmth, sensitivity and the ability to relate to people from all walks of life and all ages and also to be an advocate for those in need. Indicative of the leadership and presence he would consolidate over his working life, he gathered a community together, a church was built and a youth group nurtured. His was an inclusive ministry where all were worthy of a place in the community of the church.

Rob’s second calling was to the north west of Tasmania, to the forestry and farming port city of Burnie, where again the needs of the community were disparate and challenging. He demonstrated great skill and commitment in the area of pastoral care, with a focus on the support of young families and regular visits to the sick and elderly. His natural leadership and preaching skills were further recognised and developed when he was appointed Moderator of Tasmania. He was able to draw on the teaching traditions of Ormond College to provide well prepared and carefully planned services which actively engaged his congregation.

In 1966 Rob was appointed minister at St John’s in Essendon, a well-established Presbyterian Church with a large congregation dating to Scottish settler beginnings.  He moved his young family back to the mainland and 13 years of successful ministry followed. There were many weddings, baptisms and funerals performed and Rob’s active interest in, and commitment to, ecumenical work became even more evident through outreach initiatives and connections with other local churches. He initiated a variety of different worship styles such as Good Friday with the inclusion of symbols from Christ’s last journey, dawn Easter Sunday gatherings and the candlelit nine lessons and carol service at Christmas. Some inter-church services were held in local parks and recreational areas. He recognised the need to support frail and socially isolated people and the Friendship Club was established in 1975 which still runs today.

He also saw a need to honour and respect deceased members of the church community and their families, so established a memorial garden in the church grounds, something he replicated in later parishes of Burwood and Heathmont and in supply at Mt Eliza.  Demonstrating sensitivity and vision, balancing a respect for past traditions with a need to embrace a new and cooperative future, Rob also played a key role in the challenging process of church union in 1977, both at the local parish and synod levels. For several years he also served on the school council at Methodist Ladies College, Kew.

Rob and his family moved to Burwood Uniting church in 1979, and he devoted the next 10 years of service to this sizeable and busy community. Rob continued to provide spiritual nourishment and challenge through thoughtful preaching that was theologically and socially informed and spoke to current issues. He also promoted dialogue and built connections with other faiths and cultural traditions through inter church services and work with partner congregations such as the Koreans. He continued to minister to the frail and elderly, establishing close links to local care facilities such as Condare Court. Rob also continued to mentor and teach other ministers and youth leaders, a skill he had developed with colleagues from his year of 1958 graduates.

From there he enjoyed a further 8 years with the Heathmont congregation, his final fulltime congregation before retirement. At Heathmont Rob continued to share his gift of being able to minister to all people whether young, old or socially disadvantaged. He continued mentoring ordained and lay members of the congregation and established with other local churches, such as Anglican and Presbyterian, the Heathmont Inter Church Help program. (HICH). Ecumenical and community events such as Holy week services and outdoor carol services continued with success whilst ensuring the Sunday service remained the ‘ main event’ leaving the congregation with a strong message and challenge to take home with them.

After retiring to Somers on the Mornington Peninsula with Val and later to Hayville retirement village in Box Hill, Rob contributed part time supply ministry to churches and communities as diverse as Dandenong, Berwick, Balnarring, Box Hill, Mt Eliza, Hastings, Burwood, Toorak and Armadale. The large number of friendships that they shared over their times in all their parishes is testimony to their capacity to connect with people in a very personal way.

Rev Robert Catford is remembered with much love for being a true witness to his faith which he shared openly and with great clarity, for his support and guidance of others including those in need, and for his ability to accept and celebrate the complexity and diversity of human faith and life.

Compiled by Robert Catford’s family    

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