Shipwrecks and Sunday services

shipwreckMiriam Imms

Becoming the wife of a Methodist minister and relocating house 15 times in the years following was certainly a challenge for someone like me. I grew up very securely based at the one family home in the Hobart suburb of Taroona.

After marrying Bob our first big move, after some months of training in Sydney, was to Papua New Guinea to work as teachers and missionaries in the remote area of Salamo in 1953.

As it turned out, the journey to PNG was anything but plain sailing!

Our ship Muroro was swept onto rugged cliffs in a north-easterly gale off central Queensland and broke up before dawn.

Our crew of six spent a week marooned in bushland, where we lived mostly on wild oysters, while various members set out on fruitless one or two-day hikes to find help.

Luckily, we found a fresh stream of water near the beach – you can survive a long time if you have clean water.

As we weakened on day seven, one of our party, David, trekked south and found some fishermen at a camp near Yeppoon, which lead to our eventual rescue.

Following this gruelling experience, I had a period of recuperation back in Tasmania before joining my husband in Salamo, where we spent three rewarding years teaching boat-building and joinery.

On returning to Australia my husband began preaching on five Tasmanian circuits.

For our growing family of five this meant frequent changes of schools and friendship circles.

The 60s and 70s were years of swiftly changing moral values and attitudes to church life. Our children experienced their share of teasing about being parson’s kids – some snide and hurtful comments even from college staff.

Although each of the children has suffered, at times a great deal, they have borne their share of a totally unsought role cheerfully and with patience.

Each has given back to us with loyalty, respect and support.

Like many of our day we lived within very strict budgets, somewhat increased after ordination.

To make ends meet we did sewing at home and the kids took on after school jobs.

For dinner we found 50 ways of using apples and 50 variations of mince. There were always gifts at the door of garden vegetables and fruit from wonderful parishioners.

When Paul was born and I was incapacitated for weeks, seven Christmas puddings, dozens of cakes and biscuits, and offers of household help arrived unsolicited.

There was always a Sunday roast, often a leg of succulent lamb, after church and Sunday school. On Saturday afternoon the vegetables had to be prepared so we could get to church on Sunday.

Holidays were camps in leaky post-and-rail tents or renovated worker’s huts, seeking out places of natural beauty with bush, mountains, beach and sea.

Our family became a transportable youth club. People still liked their young ones to be connected with the church, with its no liquor, no smoking attitudes, but lots of fun. 

There were campouts, hangouts, hikes, a 15-bike expedition from New Town to the Petchey’s Bay house, also from New Town to Freycinet with readings and prayers and songs on Wineglass Bay to the sound of surf rolling in.

Bob and Miriam Imms

Bob and Miriam Imms

Then came 1976, and the last Methodist Conference was held in the magnificent and historic Wesley Church, Hobart.

Twenty nine young people from lively Moonah and more sedate New Town gathered at the parsonage for tea – once more the mince and apple variations with barbecued sausages on the ploughshare – and then all were packed into the galleries of Wesley to reverberating hymns.

How much more significant this event was than we could envisage – with a generational faith, and a heritage of gentle goodness and service to God, the local church and missions all laid out on the altar of the new Uniting Church in trust and hope.

We went on to the burgeoning Kingborough Circuit, which had seven churches, from Taroona, Sandfly and Kingston, through the Channel to Kettering, Woodbridge and Middleton.

The Huon circuit next door was added to our duties with four more churches – Franklin, Glen Huon, Judbury, Ranelagh and Cygnet – all to be consulted and matters regarding proposed Union discussed, with procedures carried out.

A busy father was rarely home in evenings and had three or more services each Sunday.

But the vigour and buoyancy of the music-loving, contemporary, forward-thinking, seafaring, creative young family has carried on a visionary branch of ministry throughout Kingborough, Taroona Hobart, Melbourne, even Sydney, and across the Northern Territory as part of Desert Song to this very day.

My grandfather George James, who in 1902 asked Wesley Church to put Taroona on the preaching plan, might see God himself at work such a string of descendants. 

His granddaughter, June, still holds together the faithful Taroona congregation with high quality music of faith and devotion.

My husband, Bob, at 92 years of age, can still take his place at the pulpit to preach. It’s off-the-cuff nowadays as his eyesight doesn’t allow him to read notes.

In all this full life of ministry and family we say thanks be to God.

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