In late May, as our family were farewelled from our church in Benalla, the minister, Rev Kel Hodge, presented us with Osgood, a soft toy from his spare room.
We had a mission to take pictures of Osgood to share with our home church while on our journey to experience something of this huge country of ours.
Our itinerary took us through the centre of Australia to Alice Springs and then to Darwin, across to Broome, down the West Coast to Perth and then the South West Coast and across to South Australia, Adelaide and home to Benalla.
Seeking a Uniting Church to attend in the towns we went through was a way we felt we could connect, albeit briefly, with people across the other side of the country.
Early one Sunday morning we even packed up our van and drove 180km to Broome in order to attend the 9am service.
First up there was the Uniting Church in Alice Springs, which was vibrant, busy and lively, with lots of kids wandering in and out – there was even a small puppy being cuddled by the minister’s children.
Then there was Darwin, which was going through a stage of transition and didn’t have a regular minister.
Broome was memorable for its open walls and welcoming community and a great children’s address.
In Perth we decided to go to the Wesley church in the city – this proved to be spectacular in the music department, with a grand piano, large pipe organ, robbed choir and, to top it all off, a clarinet soloist from the music academy.
Then we headed south and found a little community called Pinjarra. This place was as friendly as they come, even giving us hugs at the door.
In SA, we visited Streaky Bay, a lovely little town and when we got to church the 10 people there were rather surprised but very happy to see our family turn up.
In Clare, SA, we happened to turn up on the Sunday when the youth were taking the service (not the usual we were told). There was a fabulous band and vibrant music, video clips made by the kids and some great sharing by young people. Our girls were particularly taken by this as they enjoyed seeing young people showing such confidence up front of the church.
However, there was one Sunday, Father’s Day as it happens, that really stood out in the lovely WA town of Denmark.
After the service I started chatting to the organist, John Pate, who asked us what we were up to that afternoon. After learning about our love of bushwalking, John and wife Trudy invited us to his place in the hills.
John and Trudy live on a spectacular property 6km north of Denmark. The house is humble, a renovated miner’s cottage, but the garden is magnificent; growing everything from natives to African plants to bulbs to a huge vegie patch with raspberries and citrus trees.
John is 85. Nearly everything about him suggests a person whose spirit is more in control of the body than the other way around. After calling some blue wrens (which appeared in seconds) for the girls to feed, he took us on a tour of the 7km walking track he had carved out of the bushland, using only shovels, rakes and secateurs.
After an hour and a half of fairly challenging walking that culminated in a breathtaking view of the coast, we returned to the house where John made us tea before urging us to take some grapefruit and lemons from the garden.
We felt so privileged and honoured that John and Trudy had taken time out of their day to share with us. It was a true highlight on our four-month journey.
When you have been traveling, with only three to four days maximum in any one place, there is little opportunity to make real connections with people.
We felt very transient and, for that reason, it’s good to get back to Benalla.
At the end of our travels we were welcomed back with much delight by our church community. We then took a final photo of the well-travelled Osgood with his home congregation.
But spending time with John and Trudy, being welcomed into their home and their lives, was special and something we will remember for a long time.
It made us think a lot about the gift of hospitality – especially spontaneous hospitality.
Not all of us have the gift of hospitality, but some definitely do, it is just hidden.
For myself, I think it is hidden behind what I have to get done at home, hidden behind feeling awkward about not knowing someone and what they will be like, hidden behind not feeling adequate enough to open up myself and my home to others.
I need to take a page out of John Pate’s book and put aside all those excuses and invite a church visitor home to our house for morning tea, or lunch, or for a walk around the lake.
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