By Julie Perrin
Wesley Trigg and his wife Una are waiting in the foyer at Carnsworth Uniting Agewell in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. I recognise their signature neatness and punctuality.
The retired minister and teacher are both in their nineties. We have previously been members of the same congregation. Amongst that casual throng in Brunswick their immaculate clothing recalled the notion of Sunday best. Wesley’s occasional announcements were offered from the lectern with a precision and twinkling invitation that sent a ripple of pleasure along the pews.
As we now retreat to the quiet space of the chapel on the first floor of Carnsworth, Wesley gently guides Una along the corridors. Neither of them uses a walking aid.
Wesley grew up on a farm in Nullawarre North, east of Warrnambool in Western Victoria.
“We lived in the bush,” he says.
Of his home life Wesley remarks that Christian faith was “assumed more than expressed.” Church was conducted amongst the desks of his small country schoolhouse.
“This was in my schoolroom,” Wesley says.
“There were no symbols encouraging me to worship … but I felt at ease about it … I didn’t have to be dragooned or bribed into going.”
Following the milking and other farm chores his family walked together along the gravel roads.
On one of these gravel roads Wesley had an experience as a teenager he remembers vividly.
He tells it in a matter-of-fact manner: “I was riding my bike at night when I had an inner awareness that something special was happening … I just stopped and was aware that God’s presence was there.”
Another life-changing moment happened on the verandah of the family’s weatherboard farmhouse where his bedroom was located.
“I remember lying in bed out there,” Wesley says.
” I’d earlier been at an evangelistic rally and was impressed by people coming forward to declare their faith. That night in my verandah bedroom, I put up my arm and said to God, ‘Here I am.’ This was my way of making my own response.”
Hearing this all these years later, it sounds such a low key but significant gesture from a teenage boy. When I ask Wesley about it he reiterates: “It was my way of saying ‘Here I am, I belong to you’.”
The month after Wesley turned 16 his mother died suddenly of a heart condition. Her funeral was held in an unfamiliar church in Warrnambool where Wesley recalls “sitting in the service, hoping that she’d wake up.”
Perce Smart, was there, who Wesley remembers as a: “A big man, ex-policeman.”
“We used to play tennis with him. I remember him taking my hand in both of his, my little hand was swallowed up in his. He didn’t say anything, he was probably not so good with words, but that particular gesture of his was one of the most comforting things I can remember.”
Wesley left school and worked on the farm while two of his older brothers were away at the war.
He says, “I hadn’t finished relating to my Mum. I think later on I probably joined the ministry and went into the arms of mother church instead.”
It was a long road.
“I remember telling a person I was offering myself for ministry,” Wesley said.
” And they said, ‘Well do you have to have matriculation?’ And I honestly didn’t know that word. No one I knew had matriculated.”
In 1946, at 18 he moved up to Melbourne to commence training as a home missionary at Otira in Kew.
He studied church history:“It really enlarged my sense of faith. I can remember emerging from that thinking, ‘I’m not just a boy from the bush, I belong to this great community of people’.”
During the next two years he worked as a home missionary at Bayswater. When he returned to Otira to complete his matriculation certificate he met Una Ritchie on the tennis court.
Una was a Deaconess in training. Their courtship flowered and they became engaged the following year, 1950, while Wesley was a candidate at Queen’s College.
During his engagement to Una, Wesley was appointed to Roseberry, a small town in Tasmania. Before he left for that lonely year he returned briefly to Warrnambool. He recalls looking out at the ocean towards Tasmania and thinking: ‘It’s OK you’re not going away from God.’
For the next 15 years Wesley engaged in part-time or full-time study alongside ministry placements in Tasmania and Victoria and Western Australia. He now has degrees in arts, divinity and education and a Diploma in Religious Education.
Wesley served at MLC Kew, for 11 years and for five years at MLC Claremont in Western Australia. Later, the Victorian Synod appointed him to Belmont, Geelong and then to Noble Street, West Geelong before he retired in December 1992.
During early retirement Wesley discovered he was near-neighbours with one of his best friends from Otira, Cyril Germon.
“We met up and walked together each week for several years,” Wesley said.
” It became very important to me… Our favourite meal was a coffee and a toasted raisin bread – a slice each. And that became almost like a sacrament, a sacred tryst.”
Eighteen months ago Wesley and Una moved into Carnsworth. Nearby is Otira where they first met and the streets where they walked together and stole their first kiss. With his characteristic turn from the phlegmatic to the poignant Wesley declares: “We started in Kew, returned to Kew, now we’re back to Kew again.”