By Andrew Humphries
In 1955, Robert Menzies was our Prime Minister, John Cain Sr’s reign as Victorian Premier ended, Melbourne defeated Collingwood in the VFL Grand Final and the board game Scrabble made its Australian debut.
And in regional Tasmania, a shy 15-year-old girl took her first tentative steps on a path that would define her life for the next 65 years.
Now 80, Burnie Uniting Church lay preacher Kim Searle can still vividly recall the day in 1955 she delivered her first sermon.
“It was December 18 and it was in the dining room at the Wivenhoe agricultural showground because the church was still being built at the time,” Kim recalls proudly.
And while she remembers more than a few nerves as she addressed the congregation of about 30 people, Kim knew there was no other place she wanted to be.
Quite simply, she believed she was following a calling to spread the word of God.
“At the time I was involved with the youth group at our local Methodist church, which was at Somerset, and a group of us used to go around and take services,” Kim recalls.
“I got a bit sick of just doing children’s addresses all the time, because I wanted to preach, so I decided I would.
“I was 15 years and five months old at the time and, when I look at kids today of the same age, I wonder how I had the cheek to do it.”
Strangely, though, Kim recalls having a distinct lack of self-confidence at the time, but a pivotal decision at the end of her schooling confirmed to her that her future lay in preaching God’s word.
“I grew up with a lack of confidence but, at the end of my school life, I made a decision to be a follower of Jesus,” she says.
“As I read my Bible, I realised that God accepted me as I was, warts and all.
“I felt there were no barriers, no limits and no expectations (around what I could do).
“I still lacked self-confidence, but all I wanted to do was tell everyone about this wonderful God that took you on and accepted you.”
In becoming a lay preacher, Kim was following in some famous family footsteps, with her great-grandfather Richard Hilder commencing preaching in the same area in January 1881.
In fact, apart from an 18-year gap before Kim was born and growing up, she and Richard can lay claim to having preached continuously in the same church for 122 years.
In a 1938 Burnie Advocate obituary, Richard was described as “a pioneer preacher” who “regularly visited 28 Methodist preaching places from Kindred to Sisters Creek”.
He was, Kim says, an obvious role model.
“Yes, I think he was, although I wasn’t made aware of his involvement in the church until I started preaching,” she says.
“I think there is a sense that he is still there, encouraging me and looking down on me saying ‘yeah that’s my girl’.”
Kim’s 65 years of service was honoured last December and the occasion included a tribute from Tasmania’s Presbytery Minister for Pastoral Care, Rohan Pryor.
”The third Sunday in December 65 years ago was December 18, 1955, and since then nearly 4000 weeks, and nearly 4000 Sundays, have passed by,” Rohan says.
“For this long and faithful service to God through the church, we celebrate with you, and give thanks to God for you, and for all the people whose faith you have nurtured or challenged across those 4000 Sundays and all the weekdays in between.”
Kim admits she has no idea how many sermons she has delivered, but insists she has no plans to retire.
In cricketing terms, it’s been a wonderful innings, but stumps are still some time away.
“I’m not out yet, I certainly hope to continue and there is only one thing that can stop me,” she says,
“The wonderful thing about it is that as I grow, even now after so many years, there is just so much to learn and so many ways of looking at the Gospel.
“It’s certainly hard work and you have to do your research, but, no, I definitely don’t want to stop.”
That hard work and attention to detail have served Kim well ahead of every sermon she has delivered over 65 years.
Which begs the question, what makes a good sermon?
What words allow Kim to make that important spiritual connection with those listening?
“I always try for two objectives when I’m preparing a sermon,” she says.
“Firstly, I pose the question of what is this all about, particularly focusing on the Gospels. What is Jesus trying to say?
“Then, secondly, if we can understand that, how does it apply today and remain relevant to us?
“What brings me joy is the satisfaction I get from searching and discerning (God’s word) and then being able to pass it on to people who are receptive to it.”
And a simple philosophy and trust in God is the key to ensuring Kim’s message strikes a chord with congregation members.
“The silly thing is that before a service I’m thinking about me, but when I walk behind that lectern I know (I am doing God’s work) and I forget about me,” she says.
“I then become an instrument for His message and it’s as simple as that.
“I try and do my best and that’s what it is all about.”