Alone again, naturally

Some of my mates know the full story of the last two years of my life, and some of them know little bits. For my own methods of healing and life-sense-making I have always intended to write about it more, and this is just a little bit of that. It’s a very honest reflection on certain parts of my time away, my singleness, my life. It was told as a story during the last Tenx9 Melbourne storytelling night, which was on the theme Bitter, and you’re invited to read if you like and to be kind in your reading.

Years back, my mate Caryn and I began talking about a place where we would live out our retirement years in bliss. We called this place the house of sorrows. There we said we would forsake all personal hygiene and definitely bras, maybe get some cats and maybe go a little mad and maybe throw full cans of food at passers’ by.

We loved this idea, finding it an hilarious way to deal with the fact that as young Christian women we had found ourselves continuously “left on the shelf”, which by the way can happen to young Christian women from around 22 onwards.

At that stage I hadn’t yet had a boyfriend, and I wouldn’t have one for many years yet. Even now, at 39, I have been for whatever reason -save for an accumulated 6 or 7 months of my life -only single. I promise all my stories won’t be about this.

A little while ago I was ordained. This was a very exciting and emotional occasion for me; I felt it was the beginning of something quite important, and deep down I felt that perhaps I would be a slightly better version of myself now. I was going to live the life I had been aiming for.

I was ordained to a congregation near Ballarat and moved out to Buninyong, a small and lovely town about an hour and a half’s drive from here. Looking back now I can see that I was a little naïve. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I did think honestly that I would love the work I was finally getting out there to do so much that my new life in the country would also be something I could love.

And parts of it were.

But, within a few months of being there, I became quite depressed.

I felt alone in a way that I had never experienced before, despite now having a small but growing dog.

I mentioned before that I’ve had and continue to have some experience being alone. While being single has sometimes been something I have found challenging, and while loneliness is something I have found wounding here and there, generally by this time in my life I had made my peace with being single, and in fact found much about it to celebrate.

But in the country, I met an aloneness that I hadn’t known before. I was away from my friends and couldn’t rely on the knowledge that they were close at hand if and when I needed them. I was away from the familiar sights and sounds of home, surrounded by strangers. I was working in a role that was very singular and significantly isolating. And I would go home to the big manse I lived in, and look out at a very dark and broad sky and feel myself a small and insignificant dot in a vast universe. I was once again and always, quite alone.

I became in response slightly bitter towards the congregation for not more fulfilling my hopes for them. I became bitter towards ministry colleagues who were just *loving* their first placements.

I wasn’t consistently miserable, but I realised there was a problem when I realised I had come to be quite, quite angry -quite bitter- towards people who were coupled.

“They don’t understand” I would think “because at least they have someone with them”

“At least” I told myself about married ministers “they have someone to talk to about their day, someone to watch tv with”

My inner turmoil began to at times take on a ‘no one understands my particular pain because I am the most alone person in the world’ tone. I was making the dread assumption that lives that looked different to mine in certain ways were in fact better than mine.

I was living in my very own house of sorrows.

Now. I want to say that all the times that I have been single and found it hard, I have never really subscribed to the worldview that says married or partnered is better, even if I know that that is what I want.

I have subscribed to the ‘no two lives are the same, and all lives have some super cool and some super shitty parts’ worldview. So now to find myself moving sort of beyond jealousy into resentment towards people whose lives might be every bit as difficult as my (still quite privileged) one, made me want to check myself. I did not want to be that person.

So, I sorted out seeing my psych again over skype. I talked to my friends a little about what I was going through and made time to listen to them about their various experiences too. I reminded myself that everyone had problems, even the ones who had someone around to bear witness to every small, gross and glorious moment of their lives.

I tried to get on with my job and with doing the best I could. It was a long hard year and the end of it was particularly full on- Christmas is not known to be a particularly restful time of year for those in church ministry.

But I had booked myself a months’ leave across January, and headed to Ireland where I had a wonderful, relaxing, far away time. I looked at strange coasts and met unknown people and explored and wandered and had no pressing issues to deal with and it was wonderful.

It was a rejuvenating experience and I came home committed to making the following year better than the one that had proceeded it. I made a plan. I would do my work as cheerfully and boldly as I could. I would find new ways to connect the church community I was a part of to the community beyond itself, including public events and days of learning and fellowship at the church and beyond. I would join a community choir or something, and make some local friends. I would even go do some lawn bowls at the Buninyong bowls club, and I would continue to trek back to Melbourne monthly for some nurturing time with my friends.

2020 I decided, was my year.

Obviously that didn’t end up being how things panned out. After planning my church year in quite a bit of detail and finding the one woman in Ballarat to go on a date with (no real spark), after making enquiries about choirs and bowls clubs I instead watched the world go insane, leading to the move to a delivery of a worship service via email, and then of course lockdown.

2020 proved to be a wildly difficult time for so many of us. And it was difficult for me too, as lucky as I am overall. But, oddly enough, when all the world it seemed was shutting itself in its home and wondering what would happen, I began to thrive. I loved the need to pivot and be creative in our collective worship. I loved finding ways to help my mates in Melb and beyond have group chats about things that weren’t covid. I loved, that after a year living out of Melbourne it now seemed so easy to book in video calls with friend after friend after friend, meaning ironically when we were forbidden from seeing each other, I had more contact with them than ever before. I had been in training for this sort of isolation for a year, and actually now that it was here, I really dug it. I took my dog on big long walks. I appreciated the yellowing of the trees, and the bite in the air in Winter time. I stared at the sky for long swathes of time, I chatted to people and sent them gifts and read on my couch. I grew closer markedly to many of my friends. I had regular video breakfast with my mum and finally was able to make the transition to my natural hair colour. My house was not one of sorrow but a place of comfort; of reading and cooking and dancing and laughing and safety.

My aloneness was now in some way everyone’s aloneness, and my life didn’t seem so much like a little insignificant dot in the vast universe anymore. 

Now, I’d love to say that my resilience from the preceding year led me to continue on stronger than ever, that I led my congregation from strength to strength when we began meeting physically again, that I grew to love my life there and even made friends nearby.

Instead, despite my practice, despite how much I grew to love my surroundings, despite the love I discovered for my congregation, and actually despite, heart-breakingly, making friends with some younger people on the periphery of my church; after a lagging and exhausting and in some ways debilitating second part of the year, I made the very difficult decision to leave. I found a new placement, back in Melbourne. And I came home, not without some turmoil and much ongoing grief.

This is not a story of overcoming bitterness and never knowing it again. This is not a story of finding the power to cope with my isolation in a surprising place, but it is in small ways both of those stories. I am still tempted to be bitter and perhaps jealous of lives that look a bit shinier than mine, even now that I’m back in my beloved Melbourne. But my two very different lives have reminded me what I already knew: all of our lives are complicated, all our decisions lead us into paths unknown, and some of these paths will lead us into the wilderness while some will lead us home, and sometimes those two things are indistinguishable.

For the Lonely

Sometimes it might feel as if you’ve been replaced with a stranger, because you exist only to yourself and this could be a lie.

Sometimes it may feel as if you are the only person in the world, and the coming of night will be a dive into a special kind of panic.

At times you may know yourself a void, offering only emptiness, and others you may know yourself the hollow of a tree, and these two will be different.

There will be occasions you touch the walls of your home to remind yourself you’re really there, and others when you hate them for the things they fence away from you.

After a time maybe you’ll become reluctant friends with loneliness. Maybe you talk about it with people sometimes. You nurse this specific ache to you, and know it as a type of company.

Here is some advice, from one who has been so lonely she could taste it, so lonely it was a like a garment she wore around her even when she wasn’t alone:

When your chest is full of thorns, take your own hand. You have been there since the beginning.

When you wonder if your voice might die, or your heart dissolve, or your arms fall off for lack of loving; laugh, sing, shout your alive-ness into the air and the dark. Wiggle and jump and dance my love.

And if all this can’t work, and you still are a silent, aching, lost thing with no one to look at you with kindness, know this: I am there, I sit in your chest with you, I withdraw from the dark with you, I wonder if you’ll ever be heard again with you. Though this is a terrible cliché, and though it will piss you off with how incorrect it feels, you aren’t really alone.

When you feel the horizon stretch away and your presence seems an unknown dot in a sea of foreign origins, look out your window. See, the trees move and the birds shout out their life regardless of your being an island. The large face of the moon and his armada of various bright stars sit just above and to your right. He is waltzing through the sky as a series of circles, and some parts of him are often unseen by humans too.

A little post-ordination note

Hey ya’ll. 
I’ve been putting off doing this because I had an idea of writing a big thing that really did the other day justice but I was really overwhelmed and then a bit busy and I’m just going to do this: 

I was ordained just over a week ago. It was the culmination of 3 years of study, and five of dreaming, praying and planning, and the beginning of many more. It was beautiful. I was surrounded by the faces of so many that I love, from so many parts of my life and places both near and far. It was a profound and holy occasion and I honestly don’t have words enough to express how thankful, humbled, honored I am by the calling I have received, by the life I get to live now, by the love I have been shown. Sorry if this sounds super naff.

I’m so so SO grateful to all who came, particularly from far away. I’m so excited and not a little daunted by the privilege it is to be in my position. Thanks everyone for the love and prayers and fly dance moves and words of support. You all are very invited to come visit me in my weirdly large house. 
xxx, Rev. Nunn

The circle

This is a story I told at Tenx9 Melbourne, a bit over a month before my ordination.

I always thought I knew my story. I always told it the same way.

I was raised in the church, my Dad a minister in the Wesleyan Methodist brand, and dwelt in a very particular type of Christianity; the kind that deals in some judgement language and some simplistic metaphors and some fervent, literal interpreting of things, and fellowship lunches on long tables, all of which later I shrug off nonchalantly as I ask brave questions and determine that the rigid structure I find myself in doesn’t have to be the way it is, that there is a more spacious way for me to be a person of faith.

In the mean time my relationship with my father, altered dramatically when he left our family to try to start another, deteriorates more and more over time, I move to Melbourne to meet real people and to try to figure out what stirs me, and find excitement in community work, I make friends here, a life here, I finally go to university and then, despite having decided smugly earlier on that all churches were probably full of shit, I end up working for one. Cue the “can you believe it?” face.

This is all true.

Also true is that I have read and struggled with more theology in the last three years than I ever thought I would. That I still feel too uncoordinated to do any real job, some days. That I never thought I would find a shape, a role, a task for me. I never thought anything would call to me like being an ordained minister did, partway through my second or third year working for the church that changed my mind about churches.

So, sung to by the hope and promise of a collection of people who might try to make things better, and of a man who lived a long time ago and who I think is somehow, against all odds- relevant, I went back to school, terrified of learning and of not learning, and discovered I could do it,

and discovered a community that held me well for the most part.

I discovered, to my dismay, things about the gathering of people around the warm fire of a faith-story that made me feel like an old traditionalist at times, chiding the young folk for wanting to play that rock music.

I discovered, that this church thing can actually be spacious in a way previously unknown to the younger, angrier, completely unoriginal girl I was once. It’s possible it has rooms and movement and lightness and flavour all of us young and once angry and unoriginal girls and guys coudn’t imagine.

It’s possible that this spaciousness can be a hard thing to wrangle, but that it’s worth the attempt.

I moved out of my house at the end of December, all my stuff is in boxes in my friend Alister’s garage. I’ve been staying on my mate Jess’s couch and waiting for the next thing to begin, and learning that I don’t do great without some concrete things to drive me.

And so I float in this weird time, no job, no real home, and I remember when I first properly moved to Melbourne and had no job and stayed at the house of my friend Kate’s parents and knew somehow it would be ok and then we rented a truck and moved our meagre things across town to Preston.

And as I float I recall the last three years; pointed so thoroughly at this new thing, this final, ultimate thing- the making of me into a minister, that I now know- though I can forget- that rings in my veins and tells me to keep going even when it seems bogus.  Whispered to this odd and spacious place that has been a part of my skin and blood for so long, which I held at arms length for so long, that I’m still so often selling short and not holding to account enough. That I’m still learning the right way to love.

During this odd, floaty time in which all things feel ill-fitting and I am spat out into the world from my very specific cocoon, and I remember fondly the house I cannot live in any more and the time of preparation for this time now, that I knew couldn’t last forever, but that I miss like a familiar face…

-during this time my lovely friend Sarah is ordained and I go to watch her be made a minister and I hear the preacher quote Mary Oliver, saying “be untidy in your exuberance” and I cry and I can’t forget it and I don’t want to.

Then at a gathering at Sarah’s house with a beer in my hand I talk to her friend Ange, who is pretty with a shaved head and a nose ring and she asks me what my story is. So I tell her.

And at the end, she smiles a slow dreamy smile and says this:

“We shall not cease from exploration,

And at the end of our exploring

will be to arrive at where we started

And know the place for the first time”

And I say: “what?”

She smiles again and says “it’s an Emerson quote”. And I ask to hear it again.

She actually sings it to me once or twice.

What has happened is Ange with the sweet smile and the nose ring has heard my story in a way I hadn’t quite yet. In it she heard repetition, both lovely and new.

It is talking to her on the grand verandah of a Carlton mansion that I hear myself tell it, and realise there are other things that are true too.

That though the church which framed my whole life when I was little was restrained in some ways, though I learnt about judgement a little, and sex in an obviously unhealthy way, though churches of this kind and others have hurt multitudes, and though my father I have often portrayed as the seller of this false, or cheap religion that inevitably hurt us all, and though our relationship has been complex, that’s not all that all of it was.

I was raised by loving parents, my Dad sang to and with me, and we laughed together and he did what he thought was right a lot of the time. I was surrounded and held and formed by stories of courage, of huge, daft whales, of people who crossed oceans, of love and of faith. I had supernatural friend I talked to when I was afraid of the dark. I believed in angels. I sang songs that, though perhaps cheesy, told me that I was loved. I learnt the cadence of church speak and the commitment that goes into every egg sandwich made for a fellowship lunch. And I was made myself inside that world, given the ingredients which would go on to be this self who finds her person now going to take on the task her tall, black haired father did for years before and after her birth.

I am, in a way, back where I started. The place I spent so long moving assertively away from.

We go to new places and we compare them to the old, or we complain because things look different here, things are altered beyond recognition, but perhaps all we ever do is recreate things, building ourselves again into the people we know and the trees we walk past and the small scrawled graffiti on Sydney road walls, forming our familiarity into the shapes we’ve found gathered around us now.

Perhaps it’s all always circular in some ways. Perhaps like me we might often find ourselves back at something that looks- if we squint a little-  a bit like the beginning, but now, furnished by all that has gone before, we are ready to see it- to know it-  as if for the first time.

Oh and I googled that quote for tonight and I’m sorry Ange, but it’s T.S Elliot.

The shapes of my theology

Hi there. I wrote this thing for a college exercise which was to talk about how my theology has changed. Quickly I realised the question isn’t how it has changed but which particular change I should talk about. So I borrowed an idea from the delightful Gail Ramshaw, and made the following. A list of the shapes of the theology that has held me and been held by me, over my life.

My theology as scenic background.

I parade in front of it in a variety of guises, each of which I play with gusto. It stands upright and thin and stiff, telling myself and the viewers what surrounds me. A closer look would reveal that its paint is thinning and that what it depicts is not realistic. I forget it is there. 


My theology as comfy blanket.

It is always waiting for me, tucked in a cupboard or stuck awkwardly down the side of my bed. I put it away for months at a time, but I know where it is and how comfortable it makes me. It is sometimes, the reason I go to bed.


 My theology as the blue sky.

It is above, it is blue. This much we know for sure. This cannot be contradicted. We know where it is, how to point it out to tourists and children. It contains mysteries, yes, but we know where it is, how it should appear. To conceive otherwise would be lunacy. It is above, it is blue.

My theology as scaffold.

A green and rigid structure, holding up the façade of a building. It’s not pretty, but by God is it necessary. Its removal results in catastrophe.



My theology as petals on a pond.

They float idly by, so small they are almost tucked into the water. It is nice to watch them move, which they do with no discernible pattern. They do not tie you to the pond and when you return, if you return, the petals will have gently swirled into different positions, their water-top dance unknowable and unimportant. 

My theology as parent, or grandparent.

It has held you and raised you and now is yours to walk with or visit or ignore for days and weeks, forgetting to call. When you visit you are warmed by its wisdom and eat the treats it offers you gladly, but often find yourself keen to leave again. You call when you need help with your taxes.

My theology as smorgasbord.

A table groans under the weight of dozens of plates, heaped with food of all colours, smells and textures. Or a long serving section with trays in bain marie’s, each one a surprise and a delight. You take your time wandering to each in turn as your whims lead, sampling a little here and there. The food is delicious, and after you eat it you feel as nourished as you’ve ever been.

My theology as balloon.

Once draped inelegantly and uselessly over the ground, its outer patterns indiscernable, it has begun to fill gently with warm air, growing slowly larger, and yet larger, filling to a shocking, an extraordinary size, the images printed on it’s surface widening until they are proud and taught, until it rises calmly from the earth to transport one in a basket to heights previously unreached. 

My theology as question.

Uttered as one sentence, that may be a different sentence on the next utterance, rising in a plaintive peak at the end, curling through the air in abject wonder, now asked, not returnable, concrete in utterance but not meaning, giving the speaker a toe through the door, a jimmying elbow to force a gap. It seeks response.


My theology as tree.

Tall, or short, or rough, or smooth and dotted with knots. Its roots dig deep in the ground but it moves gently with the wind. Small creatures, lovely and strange, hide amongst its leaves. Sometimes we eat from it, others, we use it as firewood. It talks to other trees, grows in daylight and darkness, doesn’t always talk easily to humans. Stretching up by virtue of its birth into other spheres, not content with sitting still, its branches can shelter from the heat or support one who seeks a different vantage point, and who will rest against bark covered limbs for hours, surveying the landscape.

A story about a lot of things

A note: This was designed to be read aloud. I co-host a monthly story telling evening and told this story there last night. Imagine if it’s possible, me reading it to you. 

My story is about a meeting.

I spent the last five days in a giant, white walled room in the box hill town hall.

I was there for the gathering of the Uniting Church of Victoria and Tasmania, and because obviously, I know how to get down.

While there, we were treated to an evening of stories. One of them was told by my friend, I’ll call her A, and she talked about her place of safety in the church, her love of it, and her experience of hearing horrible words from another person in what should have been a safe place as a bisexual woman. She talked about her fear, and her panic, and her hurt, and I cried as I heard her because she was so beautiful and sure of who she was as she spoke.


My story is about an idea in a small room.

I used to live in Parkville, in a small and wonderful apartment named Yoko. She was my nest for a year and a half a little while ago, the scene of parties and conversations and so much eating and friends planning their future lives and watching Harry Potter and one weekend, the setting for two slothful days watching Netflix- I had a lot less on my plate then? I remember I was in bed watching Orange is the New Black, which will seem clichéd in a moment, because as I watched I started thinking. I was thinking about ladies who like ladies and how that seems ok to me now, after growing up a fairly boring Christian stereotype. And how I love all my gay friends, and while I thought things in a fairly straightforward way a small voice asked me if I would be ok with the gay thing if it was my gay thing.


My story is about labels.

I‘ve never liked those tests that tell you what you are. When people who dig such things say “well I’m an IFPJ” or “ha! Classic QXKH” or whatever the fuck, something within me rolls its eyes eternally and I feel a distaste that comes from years of trying so hard at ages 13 through 17 to cope with rising feelings of inadequacy by being ‘an individual’. That stuff is less important to me now but I still feel a strong reaction in my gut when someone thinks they know something about me. Maybe it’s harder to hide when you’re labelled, because you and others know something about what set you belong to.


My story is about a word I don’t like

Sexuality doesn’t suit me. I don’t like the sound of the word, I don’t like how clinical it seems and I don’t like it that even though it doesn’t contain other words like penis, or vagina it does hold a certain idea within it, that the possessor of the sexuality in question has certain designs on other persons, and the ability to sort of use this design or action it, in some way? There is to me a dance implicit in it, or at least an ownership, and a sexiness, however small and hidden, that feels removed from me.


My story is about it not being a big deal

Scene: my bedroom, circa 2014. Yoko.

A conversation between two Carlynnes

So, Carlynne, what if you wanted to date girls?

Huh. Well. What would that change?

Probably not much.

Yeah you’re right.

Wait- we still dig guys though yeah


Cool, more people to check out on the tram.


My story is about fear

A part of the Synod meeting was a chance to reflect on the story telling evening which had been a new initiative. I told my table partners that I was very moved by my friend’s story, and her bravery.

I did not say: It touched me, because I too am bisexual.

Another person spoke and we all agreed it had been a wonderful night and a man asked what had challenged us about the night

I did not say: Well, I was challenged because though a lot of my friends know, I am bisexual and I’m not *really* out.


My story is about watching

I see you, my lovely, glowing friends.

You are derided, and picked apart, and divided and demoralised because of that word I don’t particularly like, because you love.

I see you named, and because of this signal they come for you. I see them think they know a thing about you because of a word.

I see you.


My story is about what matters

I don’t date much, so it feels like it doesn’t matter. I pass for heterosexual (whatever that means) and often feel as I’ve always felt, so honestly it feels like it doesn’t matter. In Christian circles often assumptions are made that you’re straight, and that doesn’t really matter I guess, though if you’ve got short hair, never talk about having a partner and are vocal in your support of LGBTIQ concerns, other assumptions can be made, I don’t ever know which of that matters… The current shit-fest of a debate about marriage feels like it’s not my fight, I’m still the same Carlynne, I’ve not paid my dues, I don’t want to assume my point of view matters. It’s only a wee part of me, why would it matter? And if it doesn’t matter I don’t have to talk to a dear friend who asked me if my theology could line up with my life if I dated girls (side note, I’ve had time to consider and yeah, it could), that doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter that I don’t really know what my classmates would think.


My story is about a meeting.

Some guy who people hadn’t seen in the room much said bitterly to me over morning tea “they’d notice me in the room if I was gay”. I told him blankly I didn’t know how to respond to that and he said we spend too much time talking about “that stuff”. I wondered how he knew I wasn’t “that stuff”. When I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I wondered if there was something else I should be thinking about.


My story is about my friend in a white room

 A in the white room in Box Hill with wings and a Valkyrie shield saying who she is and what she is and staring us all down with a laugh and soft, brutal honesty. A causing me to wonder if I could claim things for myself the same way, if I could step into a word that way, if I could wear it like a cape.


My story is about labels

Because I’ve wanted to avoid what people will think they know about me, being looked at, being told I’m not the thing I think I am.

I still refuse to believe everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert, I do not want to do a fucking myers-briggs test, and no, knowing that I could cheerfully date a boy or a girl doesn’t mean you know anything about who I actually am. But labels help you know what set you belong to, and honestly I think my 13 through 17 year old selves would approve.


My story is about the fear I didn’t know I was responding to until that table conversation, and how I’m quietly, in small steps, telling it to leave.


This story is about my sexuality (it took a lot to leave that there).


This is a story that might not be a bit deal,


This is a story about my not wanting to just watch any more.


This might be a story about what matters.






For Vicki

It’s my mother’s birthday today, falling as it always does inconveniently close to Mother’s Day. When we were growing up as far as I can recall, and still now when she gets a bit fired up, she was very clear about us getting her two SEP-ER-ATE gifts. We were not to combine our well meaning thoughts and benign good wishes into one thing, not matter how two-present’s-worth we thought it was. Though, knowing what we were like I’m sure we often forgot, or counted cards as presents, or didn’t take it seriously, and were eventually forgiven.

So on this, the one of two occasions designed for me to remember my ma, I wanted to write something about the woman who has shown me often in unappreciated and completely ignored ways what strength looks like, what the slow and small and humble and faltering giving of yourself to those you love can look like. Then I remembered I’d basically done that for a biography assignment at Uni, so I dug this out from 5 years ago.

To my mum, who loves her kids unconditionally, who has remained proud to be our mum no matter what we do or how we live, who has not once asked me when I’ll give her grandkids, Happy Birth and Splendid Mother’s Days. This is not really a gift, Mum. There are two SEP-ER-ATE presents coming, I think.

The Leaving


“So how did you feel when you saw me driving away?”

“It was sort of… a heartbreak.”

“… Mum, are you crying?”

“No. I’m trying not to.”


My mum started it all.

At 18, my mum is told to leave. She is told by God and it’s good timing because she needs to leave her family but isn’t ready to become a nun like she thought she might. She sees an ad for a children’s home called Bethel in Dalby, Queensland. She asks for a sign, opens her bible up, and reads about Moses being told to leave his family.

Get out of your country,
from your family and from your father’s house,
to a land that I will show you.

Moses was told to go to Bethel, and so is Vicki.

God was probably my mother’s first love. An awkward and self conscious teenager, smiling quietly under a thick black fringe, she doesn’t have boyfriends for years, but she is saved at 15. She sees in her new faith a huge and spacious welcome, an acceptance she didn’t know could exist. She goes on retreats and spends days in silence. She knows God is calling her.

I left her when I was 25. I drove away in an overfull car to Melbourne. I headed off to follow God amongst the homeless and broken and Vicki watched me leave, her heart breaking. As I went she thought two things; that this is what Merle must have felt, and at least it’s only for a year.

I broke her heart a second time when I told her I wasn’t coming home. My leaving was therefore a little more cruel, but Vicki’s was carried across three states.

At home, she is one of six, three boys and three girls. She lives in Port Lincoln among hills and ocean and family. Vicki tells them all about Jesus. Once in the arms of her savior, it had seemed rude to withhold salvation from them.

Like all the saints, this dedication doesn’t do her any good; her father is particularly resistant.

Her mother, Merle can’t understand why Vicki wants to leave. Vicki knows it will be harder for Merle but tries to explain that it is something she can’t not do.

“Why does God need you so far away?” Merle asks. Her daughter thinks they must be speaking different languages.

On the day she leaves to board the first of three planes that take her to her new life, Port Lincoln is green. She looks at the faces of her family, most of whom think her decision is ridiculous. She looks at Merle who says nothing. She looks at her youngest brother, to whom she’s been a second mum, and she leaves.

Three planes transport her from the water, the green and the known, to another world of dry, red, flat dust spreading out to the horizon. She is in a biblical landscape. She’s as far from her home as she will ever be. She is Alice down the rabbit hole, Moses in the promised land.

And so my mum begins her new life. She lives now in a flat looking blue house, with a slanted roof. She is surrounded now by orphans who are only a little younger than her. In their faces she sees the momentum of her decision, the choice she has made.

Two Baptists, kind but severe, run the house where Vicki lives. She is to help with the cooking and the cleaning and the looking after of the children. Soon it is easy to forget to miss home. She is amongst the adventure of her lifetime.

While the children are at school Vicki moves from room to room gathering clothes and bedding. She washes and irons for 16 now. When that is done she cuts carrots for stews, and helps the children with their homework. There is a place out of town where the homes can get a whole cow chopped up. They use it all. Cheap meat and big freezers mean they eat pretty well.

On Saturdays she plays with the kids, and on Sundays she gets a day off. She walks to the dam and looks at the water, she reads books or sometimes the bus goes into town and she hitches a ride to find and walk along the creek. She builds herself a life here, and it seems to fit her well.

Wrapped in my new life, I too cut carrots in a kitchen, and cleaned up after those whose care I was entrusted with. I too saw in their faces the place I was supposed to be. I too didn’t miss my mother the way she missed me.

And 37 years apart, we on occasion remembered our old lives and shook our heads.

Dalby is the perfect container for Vicki. She has function, and a divine purpose, she has many children who need her so she cannot feel bad about leaving her brothers and when she doubts, she remembers Moses.

They organise a walkathon for the children to raise money for the homes. With the proceeds they buy a trampoline and my child mother jumps on it, her dark hair flying.

She visits Lincoln maybe once a year. It’s a long bus ride back to South Australia, and she doesn’t have a lot of money. Vicki was close to her mum before she left. They had spent a lot of time together when Vicki’s Dad was drinking. They grew together, bonded by the absence of one man. She still knows that her leaving has made some things more difficult for her mother and she sometimes feels the twist inside that all who are torn feel, that I felt every time I saw her again.

I decided to stay in Melbourne for a number of reasons, chiefly because I felt to go back would be a reversal. I was thrilled by the anonymity of my new city; that it was mine and mine alone. I felt my mothers prickled resignation but could ignore it.

Merle Ransom aches to see her middle daughter but it is not like her to gush. She remembers Vicki’s certainty and still doesn’t understand why a loving God would pull her child away.

Vicki visits Port Lincoln for Christmas in ’74. Her Father is a different man now; a stroke has robbed him of his ability to be cruel and has left him fragile and old. She doesn’t know to balance the man who made her want to leave with the frightened and broken man left in her home. He dies that January while Vicki is still around. She is 24. She does not stay and it might be this leaving, or any of the others, or none at all that Merle remembers when 40 odd years later, it is her turn to go.

Merle was old and longing for her home, she didn’t know that her leaving was contrary to how things were supposed to work: Vicki had by now come home to her, for her. They needed each other- this was the time they had been denied. Merle told Vicki leaving was something she needed to do, Vicki thought they must have been speaking different languages.

After her father’s dying, my Mum spends another year in Dalby. She then migrates to Newcastle and Bible College. After three years of learning to hate college food via too many sausages and learning to hate rules via the wearing of skirts, my mother meets a man called Colin. He is tall, black haired, much older and already divorced. He is to be a minister and he surprises my mother by marrying her. She has left the girl with the fringe behind it seems. They have wedding on the beach and move on back to Queensland.

They head back to Dalby where Vicki is reunited with the children’s homes again. This time she is a house parent- she has a minister of her own now.

They stay that way long enough to look after many more orphans in one house, to foster at least five children in two more, and to bear two of their own and adopt one, across five towns in two states. Colin stays for seven more years but leaves the four of us in Gladstone, at a two story house with a poinciana tree and a puppy. It is this that drives my mother finally, back to her family. She longs for their known shapes, for their safety in a way she never has. 43, broke and broken, she packs us into a car and trailer and pulls herself down to Adelaide, her mother, her brothers and sisters. On the trip my mother and I grow closer, bonded by the absence of one man.

We arrive in Adelaide and I cry at the new house. It is ugly and red and I am too young to care that as much as I hate the house, my poor bruised mother probably hated it more simply for being hers and hers alone. She does not let us know how weary she is, that something has gone wrong at the end of her story. She sees this arrival as a bridge of sorts, I think. She sees herself coming home to Merle, and maybe this means she can have never left.

By the time I left, my mother had long been the one my grandmother relied on. They argued, Vicki told me things Merle had said and sometimes longed for freedom, for a weekend without their usual shopping trip, for a night free of phone calls.

And for a while there, I am in Adelaide, and Merle and Vicki, and we all exist in codependence, grounded in one another.

But then- it is my turn, and I tell my mother I have to leave, it’s something I need to do. She knows.

The day I leave Adelaide it is bright out, a few puffs of cloud in a perfect blue.

Merle, whose last few months back in Port Lincoln are widely known to have been a success, died in September of 2011. Vicki is wracked with guilt over not supporting her move back home, and I tell her that Grandma would remember all the times she was there for her, not the one time she wasn’t.

“I remember her saying I know it will be hard but I have to do this for me-

I remember saying the same thing to her.”

In which I visit a church with mixed results

A disclaimer: my interests have become, of late, rather church and religion adjacent. This is due largely to my choice of vocation and also due to, well, my interests. If you don’t dig on or have any care for the whole church thing, or give a shit about how they do what they do, this may not be your cup of tea. Feel free to disregard, or to read solely for the bits where I’m openly mocking some Christians (sorry). I started writing this for an assignment but it got too fun and so I wrote an assignment and a seperate thing for me and this is the result. It comes off angry, but I can deal with that.

Swathes of inexorably cool young things mill about on the pavement outside the Athenaeum Theatre. A-frame signs bearing the Hillsong logo tell us we’re in the right place and two lots of welcomers make sure we know they notice us. As I approach I say “please don’t leave me- I’m afraid” to a departing friend and I am only half joking. I am attending Hillsong Melbourne City Campus ostensibly to write a case study for an assignment but also to assuage the slight guilt I carry with me for feeling, as a lot of folk of a certain age who are into small and manageable emerging worship type churches do, as though I know all I will ever need to about anything that can be described as a mega-church. If I dislike something, I want to be able to do this with integrity thank you very much.

I managed to avoid (possibly by looking abrupt and scared) the first lot of welcomers who were stood about near the large doors, cool and professional in printed T’s and rehearsed, earnest smiles. The second lot, inside the doors, offered me a murmured “hi” but none of the perfectly designed cards they clutched in their hands. The foyer was wall to wall Hip Young People, and I realised I had no way of knowing where I needed to be for the churching itself. I stood near a table, trying to convince myself that despite my immediate internal default position I was not the most awkward person in the room and that I had every right to be there amongst people possibly 15 years my junior. I set about getting the lay of the land, repeating my surveying of the room and the buoyant kids talking animatedly to one another for ten minutes or so until I saw movement across the foyer; through the throng a small trail of people was headed in a direction that seemed likely to be the church-event, so I set off to follow. This trickle led me to the downstairs doors. As I reached them though, a set of Hillsong T-wearing helpers shut them almost directly in my face saying to one another that “they’re not all going to get chairs anyway”. They did not look at me. I did an immediate U-turn, muttering to myself like a crank and they called after me that I should try upstairs. Not a great start, but I made my way up the stairs as I am fairly robust emotionally and was there for a purpose gosh-darn it.

The theatre itself was mostly dark upon entry. I filed into the large upstairs balcony area in a hush that matched perfectly the theatre setting, and saw the lower portion which is free of chairs at least at the front, brimming with young bodies moving around excitedly, pressed towards the stage the way I used to at gigs. A video was playing on a screen; well-fonted biblical text, images of quasi-spiritual significance, flashes of colour. It was very well made. At some point a band filed on in mostly silence and continuing darkness. They started playing something mounting and electronic betwixt sets of white lights installed in matching patterns either side of the screen, drums rolling us along towards a crescendo. The video and the band worked together, building a mounting feeling within the room, we were all involved now, we all were wondering where this train was going, the images flickered into each other rapidly, colours and shapes jarring together with louder and louder keys, drums and guitar until the music dropped at its peak just as the video stopped on the image of a red cross on a white background. The crowd went frigging nuts.

As the applause for the rock-star cross raged on a solitary woman took to the stage. The lights gradually focused on her and the band, and they began playing a song. On the three large screens began another video clip. The clip involved a lion wandering through an art gallery, and a violin player seated near a sculpture, and other bits and pieces, some lyrics. The song built and with it the singers’ voice, which was quite lovely. It was quite affecting and though I found the accompanying video to be baffling nonsense, I did get goose bumps at the appropriate points as I am not made of stone.

This song finished in a flare of lights and the solo singer left the stage. She was never seen again. To replace her, a troupe of eight very stylish and young singers ran on and one who looked suspiciously like Adam Levine took the lead. The band was very, very well rehearsed, and the initial song a very good copy of the horrible, feel-good, we’re-all-just-going-to-save-the-world-by-dancing-and-being-in-love-on-a-road-trip-to-the-desert pop that is around right now. Simple verses leading to a chorus of Adam singing “I just wanna be where you are” followed by a manipulated keyboard sound trilling a cute little melody while all eight singers jumped around like little wood nymphs kicking their feet, twirling on the spot, spinning in place and full of obvious delight to be worshipping. This went on for some time, three or four songs -an eternity, who can tell- eventually the upbeat songs being replaced with thoughtful and emotive power chords. All around me my compatriots engaged in combo worship manoeuvres; hands up head down, eyes closed arms low, hands outstretched, the sway, the twist on the spot.

A Pastor appeared after approximately four songs to introduce a video link- it seems we were to join Hillsong Sydney for their worship. We saw their band, and our band began playing and singing with them meaning we were watching dozens upon dozens of people by now, all engaged in the same exultant, blissed out mannerisms. This carried on for an additional 2-3 songs. The Pastor had wandered off then appeared again later bopping awkwardly to the music presumably so we’d know he was the Pastor, then wandered off again. He wasn’t seen again till a vaguely racist “pastoral word” he delivered at the end of the thing. But we didn’t need him because… Brian Houston took to the stage in Sydney and began a sermon! Brian! The man himself! In Sydney!

He talked about the Holy Spirit for what felt like forty-five minutes but may have been less. As he talked I realised a great many things. One was “oh I really enjoy structure in a sermon”. Another was “you really believe the Holy Spirit is a man, don’t you?” yet another being “I have truly awful handwriting”. I sat, erratically jotting notes that must have made me seem as if I was finally engaged with what was going on but that in fact hinted at the various emotional reactions I was having to the sermon. I wanted to love the preaching. I longed to be pleasantly surprised by a man who has built an empire and amassed millions of followers because, as certain pockets of the church are fond of saying with a shrug and a sad smile that implies they are bravely acknowledging the truth, “they must be doing something right”. However much I was theoretically ready to be taught something, to have the Word explored and expanded in front of me though, this was not to be.

Brian rasped his meandering thoughts in varying stages of passion and quietitude, occasionally referring to a bible verse to back up his opinions of the Holy Spirit. He paced the stage, not our stage of course, but the stage on our big screen TV, his voice rising and falling like an auctioneer. The Holy Spirit is our advocate. The Holy spirit is our Cheerleader. He had the sense to say at least that the spirit is not just a resource at one point, oh that’s big of you, I thought, though at another he said it is “cheaper than therapy”. This particular point I found vastly troubling, not least because of the murmured responses that came floating up from all over the theatre- our crowd were not, it seems, deterred from encouraging Brian by his not being in the building- got louder at this point as they had at many others, as people sensed he had said something Very True and or lyrically resonant. If, I thought, the Holy Spirit is our therapist, what does that say to the statistically probable whole bunch of folks here who have clinical depression or anxiety or any other myriad reasons one could have for talking to a therapist and which in no way mean they’re not a vessel for the Spirit of God? This Spirit, I was to learn, walks with you to encourage you, and is better looking than Brian, with ‘powerful arms’. This Spirit, I came to understand, was around to Help Me With My Goals. Which, sure, Bri did say should be “about building the kingdom”, but though that got another boat load of affirming murmurs from Melbourne which our preacher will never know about, what I would love to know is, how the fuck the Kingdom is understood if the Holy Spirit is sold to me as an aide to making my life better.

How many times we were told “just to invite him in” – him in this case being the Holy Spirit, lest you had forgotten- I couldn’t say but I was left very confused as to just what exactly that meant. Brian did specify that we already had the Spirit, thanks for that Brian, but there was a clear call to get more somehow? A greater influx? More Spirit less No Spirit if you will, which really amped up at the end of the rambling and sporadically hyper homily when we were encouraged I think to invite him in but this time the band will play and you guys just pray and just invite him in and I wanna feel the spirit moving tonight I do feel the spirit moving tonight I think the spirit is going to move on you powerfully tonight (also by the way the Spirit will help me with my financial endeavours so perhaps I should have tried harder to up my Spirit quota when instructed) all this being assisted ably by the band who were urging us to feel the Spirit move with the perfect combination of chords and rolling drum solos.

Look. I know I’m being crass and unkind, and I know I could be accused of not really going in with an open mind at all, but honestly after a month or so reflecting on this, I don’t really want to be kind. I think that kind of theology is at best unhelpful and at worst dangerous. I think using all male pronouns for all names of God is dumb and outdated and can’t and shouldn’t be supported and to do so with so obvious a lack of consideration, such a blithe assumption of what you know about God makes me mad. I think implying that all you really need for your emotional health is to worship harder is negligent. I think worship shouldn’t just be a big feel-fest to get you all amped up and ready for the week. I think churches should be talking about what the Holy Spirit has empowered us to do in the world around us. I think a lot of churches get things wrong, but that to suggest we should be seeking to emulate certain other movements because they get the kids in the seats and raising their hands is naïve and missing a large part of the point because I don’t want a theatre full of kids raising their hands and hearing tidbits about what God can do for them and whipping themselves into a frenzy aided by spirit keys and repetitive calls to ask Jesus into your heart to be what church boils down to.

I will say this: they run a tight ship. If I had felt so moved, I know I could have found a dozen ways to be “connected in”, though I would have had to be the one initiating contact. I somehow missed the ‘welcome zone’ which I found out was near the doors I was tragically barred from, but they made it clear that I could have talked to anyone in a Hillsong T-shirt and been welcomed and joined up to all manner of helpful groups and lists. I was super bothered by the sermon being streamed in but maybe that doesn’t happen all the time. I hope not. I’d like to believe that they have the resources to find preachers if not to help youngins from their enclaves to try their hand at it. All the volunteers, of which there were many, and the attendees were literally the most representative bunch I’ve ever witnessed in a church. All the colours of the rainbow. Lack of cultural diversity clearly is a problem they’ve left for us, the more staid, less branded congregations.

So anyway, they get the kids in, they get them excited, and who knows, maybe I’m just an asshole and they all go out from there wanting to learn more and see God in the face of a stranger. Or maybe no one ever does and I should get off my high horse. I don’t know, as I’m increasingly convinced no one does, the perfect way to do church. And I don’t want to. Perhaps this service was more than a big old feel-fest, perhaps it doesn’t matter. I did learn a little about myself in there, aside from how much I don’t enjoy Brian Houston’s preaching. The woman who used to be able to engage in some sort of internal surrendering of self during sung worship, is gone. At least for now. She’s been replaced by someone who thinks a LOT about different parts of church, about what people say, about how boring so many church songs are to her, who does not want to lift her arms. She can be a bit of a dick. And she knows that Hillsong, chirpy vibes and friendly volunteers aside, is definitely not for her, and that this is fine.

Dry Bones

Someone once said that in the beginning were light and sound. But here in

this valley it is quiet and dark.

It is still as death and empty as thirst.

I wonder about the bones. About what they were before the valley, before the

earth, before the sun leached away their life, before they lay down.

What last heavy thing was put upon their shoulders? What last piece was

taken to lay them low, ready to undress their naked bones?

Were they like paper, like tissue? Did they feel like they had been dug out?

Did they remember when they felt anything at all, long before the heaviness

had settled in?


Did they remember when they used to glow?


Oh the exquisite sound of life, the lovely ache of caring

Oh the time when you wanted to dance when you weren’t filled with lead and

the unrepentant uselessness of all endeavors.

When those were gone and they were untethered did they wonder why they

didn’t just dissolve?

I wonder if in the valley they knew that it was death’s shadow.

Those bones who used to move and shake and who were colours and


When the wrongness of it all the hopelessness was poured into the empty

packet of them, is that the moment; is that when they lay down and can we

even blame them-

Can these bones live?

Do the bones still carry this apathy, as close as skin?

Can these bones live?

How can we ask what is already dead to dance with the spirit?

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up

from your graves, O my people…

What can stir us when we are deep in the earth, where we long to stay,

already swallowed?


Perhaps it’s the memory of light and sound

And perhaps it’s


The promise of the spirit. The promise of life.

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring

you up from your graves, O my people.

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.

A letter to all ministers, regarding their use of Facebook.

Dear all;

Facebook, that wily, time sucking minx, has been a part of our lives for some time now. You lot, hearing this letter will no doubt have at most a slavish, worshipful relationship with the book, and at least an opinion about its being a blight in which you have no interest in partaking. If you are the latter, please ignore what follows. If however you are a minister of some kind who uses Facebook, it’s likely you can be placed in one of four categories.

The minister that hates it but got a profile because several people kept saying you should and now whenever it’s mentioned you murmur something about not being “up to all that internet jazz” and render your token interaction with the platform near useless.

The minister who interacts with it the way they would a polite grandchild, popping in several times daily to tell their eager followers that “the begonias are coming along thanks God for the rain” or “my latest batch of marmalade is done”, regardless of how few people care about the begonias or the marmalade.

Still others use it as a forum for their political rants, attempts at wit, and the only evangelism they engage in- that being of their favourite band or author.

But the last and most evil of all the types of Facebook user, Ministerial or not, is the over-sharer. The person who has taken the word ‘friends’ –shockingly misused in this context- to heart and who tells all of theirs daily of their thoughts, complaints and emotional states.

Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps this is a perfectly legitimate way to express yourself and to receive succor from the bosom of those intimates whom you have allowed into your digital circle. But, beloved, let us not forget that Facebook can be, and is often, three things: Useful, public, and treacherous.

You lot can make good use of a forum that allows the easy and informal dissemination of information to many, with options of interactive commentary and a function for organising event invitations.

Let’s not forget though that this is a public forum. It’s not you telling your neighbour Marge about your other neighbour Kev. It’s you telling your “friends” and potentially more depending on your privacy settings and on the respecting of those into the future, about your neighbour Kev.

This is not an admonishment about privacy in the vein of “be afraid of hackers” or whatever other hysteria some people find themselves prey to, I personally don’t care at all about the faceless identity thieves/ stalkers combing through my information, which we can talk about at another time.
My care is for those who have become, however it has happened, connected to you on this platform. I have unfollowed family, due to persistent oversharing. How much more will I unfollow a minister who does the same!

The crux of my letter, dear ones, is this: think carefully about what type of user you want to be.

You aren’t taking a close friend aside for a debrief. You’re talking to possibly upwards of hundreds of people.
Furthermore, if you’re friends with members of your congregation, which I would also council thinking about, and you are interspersing your “oh three meetings down and the rain has stopped crying with laughter face” with “church council is totally draining where is the life of Christ here sad face with single tear” or “Pastoral visits are really hard” or “really struggling at the moment” you are inviting your congregation to provide some sort of pastoral care to you- however insincere, and I believe it struggles not to be at least a little- which I would suggest could be inappropriate, not to mention the potential offence and or breaches of privacy that could crop up.

I’m not trying to say that as a minister there is no place to be authentic- that is the last thing I think. But this portal is not authentic. It is almost by definition a curated, doctored arena of personal performance and mediated interaction. It is treacherous. I understand the temptation to vent, particularly after a frustrating meeting, and particularly when it can be done with such ease, and with such a resulting satisfaction when all your likeminded buddies can like and comment. But I urge caution when making your emotional complaints into a sphere where one can offer “support” simply by clicking a small button. You, I hope, have other avenues of actual support available to you. Use them. Leave Facebook to its other evils, the dull and the overly political.

Yours sincerely,