AN APPRECIATION OF HIS MINISTRY AT THE CATHEDRAL
When Bishop Brian retired from his official diocesan duties, he became complicit in a double conspiracy. I conspired to have him at the Cathedral, and he conspired to come to the Cathedral. It was a win-win match-up. I had much to gain; he had much to give. For a while we were unaware of our roles as mutual conspirators, but inevitably our covers were blown, and a marvellous period in the life of the Cathedral was underway.
The key to Brian’s ministry was that he made the ordinary special. He agreed that the only book you need to read in preparation for the priesthood is George Herbert’s A Priest to the Temple, or the Country Parson, and his ministry was built four-square on Herbert’s wise counsel. The priest holds to the rule, said Herbert, that ‘nothing is little in God’s service’ for God fills everyone and everything, and so it comes as no surprise that Brian’s ministry was marked with a down-to-earthness and a delight in ordinary things whereby, with Herbert, we could see ‘Heaven in Ordinary’.
This is the essential clue to his time at the Cathedral. By treasuring the ordinary, he helped us to see it with new eyes. He set his mind to ‘wallow’ – as Herbert puts it in The Country Parson – in our ordinary, day-to-day business, because he was convinced that it was there, in the midst of our affairs, that God was to be found. By being such a part of our everyday, often tiresome experiences he helped us win through to a vision of God, not as something idyllic or other-worldly, but in life as it really is. He used his involvement in the daily hustle and bustle to open up to us the reality of God in everything we did, no matter how mundane or frustrating.
So he always made time to come in for a chat. At some point every day he would stop by my office to see how things were going, and he was not to be deterred. He would pull into the Administrator’s office next door, and I would hear him say to the incomparable Bernadette, ‘How’s his nibs today?’ ‘Oh, he’s very busy right now’, she would say. “Good’, Brian would reply, and walk right in with his signature phrase, ‘Cup of tea?’ In the early days I would think, ‘Bang goes another half-hour’, but eventually the truth of what he was doing struck home. ‘Nothing is little in God’s service’, said Herbert; ‘always enter the cottages of your people … for God is there, and those for whom Christ died’. Clergy ‘busyness’ is just a state of mind, Brian would say. There’s always time for a cup of tea. It gives you permission to be a priest. And his conversation was always peppered with homely one-liners: ‘She’ll be right. That’s the ticket. Now you’re talking. Bonza. Good on you’. Phrases that might test credulity when seen in print but which were the stuff of companionship and support when spoken.
Brian recalled with great affection his afternoons spent visiting the homes of his parishioners, and how he worked out the best places to visit at around four in the afternoon, when the heavily-laden tea trolleys would come rattling down the passageway from the kitchen, and there would be scones and jam and cream and lots of sugar, and they would talk of families and friends and hopes and fears and the love of God.
In later, less gracious days, when sugar came, not in ornate bowls, but in little sleeves with advertising on the outside, Brian perfected the art of gathering four together as one, tearing off the tops simultaneously, then pouring the combined contents into a cup of tea. ‘Why this elaborate subterfuge, I asked?’ ‘Well,’ replied Brian, ‘to take four sugars smacks of self-indulgence. To take one is testimony to a lifestyle that is both frugal and self-disciplined.’
Brian loved to preach and his sermons were of a kind we shall very likely never witness again. With great aplomb he would scatter points around like confetti, insert historical anecdotes and topical allusions at will, some enjoying only a loose connection with the overall theme, and then miraculously drawing everything together in a resounding conclusion. These sermons were always written in an immaculate hand on crackly foolscap pages which were so large that at every turn they brushed the microphone with a sonic blast. Not that he needed a microphone, having trained at Ridley College Melbourne in the days before sound systems. When called upon, his voice would have shamed the trumpeters at Jericho. One year on Anzac Day he preached a twenty minute sermon while the march went by outside to the raucous din of sixteen brass bands from the Navy, Army and Airforce. ‘Sorry for all those bands going by,’ I said to Brian after the service. ‘Bands? What bands?’ he replied.
One of Brian’s most impressive preaching skills was his facility at incorporating notices into sermons, which according to Brian’s own assessment, he accomplished seamlessly. ‘We’ve heard today how the disciples had many questions for Our Lord. To get the answers they would have needed only to come to our Anglican Institute discussion group in the Library at 5.00pm this Wednesday’. And again, ‘Throw your net over the other side of the boat’, Jesus called out. Why did he say that? To find out, come along to our Anglican Institute discussion group in the Soldiers Chapel next Thursday at 4.00pm’.
Brian once asked me what I thought of his sermons. I said I loved them. They were like scenic tours during which you fell in love with the countryside. Lots of countryside. In fact, they were like the River Jordan, which meanders for 120 miles to cover 60’. ‘Really?’ Brian replied, disarmingly, ‘I never imagined they were that good!’
We’re unlikely to hear his style again. But while it lasted, it was magnificent. And we are the poorer for its passing.
Brian loved the music of the Cathedral and held Joseph Nolan in the highest esteem. Not that Joseph was all that keen on Brian enthusiastically attempting to sing bass without the music in the choir stalls during services. Joseph would look darkly over at Brian, but Brian always took that as a sign of approval, and doubled his efforts.
It was Joseph’s forthright, no-nonsense conducting technique that most captivated Brian. ‘He conducts as though at any moment he’s going to reach over and pull the sound out of their throats’, he remarked. The achieving of beauty in music was important, said Brian, for it reminds us God is here.
Inherent in Brian was a love of the Anglican Church – its history, its ministry, its scholarship, its art, and especially its priesthood. This sadly now rather unfashionable confidence sprang from a source which, I suppose, in these fidgety days is equally unfashionable. I mean an unreserved affection for the distinctive tradition of the Anglican Church. Brian was not apologetic about the Anglican Church. He rejoiced in it. Very Anglican, too, was his suspicion of the kind of theology which is merely academic rather than personal and pastoral.
These priorities fashioned the Anglican Institute of Theology which he founded and drove. And he worked it through all the gears without ever resorting to the brake. He produced several years’ worth of newsletters full of erudite yet accessible material. He was always locked in loving combat with Bishop David Murray, with whom he shared space initially in the Lower Burt Hall, and then in a room upstairs in the Old Deanery. David would always have his programmes and speakers lined up several years ahead. It would fair enough to say this was a source of moderate consternation to Brian, who preferred to work at a closer distance with forthcoming dates. When, however, Brian’s programme was finally cast, the result was immaculate, and scholarship abounded to the benefit of an increasingly large body of enquirers.
To my series of Heretics Anonymous, Brian gave unqualified support. He was always present at every session, and could be relied upon, whenever discussion became either becalmed or dangerous, to intervene and set it upon a more profitable way.
Especially missed will be his vivid sense of humour, never at anyone’s expense other than his own. My last conversation with him was at Wollaston College at a eucharist to mark the beginning of the academic year. There were drinks before the meal and during our chat Brian said to me, ‘Who’s that elderly priest over there. I can’t remember his name?’ I looked around, saw the priest, but I couldn’t think who it was. ‘Why don’t you ask him his name?’ I said. ‘Oh I have’, said Brian, ‘but he can’t remember it either’.
St Augustine loved to draw an analogy between the saints and the mountains, which he based on Psalm 121: ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence cometh my help’. The mountain frames and gives stature to the infinite variety of kinds of life lived on it and around it, giving purpose, encouragement and perspective. I think of Brian Kyme as that kind of mountain, just as I think of him as a man marked indelibly, not with some kind of invisible spiritual ink, but indelibly in that you can never erase the consequences of a life-long commitment to faith in God and humanity.
He once remarked that regarding the mysterious doctrine of the Trinity, he could revere that at a distance, but with the Incarnation, he felt entirely at home. All the sweets of our faith are packed up in boxes, said George Herbert, and they all allure us with their delights, but it is supremely the Incarnation which is ‘the box we know’. When the Word became flesh, God entered that box we know, that human experience which is intimately ours, to give us access to what Herbert celebrated as Heaven in Ordinary.
The humanity of God in Christ was Brian Kyme’s fundamental inspiration that ‘turneth all to gold’, and so he became the one that made, for a very special time, our gray old world radiant with glory.
The Very Reverend Dr John Shepherd AM, Dean of Perth (1990 – 2014)
17 April 2020