Gordon’s Farewell

After an amazing 19 years, Rev Gordon Ramsay has concluded his ministry at Kippax Uniting. Sunday 3 April was a day of celebration for this ministry – a mix of sadness, joy, fond remembrance, and excitement for the future.

Below are some pictures and just one of the many speeches  given that day.

Gordon last service

 Ramsays cake

A view from the community – by Lin Hatfield Dodds

I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the country we gather on this evening. Deep respect to Ngunnawal and Ngambri elders, past and present. I also acknowledge with respect any elders from other clan nations present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

The disciple is dragged out of….relative security into a life of absolute insecurity…, out of the realm of the finite into the realm of infinite possibility”.

That’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer on call. Gordon introduced me to that quote once as I was struggling to avoid making a hard decision that would shift me radically from one space and direction to another.

Gordon said that the hard thing about call is that by its nature you are pulled out of where you are and what you know to someplace else. He said that the good thing about call is that your responsibility is to answer it (in whichever way you choose) and then the rest is up to God.

Gordon knows a thing or two about call. He’s had a long journey to arrive here at this place, at this time, answering a call that takes him out of his comfort zone, out of his church tribe after 25 years of ministry, and into the unknown.

If, as Stephen Pickard said this morning, politics is the domain of the ordering of society, for its flourishing, perhaps the unknown will not be so unfamiliar to Gordon.

This morning, in Gordon’s closure of ministry service, we sang these words:

A voice for the voiceless Justice for all And for the listless a clarion call

If Gordon’s passion is about justice, hope and opportunity for all, then perhaps the Bonhoeffer leap is more about context and culture than it is about content.

Let’s go back in time a bit. Some 30 years ago, the visionaries who were then in leadership at Kippax decided to build a church. Only they didn’t want to build the sort of church that doesn’t say “welcome” to everyone. There were to be no big walls, no being shut away behind fences or hidden in a difficult part of the city to find.

This would be a church named as a community centre that we would understand that we held in trust with the wider community.

We scoped where best to build. Rather than be safe, we took risks. We moved out to a part of town where life can be hard for people. We chose a site opposite and facing the regional shopping centre. We built big windows facing the community, a community hall, multipurpose spaces.

By the time Gordon and his family arrived in 1997, we were running playgroups, and were just starting to dip our toe into the water about emergency relief and financial counselling. But there was no real shape or form to what we were doing. We were responding to need as it knocked on our door rather than developing a strategy. Our vision was well meaning but a bit inchoate – cuddles all round for everyone.

Gordon changed all that. For the past 19 years, we have been engaged in a glorious, amazing, risky, prophetic, joy-filled and exhausting experiment to see how far we can push our practical theology in practice in the real, messy world.

For example, unlike any other community services agency I know, UnitingCare Kippax does not ration its emergency relief. Yup. Does. Not. Ration. That’s crazy. It’s stupid. We should run out of stuff (and occasionally we do). But more often than not, way more often than not, the Kippax community, and the wider communities we are a part of, respond to our challenge to respond abundantly to the need in our community.

We don’t ration our ER because God doesn’t ration grace. Our fundamental world view is that justice ought to flow like a river, not be doled out in fiscally responsible parcels.

Challenging? Betcha. Could this approach work in a bigger system? I don’t know.

But it’s worked at Kippax for nearly two decades. And all of us have been transformed by it.

Lest you think that Gordon is off with the pixies, let me remind you of something we at Kippax are so proud of. He is very well respected across the ACT community, regionally, and nationally, as a leader, an intellect, and a visionary. He has chaired and participated on many ACT Government taskforces, boards, and inquiries. He chaired the Canberra Presbytery for years. He currently chairs the board of Uniting, in NSW and the ACT – an $800M social services organisation.

Locally, he has grown, with the Kippax community,

  • our capacity to discern need think: the Living on the Edge report, authored by Gordon, and our first foray away from making stuff up;
  • our capability to respond to need think about the suite of truly innovative and creative ways we engage with our community, from holiday happenings, to garage sales which are fundraisers but also huge community celebrations; from our emergency relief and financial counselling services to our playgroups to our Newpin program for vulnerable families;
  • and our understanding that seeing and responding to disadvantage, vulnerability and need is what makes us fully human.

Because of Gordon’s vision, leadership, creativity, intellectual curiosity and willingness to take risks, all of us who have shared some of the journey with him over the past 19 years have a much richer and deeper lived understanding of what it is to live abundantly well.

And we have become a movement for good in the world, welcoming all, and seeking to build communities in which every person belongs, is valued, and can contribute.

As well as the cool Bonhoeffer quote, Gordon taught me the word “proleptic” – which means to live as if our hope has been realised. If we hope for justice, we work for it, and we can also choose to live as if it is already here. We can choose to live as peacemakers, as justice builders, as people who risk loving where our love may not be returned.

The richness of this kind of thinking has produced, I think, an amazing community of people at Kippax. This is a rich legacy, Gordon, and one I hope that you are proud of as you finish up your formal ministry with us today.

Your risky, creative, crazy leadership has transformed so many of us. It has transformed me. And I thank you for that.

So, go, Gordon, into new spaces, into new roles, go into the new with our love and blessing.

Move confidently into Bonhoeffer’s place of infinite possibility, knowing that God has called you out of the church and into the wider community.

Go carrying the story you’ve always carried: the story of a voice for the voiceless, justice for all.

Take everything with you that we’ve learned together over the past 19 years at Kippax, lessons about embracing the sojourner and alien, nourishing the poor, resisting evil, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly.

Go well, my friend. May you and the story you carry flourish.

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