All the way from bonny Scotland: Wauchope has a new minister

SQUINTING IN THE AUSSIE SUN: Outside the Wauchope church, Mary and John Forbes with children James, Elsa, Kenneth, Donald and Katherine.

SQUINTING IN THE AUSSIE SUN: Outside the Wauchope church, Mary and John Forbes with children James, Elsa, Kenneth, Donald and Katherine.

Wauchope has a new minister and he has come all the way from Scotland with his family.

Rev John Forbes, his wife, Mary and their five children, Katherine (12), James (10), Donald (9), Elsa (7) and Kenneth (5) will move into the manse on Bindi Close in Crosslands in mid-December.  At the moment, they’re staying in temporary accommodation in North Haven.

Rev Forbes was minister for ten years in the Free Church of Scotland in Lairg, a village in the far north in the county of Sutherland.

John and Mary Forbes and family with Australian cousins, Mike and Lyn Howlin from Coffs Harbour at the reception lunch.

John and Mary Forbes and family with Australian cousins, Mike and Lyn Howlin from Coffs Harbour at the reception lunch.

“It’s a very beautiful part of the world which has a lower population density than Australia. Only 2.7people per sq km.  The manse in Lairg had a glebe with a few fields for use by the minister.  

“We kept a few Cheviot sheep and chickens.  Sometimes we reared piglets.  I had a farming background so this was one of the perks of being in a rural charge,” he recalled.

Growing up, Rev Forbes attended church with his family and the Christian faith was very much part of their lives.  He has had many religious influences, including his parents, and two ministers, as well as the writings of the 19th century Bishop JC Ryle.

John always had a strong interest in the bible and theology and considered studying theology at university but, as he had no intention at that time of being a minister, he went down a very different path initially.  

He served as an officer in the British Army (Royal Engineers) before studying Engineering at Cambridge University.  After his engineering degree I worked in accountancy.  

“But I began to realise that the Christian ministry was my true calling.  I went back to study theology as a student with the Free Church of Scotland and was ordained in 2008.

“The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA) or “Free Presbyterian Church” is a bible believing church and has warm fellowship and good relations with all other bible believing Christians and churches, even if we differ on some of the non-essentials.

“The word ‘Presbyterian’ is really a description of our form of government.  It's from the Greek word for an elder and means that our church is governed by ministers/elders who meet together in council from time to time.  

“We differ from Anglicans and Catholics in that we don’t have a hierarchy of offices within our church.  No bishops or archbishops, every minister is equal.  Locally elected lay elders also have an equal say with the ministers in our church councils.  

“We differ from Congregational or Independent churches (which are also usually governed by elders) in that we believe congregations should be interconnected and interdependent at a regional and national level.  

“It’s the form of government of the Scottish national church, and came to Australia with the Scottish settlers of the 19th century,” he said.

Rev Forbes says they aim for their worship to be simple, spiritual and biblical.  A major focus is the reading and preaching of the bible.  

“Perhaps most unusual to many visitors is that we sing only the psalms of the bible, and we do so without instrumental accompaniment.  We believe it’s the way the apostles and early church worshipped. It’s simple, participative, and really beautiful when done well.  

“The 150 psalms of the bible perfectly express the full range of human emotions and make clear references to Christ in a way that uninspired hymns can’t do,” he said.

The minister’s church in Scotland has longstanding links with the PCEA and his classmate from Theological studies in Edinburgh, Rev Robin Tso, is now a minister in Newcastle.  He encouraged Rev Forbes to come to Australia last year to help foster and maintain the links between the churches.

The Forbes family came for 11 weeks and spent a lot of that time in Wauchope.  After they returned to the UK, the Wauchope congregation invited him to come as their minister.

“It was a difficult decision as we loved our congregation and people in Scotland but I felt I could be more useful here,” said Rev Forbes.

His wife, Mary is a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.  Their five children, who are between the ages of 12 and five, have taken the move to the other side of the world in their stride, and have been delighted to renew friendships made during last year’s visit.

The position in Wauchope is open-ended.  The minister’s work visa is for four years, which could be extended to permanent.

“We love so many things about Australia.  We’ve found the people friendly, open and hospitable.  We like their straight-talking approach.  The wildlife is fascinating, such beautiful birds and plants.  We still think the Highlands of Scotland is the most beautiful place on earth but the weather in NSW is much more agreeable,” he said.

The induction at the Hastings River PCEA in Wauchope was held last month.  The service was led by moderator of the Northern Presbytery, Rev Jim Klazinga from Brisbane.  He then officially installed Reverend Forbes as minister of the congregation. Rev David Kerridge and Rev Trevor Leggott also addressed the service.

Afterwards there were speeches and presentations in the church hall followed by a buffet lunch.  On behalf of the congregation, local elder Glen Hamilton presented the Forbes children with fishing rods and tackle, which they were absolutely delighted with.

Rev Forbes said it was a pleasure to have a number of visitors present from other PCEA congregations, representatives from other local congregations, and other friends from near and far.  The service and speeches were also live streamed over the internet for family and friends in the UK.