David Introducing Himself
Usually, a short biography consists of a summary of facts and experiences in some kind of sequence of events. But, to be honest, I’m a bit over all of that stuff. Because what I’ve done in my life is far less significant now than who I have become and how I approach life.
So, let me tell you about that instead. I’m someone who is deeply in love with curiosity. Being curious has taken me down some very interesting paths and opened up so many possible ways of seeing and understanding things. Curiosity has deeply enriched my experience of life. Along the way I’ve bumped into some very different and very ordinary people who are wise, insightful and kind. I have learned a lot about life from them. I have learned that the vast majority of people are good, and that most people are kind.
I have learned that no religion or other world view holds all the answers to the purpose or meaning of life. Some appear to be less harmful for humanity than others, but I suspect that most of the time we craft our own views by collecting the bits and pieces of wisdom and insight that we find helpful for the Journeys we are on.
I’ve discovered too, that there is much to learn from aboriginal spiritualities whilst at the same time respecting them and resisting the temptation to appropriate or colonise them.
I’ve become far more interested in sensitive free-thinking than thoughtless dogma.
I’ve always been respectful of diversity but now I hunger and thirst for it. It is for me the elixir of evolution and adaptation.
So, this is how I endeavour to approach ministry in the 21st Century. Searching for a language that will help us to think and talk about divine mystery and a spirituality that speaks of radical inclusion, a healing of the heart and mind, a pursuit of justice and a peace that builds resilience through difficult times.
Rev David Pargeter
In Conversation: Rev David Pargeter responds to questions asked by Melissa Iddles
Question: How do you see your role as a minister?
Response: For me, it always comes down to context and circumstance. It’s important to be flexible and adaptable so that different aspects of the role can be fulfilled at different times. For instance, at times leadership in particular areas will be required but at other times it will be important to follow and support the leadership that others are very capable of exercising. Sometimes the role of confidential companion will be needed. Sometimes it might just mean playing the role of jester. Ministers, like everyone else, play many roles in life and work but in a general sense I understand my role as being a resource for meaningful spiritual, theological and social reflection. Asking and exploring what it means to be a person and a community of faith in our time and in this place.
Q: Why did you accept the call to become the minister of St Kilda Parish Mission?
R: I have for quite some time known and been aware of the ministry that this community seeks to exercise. I know of no other quite like it and it also has the look and feel of my very first full-time ministry placement in North London. I was particularly drawn to the sincerity of the people I met with in conversation and the honesty with which we discussed the nature of ministry and community in this place.
Q: What are you looking forward to in this role?
R: Ministry is about people, and I find people interesting. Not in a voyeuristic ‘nosey’ kind of way, but out of a desire to understand, appreciate and honour the uniqueness of every human story. Individually and collectively these stories craft the even richer story about the life and witness of this community. I’m looking forward to building the kind of trusted relationships that will enable the past and present to inform the future. I’m looking forward to going on a journey together.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
R: Spare time is an interesting concept. When I’m not ‘working’ I divide my time between a family that fills my life with joy and energy, pursuing many hobbies and being still. I have many interests that are both creative and practical. I paint with acrylics ( mostly landscapes but I’m trying to master the portrait). I love photography and lug my camera around everywhere; it drives my wife mad! I write poetry and lyrics, and keep a journal. Not a daily one but frequently enough for it to be a rhythm. I have personally renovated every home we’ve lived in, and will try my hand at most things ‘builderish’ but not every thing. I know my limitations. I love music of all genres especially opera and rock. I read widely, enjoying historical novels, fantasy, biographies, politics, crime – actually, most things. I like watching movies too. Travel fascinates me; especially spending time in a culture very different to my own.
Most of all I like to make space to just sit and think. Without ‘space’ there is no time for imagining either a different way or a different world.
Q: What have you been working on in recent years?
R: While working as an Industrial Chaplain back in the early 90’s, I developed a passion for designing work-based development programmes that integrated out-door activities and adventures with adult education. In its early phase, this included things like white-water rafting, horse-trekking, caving, hiking, sailing etc. The idea was to enable the external environment to interact with our interior landscape so-to-speak. We had some great fun and learned heaps along the way.This evolved into a richer understanding of the place of journeying and pilgrimage in human and spiritual development.
So, in more recent times, this has found expression in the founding and development of the Commission for Mission’s rather unique ‘Responsible Travel’ program. At the core of the program is the concept of discovery and encounter through immersion; immersing ourselves into a particular context so that we have to think and act differently, and more sensitively to what is going on around us. Part of the driver for this ministry was creating opportunities for older persons to travel and contribute to group life through their own wisdom and experiences – a kind of celebration of ageing. I’ve loved travelling with people of all faiths and none, all ages and with the differently abled. It’s great being part of something that stimulates change and growth.
Q: What is your understanding of God?
R: I know this was your first question but I moved it to the end because I wanted my other answers to provide some clues. Whilst I draw much of my understanding of ‘God’ from the Jesus story, I am not limited by it. In Australia we are slowly leaving behind us the Christendom concept of faithfulness, the biblical structure of the universe, and uncovering a new language to talk about faith in a world of many faiths and cultures. In the early phase of my Christian journey I would have answered your question with some very familiar and almost cliché type responses using grabs from biblical texts and doctrines. That was the norm. But things are different now. Lay people in particular are much more informed about the world in which they live. Scientifically alert and culturally aware. Consequently, any Christian apologetic for today’s society demands a greater degree of intellectual honesty and rigour. We understand and regard the bible differently today. We are aware of such things as the influence of patriarchal culture on the language of the Old and New Testaments. Empires and ruling monarchies were the nature of political systems; democracies as we know them did not exist. Psychology is a very modern science and we understand space and time very differently to Jacob or Jesus.
I realise that this may read like I’m avoiding a direct answer, but in reality I’m attempting to more seriously engage with the question and keep the conversation more open and alive to the experiences of others. Simple quick answers just won’t do. The era of theological and spiritual shorthand has passed. Everything has to be unpacked and viewed and valued differently. My own life experiences, like those of many people, means that the stock answers probably don’t and won’t work anymore. For example, I understand prayer differently these days – it has much more to do with connection and consciousness, than intervention. The spiritual journeys of people are so rich and diverse, and any description of the mystery that holds our attention needs to honour and respect those journeys. How God is perceived by a 9 yr old, or a 19 yr old or a 79 yr old requires sensitive and safe engagement. I like to talk about God in terms of a divine mystery which people in every culture and time have described and honoured. Our very existence pulls each of us into a quest for meaning and purpose. That quest takes a different path for different people and communities. For Christians, the Jesus story has influenced and informed that quest, and the story continues for each of us.
We ( the Church) have entered an important era of spiritual and theological change which needs to be handled thoughtfully and sensitively. I can only trust that these responses to some very interesting questions indicate my desire to create safe spaces in which together we might grow in faithfulness and make some contribution to the making of the best of all possible worlds – for others as well as ourselves.