Celebrating Bishop Cam’s 25 years of priestly ministry

Reflections

Clergy and lay people from across Southern Queensland honour Bishop Cam Venables, as he celebrates his 25th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood today

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Bishop Cam Venables marks his 25th anniversary of priestly ministry today. In this special joint reflection, clergy and lay people from across Southern Queensland honour Bishop Cam for his humility, kindness, sense of humour, openness, heart for justice, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, leadership qualities and wisdom.

Laurel Raymond – Priest-in-Charge of Allora Clifton Parish and Archdeacon of Cunningham

I first met Bishop Cameron when he came to the Western Region some years ago. His enthusiasm, ‘glass half full’ attitude and openness were refreshing and inspired us as a parish to look forward in hope to discern where God was leading us as a small struggling rural parish.

His ability to put his faith, words, thoughts and dreams to music, and share that gift, has touched me greatly. Three songs Cam has written with very powerful lyrics were tools for reflection, introspection, hope and change.

The song ‘Eurydice’, which Cam wrote in honour of a young woman of that name who was murdered in Melbourne in 2018, was Cam’s response as a father to the call of Doing Justice. The lyrics of this song invited listeners to honour the fact that we are each created in God’s likeness, and therefore should value each and every person.

Could you God, be calling me’, a song written and performed by Cam for Vocations Month in 2019, called us to go beyond where things are comfortable and safe, and to be open to God’s spirit which calls us into relationship with God and each other.

The heartbreaking song, ‘A Lament’ was Cam’s response to the powerful legacy of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, one so heartfelt and heart-rending it stays still in my mind.

In early December last year, Bishop Cameron was our guest speaker at the Allora Clifton Anglican Parish dinner. His theme was ‘Songs on the Journey’ and he spoke of his faith and sang his songs that were pertinent to his journey. This gave fresh insight and encouragement to those who gathered to hear him.

Those gathered to enjoy this evening, were blessed to encounter not only a Bishop, a shepherd and a priest, but a father, a husband, a son, and a brother who was gracious enough to share some of his personal journey with thoughtfulness, warmth, humility, laughter and grace – a man deeply committed to God and to sharing God’s love with all whom he encounters

I am grateful that you have been part of my journey, Cam!

(L-R) Guest speaker Bishop Cam Venables, with The Rev’d Tom Bower, The Ven. Laurel Raymond and The Ven. Rod Winterton at the Annual Parish Dinner at St David’s Anglican Church Hall in November 2019

Haniff Abdul Razak – Secretariat to the Toowoomba Inter Faith Working Group

In 2014, the then Bishop Robert Nolan shared with me of his move to Brisbane and that a new Bishop would be appointed his successor. Immediately in my mind, I pondered the need to start a new relationship and wondered whether the successor would be as open, kind and humorous? I told myself, “let’s wait and see”.

I would prefer to share my thoughts as if I am in conversation with him.

We met on several occasions at social events, but rarely got into any deep conversation. I started to form an impression of him as someone who was determined, but kindhearted, and a good listener.

In 2016, The Venerable Master Chin Kung, President and Founder of Pure Land Learning College Association, asked me to form an Interfaith Committee. Given the dynamics of religious diversity in Toowoomba, I had some reservations. Then suddenly it sparked in me to think of the tall, determined and kind Anglican Bishop. I thought that I should try to seek his opinion and maybe ask him to chair the Committee. I made an appointment to see him. We started by sharing stories of our experiences working with the local community. Bishop Cam, as he likes to be known, shared of his time in Rockhampton and how he enjoys his work, particularly with those of other faiths and new arrivals. Sensing his deep passion to serve, I popped the question of forming an Interfaith Committee and asked if he would chair the Committee. He gave me a serious look and said he would think about it.

Well, the rest is history. He has since been the Chair. Under his leadership, the group, comprising of 18 faith representatives, is strong and socially well connected.

Let me share some side stories of him. At one of our peace conferences, he told me he would like to play the guitar and sing. I asked him, “Do Bishops do this?” His answer was that through music we can bring people to love each other. That was the perfect answer.

At one conference, we had a participant from outside Toowoomba present who was very imposing of his faith on others. As Bishop Cam was the key organiser, I expected to see him very upset. I was wrong. He spoke to me discreetly on the sideline and said we needed to be more mindful of such people and take steps to ensure it would not happen again. Wise person I thought.

In one of the many meetings with him, I strongly objected to one of his ideas. I expected him to be upset, but he listened to me and accepted what I had to say. This led me to see him as a respectful, understanding and accommodating person. And, he is humble, too.

Here I see him as a man with a pastoral heart and one that sees everyone in God’s eyes. I could go on and on, but that would be writing his biography for which I am not qualified.

Bottom line: you can disagree with him and still like him very much.

Bishop Cam Venables with Haniff Abdul Razak (far right) and Bishop Robert McGuckin of The Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba (third from left) with Venerable Master Chin Kung, in Hong Kong in 2018

Helen Briffa – Personal Assistant to Bishop Cam Venables since 2014

On 13 June 2018 a young Melbourne woman was raped and murdered on her way home from a stand-up comedy evening where she was performing. Her name was Eurydice Dixon and she was 23 years old. The murder of much-loved emerging comedian Eurydice Dixon shocked the nation.

I will always remember the time I witnessed Bishop Cameron at the Deb Ball at Miles last year singing the song, ‘Eurydice’, which he composed after Eurydice’s murder. The powerful words he sang moved everyone in the room, bringing tears to some people’s eyes, and making people reflect on society and how some men treat women and how this must change.

Bishop Cameron is able to speak to current issues through his weekly homily, which reaches people in different geographical and social contexts, and through the songs he composes and sings. Bishop Cam never misses an opportunity to speak in public about the important justice issues which he believes in.

Once people started hearing Bishop’s Cam’s song about Eurydice, the invites came from schools for Bishop Cam to sing his song and raise awareness of gender-based violence. Bishop Cam connects easily with school students and inspires individuals to make a difference and help change unhealthy and unsafe behaviours.

‘Eurydice’ was performed by the Centenary Heights State High School on parade in November 2019, and Bishop Cam sang it as part of his presentation at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in Toowoomba early last year.

With God’s help, Bishop Cam continues to find ways of delivering his message to the wider community, speaking on current issues and keeping in touch with the youth. The highlight of my time with Bishop Cam is witnessing this.

Lyrics to ‘Eurydice’

(Music and Lyrics by Cameron Venables)

She was somebody’s daughter, would’ve been somebody’s mum.
She was thoughtful, she was funny, so we’re feeling overcome.
Coz a lovely girl in Melbourne, with a Greek inspired name…
Has been murdered on her way home, and it’s such bloody shame.

Well we’re called the ‘Lucky Country’, and we talk about ‘Fair Go!’
But, there’s stuff we try to hide away, pretend not to know…
Like the lovely girl in Melbourne, with the Greek inspired name…
Who was murdered on her way home, it is such bloody shame.

We lay flowers in memory, we weep tears and grieve…
That there is a better way, we work for and believe…

Every woman is my daughter, every woman is my mum,
Every woman is my sister, put it in curriculum:
So that every girl, in every place, can be safe on their way home
Because every man, and every boy; Every man, and every boy:
Every man, and every boy…should respect every woman…

Bishop Cam Venables and Personal Assistant Helen Briffa discussing the year ahead in the Western Region office, Toowoomba in February 2020

Cr Paul Antonio – Mayor, Toowoomba Region

In my role as the regional Mayor and as a practising Anglican, I became aware of, and eventually met, our new Bishop soon after his appointment to this region.

It wasn’t long before we had a few catch ups, a couple of breakfast meetings, and chats at various functions. I became impressed by his humility, his strength of character, his strong faith and his obvious leadership qualities.

Sometime later I was personally invited to the Venables’ home for dinner. It became obvious to me that Cam amid his humility, his leadership qualities and his commitment to the Word of God, has a real sense of humour, which in fact complemented mine. At our Carnival of Flowers celebrations naturally I, as Mayor, always wear a colourful floral shirt. Whilst Cam didn’t necessarily say much at the time, his amused demeanour gently indicated that the shirt was a surprising choice for the Mayor, who is also a country lad. Well, each year I buy another shirt for the Carnival of Flowers celebrations, which begged the question, do I give my flowered shirt to a local charity or would it be better to give it to my regional faith leader as a mark of my respect? I chose the latter and I’m reliably told that Cam joyfully received his first ever flowered shirt, which he wore to the Carnival Garden Party. I’m also reliably informed that he has, of his own accord, purchased a second flowered shirt. I feel so humbled that I have had such an influence on my faith leader.

Each year I hold a Mayoral Prayer Breakfast to raise funds for a charity of my choice. Last year the special guests and presenters were the formidable combination of Kate and Cam Venables. It was a breakfast to remember with a wonderful husband and wife performance, including some very special music composed and presented by Cam.

We are very blessed to have Cam and Kate in our community.

Senior Minister at the Rangeville Community Church Andrew Hoey, Toowoomba Mayor Paul Antonio, Kate Venables and Bishop Cam Venables at the 27th Annual Toowoomba Region Mayoral Prayer Breakfast in Toowoomba on 14 May 2019, where Kate and Bishop Cam were the guest speakers

The Rev’d Rick Gummow – Assistant Priest, Maranoa Warrego Anglican Mission Area

The first time I met Bishop Cam was at his welcome event to the Western Region in 2014 as the new Bishop. It was a Eucharist held at St James’ in Toowoomba and Cam had just arrived in Toowoomba, sans his wife Kate and three children who were still in Rockhampton.

Cam declared that he had not chosen any special Scripture readings as the Lectionary always seemed to have the right reading for the occasion. So it proved to be, with the first reading from Ecclesiastes 3, “for everything there is a season,” which is a pretty perfect reading to introduce yourself with as the new Bishop.

I tell this story because there is something of the serendipitous about Cam. Initially as his Curate and now his Assistant Priest, I have lost count of the number of times I have spoken with Cam about an issue and his response has been along the lines of “funny you should say that, I’ve just been speaking with,” or “I have just received this letter from a clergy person whom you may want to speak to about this.” Such encounters are the highlights of my time knowing Bishop Cam.

But, of course, the fruit of these encounters are not merely due to the serendipitous, but Providence combined with Cam’s detailed planning and his extraordinary network of clergy and laity across Australia, PNG and the Pacific and the UK, where Cam has served.

In addition to an organised office (Cam gives much of the credit here to his Personal Assistant, the beloved and respected Helen Briffa) and detailed year-in-advance diarising, Cam’s success is also due to his leadership style.

Cam’s leadership style is to capture hearts and minds in a common purpose which encourages folk to follow, because he is sincere and excited, which I believe points to the Bishop’s humble theology. There is one Gospel story that always brings Cam to mind. In Matthew 25. 31-46, Jesus says that to all those you visited in jail and gave a glass of water to, you did so for me. And, to those who did not give the stranger a drink or visit them in Jail, they did not do so for Jesus. Christ is served by visiting and bringing a glass of water to people who need it – for no other reason than we love them, and they need it. Christ himself is served when we serve the least of God’s family.

This is Cam’s mission and approach, as he sees the suffering Christ, not just struggling families, when undertaking his ceaseless visiting.

There is much more to say about this man of God, but I’ll wait until his 50th.

Bishop Cam Venables along with many other Western Region clergy proudly gather around The Rev’d Rick Gummow as he is ordained to the priesthood at St John’s Cathedral in December 2019

Elizabeth Gillam – Chair of The Glennie School Council

I met Cam around a board table in 2016 in my role as Chair of the Glennie School Council as we were selecting the new Principal. We were two of a team of four.

I had seen Bishop Cam around. You can’t miss someone who stands head and shoulders above the rest. I soon learned that this applied not just to his stature, but to his character and brilliance as well.

Bishop Cam has a sereneness about him that enables him to listen, contemplate, ask questions, and then, using his astounding command of the English language, articulate his thoughts to you in such a way that the problem suddenly seems surmountable.

An example of this was just recently when discussing an issue that was all encompassing. I stated “I don’t do conflict – it is harmful and unproductive when seeking a resolution to get a team to work together” to which he calmly responded, “Elizabeth you do do conflict very well. What you don’t do is hostility and aggression.” By expressing this, Bishop Cam gave me the confidence in my proposed solution and in my skills.

I have since worked with Bishop Cam on another selection committee. To watch Cam participate in a bigger group environment, this time in a group of 10, was no different. He adopted his usual serenity, listened, contemplated, then spoke offering his opinions and thoughts. Again, the room paid attention. To watch him watch others, take in their thoughts and comments, then to articulate and sum up the feeling of the entire room at the end of the meeting ensures that everyone leaves the room feeling listened to and confident in the way forward. He prompts us all to stop and reflect. And, he prompts us to pray.

In my faith journey, Bishop Cam has taught me to have confidence when I pray. To ask God to provide the guidance that I require. Cam often reminds me that I am not alone – that I have God walking beside me and advising me every step of the way.

Congratulations on marking 25 years as a priest, Bishop Cam.

Bishop Cam with Glennie School award winners, who were presented with their awards at the Junior Years Awards Presentation Morning in December 2018

A recent family portrait of the Venables family (L-R): Cam, Gabby, Jack, Emily and Kate (Image courtesy of Kate Venables)

Assembling outside the Cathedral before the processional at the Friday 28 June 2019 Synod Eucharistic service: Bishop Cam Venables, The Rev’d Danni Clark, Bishop Daniel Deng Abot who is the Bishop of Duk Diocese (Episcopal Church of South Sudan), and Bishop Peter Mayom who is the Bishop of Malek Diocese (Episcopal Church of South Sudan)

Western Region Ministry Conference participants with Bishop Cam Venables at St Bart’s, Toowoomba on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 August 2019

Bishop Cameron Venables chairing a session at the 2018 International Interfaith Peace Conference

Bishop Daniel Abot (third from right) and Rachel Jimma (third from left) with three of their daughters, Bishop Cam Venables and other participants at the South Sudanese and Sudanese Prayer Service on 7 July 2019 at St John’s Anglican Cathedral

Cam Venables, holding a baby who was named after Cam, in Port Moresby, circa 1995 (Image courtesy of Kate Venables)

Cam Venables at the Parish of Sunnybank during his first year at St Francis College in 1990 (Image courtesy of Kate Venables)

The Rev’d Cam Venables in PNG preaching in a new church in the 1990s (Image courtesy of Kate Venables)

 

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