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Q&A with new Community of The Way Chaplain, Cathedral parishioner and formation student, Dr John Rolley

Spotlight Q&A

Meet John Rolley and find out what new initiatives he is facilitating and about his thoughts on ‘Being Together: Embracing Joy’, personal faith journey, favourite scripture and hobbies

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Dr John Rolley was born in Hughenden, which is located half way between Townsville and Mt Isa. He has lived in a variety of places, most recently in Canberra where he was an Associate Professor of Nursing at the University of Canberra. In January, John, along with his two feline “fur babies” (Muffin, 16, and Gyzmo, 10), returned to Queensland to commence serving in his St Francis College role.

Where do you currently live and where do you worship?

I currently live at St Francis College, Milton. I am also involved at the Cathedral as a Formation student.

How long have you been involved in the Anglican Church and in what roles?

I was confirmed in 1992 at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Marryatville, South Australia. Since then I have been involved in a range of ministry activities, including music and youth ministry, as a sanctuary server, crafting liturgy, preaching and serving on a couple of Parish Councils.

What is your current ACSQ role and how does this role contribute to the Church’s mission?

I have two roles in our Diocesan community. My primary role is Chaplain of the Community of The Way, which is an intentional community of young people based at St Francis College. In this role, I facilitate the spiritual development of community members, both individually and together as an intentional faith community. The evolving vision of the Community includes members being a source of growth and renewal in the Diocese. I am also a Formation student, connected to the Cathedral.

What projects and activities are you currently working on?

As part of my chaplaincy role, I am seeking to develop a formation process for future members of the Community that will support their ongoing growth and development. This will include working with the current members in discerning the most effective elements of formation and the best way they can be woven into a process over time. The emphasis is on sustainable growth.

Community of The Way Chaplain John Rolley at a Friday ‘Breakfast and Theological Reflection’ event on 4 February 2022 in the Community of The Way common room at St Francis College

What are your plans and goals for the next 12 months?

To see the Community of The Way grow into a flourishing group of young people whose beings are oriented towards God and God’s Kingdom. Also, I am hoping to complete formation this year and see where God will take me into the adventure of ministry.

What has been one of the highlights of your time as Community of The Way Chaplain so far?

The recent Commissioning Day for the Community of The Way was a very special day. It brought together the members of the Community to formulate the patterns of living for the Community for the first month. From that, a commitment was given to engage daily prayer, twice-weekly common meals with Bible study, theological reflection, and formation. The Commissioning Eucharist, led by Bishop John Roundhill, included FormedFaith’s Fiona Hammond sharing a reflection, a commitment ceremony, and Community members being clothed with a symbolic prayer shawl and presented with a San Damiano cross. Pizza followed to wrap the day up in jovial fellowship.

2022’s Diocesan theme is ‘Being Together: Embracing Joy’. What are some practical ways that we can celebrate the way differences help to make us whole and the importance of diversity in our unity?

I have often thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a Diocesan-wide Festival of Human Flourishing where we together celebrate the diversity and diverse gifting of the people who make up the Diocese.” Unless we focus intentionally on the ways God’s grace and love are expressed in the diversity of God’s people, we are at risk of remaining in our silos. We could have joint regional activities, art and music events, symposia, dinners…imagination runs rampant (dreaming of a post-COVID reality).

Can you tell us a little about your personal faith journey?

I was born into a non-Christian family who, by the time I was two years of age, became Pentecostal believers. My father became a minister in that tradition. From a young age, I have actively explored faith, as the writers to the church in Philippi state, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” While there have been bleak moments, desert times, and a few dark nights, God has been faithful, particularly when I couldn’t be.

“A pic of my parents George and Mary and me, taken in Hughenden in 1969” (John Rolley)

What is your favourite scripture and why?

Just one? Maybe, in this present moment, it is Psalm 84. It speaks to my personal journey, particularly verses 5-7: “Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca [or weeping] they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.”

What person of faith inspires you the most and why?

This, too, is a difficult question! I will mention one, without name. This person has been known to me for over 25 years now and has followed my formation and spiritual growth over that time. They have kept vocation ever before me and, at critical times, have helped process some deeply difficult situations. I am still here because of them.

What are the primary strengths of the Anglican Church and what is the best way to make the most of these for the benefit of our communities?

The Anglican Church is able to hold together, as a nexus, the best of the Reformation and Catholic heritage. In these days of fragmentation and polarisation, this essential nature of Anglicanism must be upheld. The Reformation gifted the Church with a renewed sense of the infinite power of the grace of Christ to redeem the world and the imperative to reach out to the world with God’s love. The Catholic heritage provides a bedrock for a vibrant sacramental life to sustain the faithful for ministry into the world.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received and who gave you this advice?

“The real work of ministry isn’t in the plan, but in the interruption.” (Fr Peter Catt).

What do you do in your free time to recharge and relax?

I have a lot of interests. I ‘dabble’ in hobbies from time to time. The most sustained activity has been using artwork to process my internal world.

John Rolley and 10-year-old Gyzmo at their St Francis College home in February 2022

What book have you given away most as a gift and why?

Dare to Break Bread: Eucharist in Desert and City by Geoffrey Howard. It is a beautifully crafted discussion of the Eucharist set in the context of an impoverished urban UK parish and the author’s pilgrimage to the Tuareg mountains in the Sahara to the hermitage of St Charles de Foucauld.

If you are having a bad day, what do you do to cheer yourself up?

  1. Sit on the CityCat on the Brisbane River – who cares where it is going?
  2. A movie (at the cinema – pre-COVID-19).
  3. Pizza.

Although, if I am really tired and just need to unwind, a slow wander around a gallery is good!

Community of The Way Chaplain John Rolley enjoying the CityCat on the Brisbane River on 4 February 2022

What’s your unanswerable question – the question you are always asking yourself?

Why, on earth, God, did you put me on this path? It seems an absurd journey through so many twists and turns. Surely God could have chosen so many better equipped and enabled people.

John Rolley ready for church in Hughenden as a young child

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