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Vicar's Musings for the Third Sunday in Lent

28 February, 2016

Not many people today have heard of Nathanael Pepper. I hadn't either until I read Robert Kenny, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World (Melbourne: Scribe, 2007). In 1860 he was the talk of Melbourne. Early February, at a meeting of the Melbourne Auxiliary of the London Missionary Society, the Rev'd Goethe spoke about an amazing thing that had taken place in the Wimmera. After years of seemingly fruitless missionary endeavour, God was doing a great thing. A young Aboriginal man had experienced conversion to Christianity. By 27th February word had spread, and a special meeting was called at St Paul's Hall. Kenny describes it in this way (p.14):

They overflowed the hall. The governor, Sir Henry Barkly, chaired the meeting. The chief justice and members of parliament attended. The Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, Charles Perry, described to the crowd the establishment and location of the Wimmera mission. The Reverend Lloyd Chase, the Moravians' most tenacious supporter, read letters he had received from the missionaries.

The letters told of the Moravian missionary, Brother Friedrich Spieseke, who had been showing Biblical illustrations to a group of young Indigenous men as a teaching tool. The pictures of the Deluge and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane "were particular objects of attraction." A couple of days later the young man, Nathanael Pepper, came to Spieseke's door. He had not been able to sleep, and went down to the river, where he was struck with: "how our Saviour prayed in the garden till his sweat came out as blood, and — that for me." The two talked into the night about Pepper's spiritual experience. From that day Pepper started to tell others about his experience, and was seen preaching in his native language to small crowds. After some 25 years of missionary endeavours in Victoria, finally the Holy Spirit's work appeared to be coming to light.

The conversion of a young person to Christianity would hardly raise an eyebrow today. It would not make the evening news or go viral on Facebook; and our governor, the chief justice, MPs and the Archbishop of Melbourne would certainly not convene a meeting that might pack St Paul's Cathedral. We live in very different times. But as we reflect on our Mission here at St Peter's, I wonder if there is something of this passion for the Gospel that we need to rediscover and reclaim. Do we know this love for God in our own hearts and lives, and do we really want to see God's grace at work in the lives of the people and institutions that make up our daily life? The nineteenth-century Tractarians, as much as the Moravian Missionaries in the Wimmera, certainly had a passion for seeing God at work in the world. This passion for the Gospel is needed as much today as it ever was; and there is no one else that God can work through, other than you and me.

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster


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