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Heroes of the Faith – Fr Gerard Tucker

Trinity Sunday; Sunday, 22 May, 2016
The Right Reverend the Honourable Dr Peter Hollingworth AC OBE

The title of this series, 'Heroes of the Faith', raises the awkward question about the difference between a hero and a saint. These days, words like 'heroes' have been so popularised that they have become synonymous with 'celebrity' status. In contrast, 'the Saints' have been so safely installed and cemented into stained glass windows that their true humanity gets lost.

We need to remember that many of the Saints were not lionized in their day. Some like St Laurence were martyred, some were not valued for their great qualities in their time, while others were uncomfortable people to be around. Qualities like discipline, purity of heart and austerity of lifestyle can often serve as an unspoken judgement on lesser beings. Their qualities highlight how far we lesser mortals trail behind them, unable to match their high expectations and falling short of their great personal witness and example.

Gerard Kennedy Tucker was such a person. He might have had his faults, which he would freely acknowledge with a certain defiant humour. He had his eccentricities, which he was not above using to great effect in getting what he needed to achieve his plans. Though he always operated from the highest moral principles, sometimes he seemed to apply too literally Our Lord's saying 'Whoever is not with me is against me'. Having argued his case, he would then go on to say 'and this is the way we do things', without explaining what he meant by the royal 'we'. He may have meant the Chapter of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, though after 1947 the Chapter consisted solely of himself as The Superior!

Shy, slight of frame, afflicted with a nervous condition, inhibited in early life with a bad stammer, a sparse eater and of no great intellect, he triumphed over weakness by faith and fierce determination, through fixity of purpose and a firm commitment to the things that really mattered in life.

After the Second World War a great partnership developed between Father Tucker and the Reverend Geoffrey Sambell who joined the Brotherhood first as its bursar and later as director. Geoffrey Sambell, later to become the Archbishop of Perth, admired Father Tucker for his visionary ideas and also saw his role as earthing that vision by making it practical and finding the money to achieve it. I for one admired them both for the great qualities of leadership they brought to the Brotherhood, and for the way in which each of them worked so closely together, despite periodic and vigorous disagreements. The truth is they were both essential to the Brotherhood's post war success.

As a young priest appointed by Bishop Geoffrey Sambell as Chaplain to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, I both valued and was challenged by Father Tucker in our conversations over reheated tea in his small room at St Laurence Park Lara. It was not easy for me follow him in the way that he wanted. Perhaps it was a mixture of my interest in modern social theory at the time, and my inability to translate his simple, direct, moral imperatives into practical action. Notwithstanding, I have always felt his presence sitting on my left shoulder urging me on and for that I am profoundly thankful.

Father Tucker became strong and determined in his views about what had to be done following his early years which were ones of struggle and self doubt, when those in authority doubted his capacity. So he served first as a private in the Ambulance Corps and later as a chaplain on the western front during the First World War, despite being earlier rejected for ordination. He conducted 800 burials of fallen servicemen and it had a profound effect upon his subsequent thinking about war. He later founded the Brotherhood of St Laurence during the Great Depression in 1930, lived on a pittance (on one brother's stipend to support five). He struggled through the Second World War with few men remaining in his Brotherhood, and after that he had to wrestle with the great public problem of the post war housing shortage.

He stood up to politicians, once broke the law to make a moral point, campaigned tirelessly in the 'war against slums' in his tiny caravan, fought for the down and out, and, as he himself grew older, founded, led and lived in two settlements for older people. He was able to speak with prophetic authority because that was how he lived his own life. Words and deeds were as one. Even his stammer was used to great effect to reinforce his moral authority. You could not refute what he said because he left little room for discussion or debate. His vision for a good society was crystal clear as was his flint like determination to pursue it. I respected and honoured him immensely, admiring his charismatic leadership, without fully embracing some of his proposed schemes and solutions. The point is this; there always has to be someone of great moral and spiritual integrity who can stand up and say things as they are, declaring to the world how things ought to be.

He was absolutely clear in his primary vision of how things ought to be in God's world, believing as he did in the Christian social order as based on the Sermon on the Mount. It may be that these fundamental Christian values were much harder to achieve in this post war world with its new found freedoms, rampant consumerism, easy credit, growing affluence, diversity of choice and lifestyle, and its seductive mass mediated youth culture. Yet you were compelled to listen, marvel at his simple faith and admire his determination and passion to persist with his numerous plans to make the world a better place. Quite simply, he wanted to seek out the lost sheep, to make manifest the love of God, by revealing it in loving acts of mercy, kindness and justice and then maintaining and supporting it with well conceived social institutions. He never defined the mediating philosophy of his Christian vision, yet there is no doubt that his ideas came out of the great Christian Socialist tradition of the 19th century, through his father Canon Horace Finn Tucker and his grandfather Archdeacon Joseph Kidger Tucker. Gerard was no Marxist, indeed he was avowedly anti-communist, but he was unswerving in his commitment to justice and compassion from the beginning of his life to the end.

Father Tucker died on May 24 1978 aged 89. Addressing the Synod later that year, Archbishop Frank Woods said 'Our most outstanding loss has been that of the Reverend Gerard Kennedy Tucker, founder of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, inspirer of manifold works of charity and himself a visible and active reflection of the love of his Lord and Master. Much has been written and spoken about him. Even in retirement he was still the inspiration for many Brotherhood of St Laurence activities, like Community Aid Abroad, originally called Food for Peace, which he instigated at the age of 69. I have no hesitation in saying that Gerard Kennedy Tucker was a saint. God raises up such men, now and then, here and there, whose life and example are an inspiration to their fellow Christians and a witness to the world of the strength of the grace of God.'

Six years later John Handfield wrote his Biography 'Friends and Brothers' to mark the Brotherhood's Jubilee. Working closely on the project with John Handfield, I learnt many new things about Father Tucker after his death, things his shyness and modesty would inhibit him from speaking about. The then Chairman of the Board, Bishop James Grant, launched the book at the Coolibah Club in Fitzroy. He too concluded that Tucker met the two fold definition of a saint as 'One who brought forth in his or her life the fruit of the spirit and one who significantly advanced the Kingdom of God in the lives of men and women'.

This raises the question of why he has not yet been formally recognized in our Australian Church Calender of local saints. Was it because he made too many people uncomfortable? Was it because of his determination to keep the Brotherhood and Community Aid Abroad institutionally independent of the Diocese? Was it his innate distrust of bishops whom he believed had thwarted him most of his life? When Sambell became Archbishop of Perth Father Tucker said, 'We have just lost Geoffrey'. No doubt he would have said that about me as well!

More than eighty years on, how is he to be regarded today? The Brotherhood itself is very clear about the inspirational leadership of its Founder and constantly draws upon his vision and example. This in itself is a good test of the durability of his life and witness over the years. Last year the Brotherhood Membership unanimously supported a resolution to have him recognized as a 'Holy Person' in the local Anglican Calendar.

His nephew David Scott, who became Executive Director of the Brotherhood, wrote a fine monograph called 'He got things done'. Tucker's brand of Christianity always meant practical action, his favourite text being "not everyone who says unto me 'Lord, Lord', shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he that does the will of my Father which is in Heaven". Christianity for him was always about making something happen that would make a real difference in the lives of people in need. It was no accident that he chose the Patron Saint of the Poor, St Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, for his Brotherhood.

I have always associated St. Paul's words about himself as applying powerfully to Father Tucker.

The Lord said to me 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'. So, I will boast all the more gladly in weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12.9)

Such words surely inspired Gerard Kennedy Tucker, twentieth century Prophet, Priest and Pastor.


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