My life has fallen into a few stages.
As a child, I lived in Box Hill when it was a Village. I then became Pastor to the Slums of Inner Melbourne for eight years. I was then a Country Parson and a Teacher at a One Teacher Bush School out at Jackson Creek in Western Victoria and then for thirteen years, I was a Suburban Minister in one of Australia’s largest suburban ministries.
And now, for more than 20 years I’ve been Superintendent in Sydney of Wesley Mission, Australia’s largest church ministry.
I’ve told you stories of people in each of these places.
Tonight I want you to come with me into the heart of the city.
When I came to Sydney as Superintendent, the city had been blessed by two very great preachers, Rev. Alan Walker and Rev. Gordon Powell, but coming into town were a new group of preachers in succession to them. They included some of Australia’s finest.
At St. Andrews Cathedral Canon Lance Schilton had brought his own particular brand of popular preaching and good public relations with the press. His social justice commentary was less argumentative and passionate than Alan Walker’s but well reasoned and logical.
At St Stephen’s Macquarie Street, there were two outstanding preachers – Rev. Graham Hardy who was brought from Scotland to succeed Gordon Powell and The Very Rev. Fred McKay who was assisting him in retirement. Fred McKay, the successor to Flynn of the Inland was a legend in his own right, and one of Australia’s living treasures.
How blessed were the people of Sydney to have such a great group of preachers as these in the three leading pulpits in Sydney.
Rev. Graham Hardy was a brilliant preacher. The Pulpit Committee who had searched for a successor to Gordon Powell had an extraordinarily difficult job and they went where Presbyterian churches of some substance always went in those days – right back to Edinburgh.
Gordon Powell was the first Australian preacher in the history of Scots Church Melbourne to be the Senior Minister and when he came to Macquarie Street he was also the first Australian-born preacher to occupy that important pulpit. There were few who could follow Gordon Powell and so the Search Committee went back to the sure source of great preaching – Scotland. They were looking for a classical preacher of great scholarship to continue the great work of Australia’s version of Norman Vincent Peale.
Graham Hardy was the chosen man. He had an impeccable Scottish tradition. He was born in the Shetland Islands in the icy winds of the North Sea. He attended high school in the Shetlands and then went to George Watson’s College in Edinburgh. After a distinguished high school career, he attended Edinburgh University completing his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in the early days of WWII. He continued on at New College, the theological seminary at the University of Edinburgh to complete his Bachelor of Divinity and at the close of the war went to New York to Union Theological Seminary where he completed his Master of Systematic Theology. He was obviously a young man who was going places.
During this time he had the opportunity to be an Assistant Minister to the preacher who was arguably the finest preacher of the twentieth century Prof. Dr. James S. Stewart. Any student of great preaching must find in his top half dozen preachers of the century James S. Stewart. What a privilege for a young Scot to be the Assistant Pastor in Edinburgh to the great James Stewart.
Always a keen musician Graham Hardy continued his study of the piano and became a Licentiate of the London Royal Academy of Music as a performing pianist.
He had, after his Masters Degree in Systematic Theology from New York, two important pastorates in Scotland including the historic Palmerston Place Church in Edinburgh where for 15 years he served with great distinction.
It was from here that St. Stephen’s Macquarie Street called him to be their preacher. He was going to have a difficult task. The Australian public had been through their “Billy Graham” stage and were settling back into secular mode. Church attendances were in serious decline.
Graham Hardy came with a very tough agenda, to follow Gordon Powell who was arguably Australia’s finest preacher. He ministered at St. Stephen’s for 10 years from 1967 – 1977.
Graham Hardy must have immediately found great difficulty settling into this ministry. People obviously made comparisons between the extraordinarily popular Gordon Powell and the man who had come from Scotland to take his place. Perhaps there was a growing self-confidence that Australia could produce its own preachers and did not require Scottish imports, but Graham Hardy constantly found himself being compared with Gordon Powell who had now shifted to Melbourne.
Like Gordon Powell he took immediately to radio and to occasional televised services, his daily spots on 2CH endeared him to a large public. Many of these brief talks he put into some books. He was immensely popular at dinner parties in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.
I never heard Graham Hardy in his early days of following Gordon Powell but I do remember reading a copy of a sermon that he had preached during a royal tour. Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh had attended service at St. Stephens on May 3, 1970 and Graham Hardy had preached a sermon which had impressed the Duke of Edinburgh who had to sit through innumerable sermons throughout his life as he was the consort of the Head of the Church of England. The Duke of Edinburgh made a comment that the sermon he heard Graham Hardy preach was a bottler – the finest sermon he had ever heard in his life. Graham Hardy in that service had preached about our responsibility to the world in which we live including what was quite rare in those days, a call to be concerned about the environment.
In his sermon, Graham Hardy included a poem. I do not know whether he wrote it or not, but I used it soon afterwards, just altering it a little, and I have never forgotten it.
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of open drains,
With suburban sprawl extended,
For cost accounting gains.
A nature loving country,
Beneath whose golden wattles,
The creek is fringed with newspapers,
And lined with broken bottles!
Where galvanised power pylons
March o’er scenic hills
With neon lights promoting
Petrol, paint and pills!
A democratic country,
Where free from earth’s attacks
All people are treated equal
Except pommies, dagoes and blacks!”
When I read that sermon which was published in a Melbourne newspaper I realised here was indeed great preaching. I cut it out, kept it and even used parts of it over the years. Rev. Graham Hardy was beginning to have an impact in my life. Looking back thirty years to that sermon I can still remember it vividly.
In 1977 when I was appointed to be Superintendent at Wesley Mission, Graham Hardy penned a delightful letter of welcome and said he looked forward to meeting with me. It wasn’t long after that, that we met for the first time and immediately struck up a close friendship. I regularly visited with Graham Hardy and with the Very Rev. Fred McKay at St. Stephen’s Macquarie Street, taking along sandwiches in a paper bag to share lunch together and to discuss the events at the city. Graham was not a man that stood by much ceremony, and in his vestry we would share sandwiches, some devotional thoughts and prayer and a good bit of ecclesiastical gossip. If he ever sat at the keyboard of a piano, you were in for a wonderful treat.
Whenever we had functions, which required the attendance of Uniting Church clergyman, we always made a habit of talking with each other. I always valued the personal friendship of Graham Hardy. So did his congregation. There were many people who appreciated his kindly calls particularly when in hospital and in their homes. Graham and his wife Hazel were very social people and were welcomed in homes throughout Sydney but particularly in the Eastern suburbs where the St. Stephen’s manse was located. They had one daughter Tamara who married and continues to live in Kempsey in Sydney, Australia.
Graham Hardy, in style reminded me of the greatly admired Dr. James S. Stewart. Stewart came to visit Australia as the Turnbull Trust Preacher, preaching in Scots Church, Melbourne and then came to Macquarie Street to preach in St. Stephen’s. Hardy was of that same traditional Presbyterian pulpit orator style. His sentences were precise and his use of the English language majestic. His lovely Scottish accent made him a delight to hear and his use of poetry charmed the soul. In fact, his delightful cadences could charm the butterflies caught in the sunlight coming through stained glass windows.
I always liked this great classical style of preaching although I felt a new era was upon us. Australians, I believed, appreciated a more rugged preaching style, with more passion where we called a spade a spade and was willing to nail up by the ears those who violated the social conscience of the community. But Graham was always a gentleman and a scholar as a preacher.
Rev. Graham Hardy was always interested in the relationship between Christian faith and healing of the body and the mind. To him the sound teachings of Jesus with their great psychological insights into human personality enabled a person to live at their best and at their healthiest. It was not surprising that large numbers of Macquarie Street doctors and those who worked in the Sydney Hospital opposite would be found among his Sunday and weekday congregations. Nor was it surprising that in 1985 he was created a Knight of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem for his contribution to helping people live with full health, spiritually, mentally and physically.
With the development of some of the classical music stations in Sydney it was not surprising that Graham with his musical background, should develop in St. Stephen’s a centre point for lunch time classical musical recitals by 2MBS FM the classical music station. These were frequently broadcast and musical recitals at St. Stephens, featuring on occasions some of the best of the students of the Conservatorium of Music. On other occasions some of the finest professional musicians and singers in the nation. He built a crowd of great music lovers who regularly attended these recitals. Many people always appreciated Graham’s personal musical ability.
He concluded his ministry in 1987. In the closing years of his ministry even then the shadow of Gordon Powell was still very large upon St. Stephens. People were still making comparisons with the great crowds that attended during Powell’s hey day particularly after the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade. It must have been invidious to be the Senior Minister and to be acknowledged as a great preacher only to have the comparisons made with what had happened 25 years earlier.
Graham was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to religion and community in June 1988 but by that time he had already left Australia.
Like Gordon Powell, Graham Hardy would have been welcomed in any pulpit in Australia but he chose to go to the United States of America where he has conducted half a dozen outstanding interim ministries among great Presbyterian churches. For a couple of years he served in Charleston, West Virginia and then for three ministries in Florida and in more recent times in Philadelphia and West Virginia. He always enjoyed the hospitality and friendship of the Americans who, if nothing else, would have greatly loved his scholarly preaching and Scottish accent.
In the last couple of years he has continued with his interim preaching in Presbyterian churches in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania. He continues to preach every Sunday, still active at 79 years of age.
Hazel and Graham have enjoyed 53 years of very happy marriage, returning every couple of years to Australia to meet with their daughter Tamara.
Graham is looking forward to being back in Sydney and in his old pulpit at St. Stephens during April 2002 when he will be celebrating his 80th birthday.
Preaching styles change. Whenever I feel like some personal spiritual nourishment I turn to the great preachers of the past. I would read a sermon of C.H. Spurgeon and greatly be uplifted of heart. I will take down from my shelves one of the many books of Dr. James S. Stewart from Edinburgh and just recall how congregations thrilled to hear the lyrical and scholarly content of such great preaching. Of such a style of preacher is Graham Hardy.
The era has changed. The congregations do not know either their Bibles or great literature as one’s congregations did. Poetry does not seem to move people as once it did and we are all the poorer. For my money, if I could just slip into the back of a church and look up at the silver haired beautifully gowned preacher like Graham Hardy and listen to his Scottish brogue proclaiming some great truth with conviction and clarity my heart would be strangely warmed.
The city of Sydney would grow to be one of the world’s great cities and Wesley Mission would grow to be one of the world’s great churches and I was privileged to spend each day in the heart of both.