CONGRATULATIONS TO THOSE IN THE QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY HONOURS!
Our sincerest congratulations to all who have been honoured in this week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. I read every name several times and my heart jumps with joy when I read of someone across Australia I know. I immediately write to everyone one of them. But many people do not understand the Order of Honours in Australia.
The Honours were established in 1975 to replace the Imperial Honours whereby a person who had served the nation became Member or Order of the British Empire or an Officer of the British Empire, or was knighted as a Sir or Lady, and even more rarely was made a Member of the House of Lords.
The Order of Australia was instituted during the Prime Ministership of the Hon. Gough Whitlam. On one occasion when Gough Whitlam wrote to me about my A.M. he welcomed me in his usual jocular fashion “as a member of our Order”, indicating his part in its creation.
The Order of Australia consists of both a General Division open to members of the public and a Military Division, open only to members of the Armed Service.
There are three levels of honour. The first being made a Member of the Order of Australia, the second being made an Office of the Order of Australia and the third being made a Companion of the Order of Australia.
In 1976 a Medal of the Order was added for those people who had provided distinguished service to the local community. There are strict quotas for the number of honours that can be given. There are quotas covering different kinds of service to society and also covering geographical, state and other boundaries including percentage for females and people coming from minority, ethnic and indigenous groups. The background checks and references on every person nominated are extremely rigorous.
The Medal of the Order of Australia is made for service to a local community worthy of particular recognition.
Then a Member of the Order of Australia is bestowed on persons who have given outstanding service in a particular locality or field of activity or to particular group. It ranks higher than the Imperial MBE. For as the Medal signifies the significance frequently of the local area, the Membership often signifies a State wide significance and honour. Being made an A.M., ranks higher than the old O.B.E.. Both Beverley and I were made Members of the Order in 1986 and 1989 respectively for our different fields of service.
Those who are appointed Officers within the Order of Australia are made so because of distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large. This is equivalent to the old Knighthood Sir or Lady. Obviously, there are fewer people who become Members of the Order than receive the Medal, and fewer still who are made Officers.
The highest appointment as a Companion to the Order of Australia is made according to the criteria to those of “eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree to Australia or to humanity at large”. This is usually for people who have given outstanding service of national significance. The Membership among Companions is extremely limited to usually only handful of people each year. The gold insignias and medals are large and beautifully made. They are too ostentatious for me, and I have not worn them since the day they were placed around my neck and pinned on my chest.
In the Order of Precedence, a Companion ranks higher than a knighthood and is our equivalent of being made a Lord in the U.K. In England we had only one Methodist Minister who had been appointed to the House of Lords. In Australia I am the only Minister of Religion to have been elevated to the rank of Companion.
Beverley and I and our whole family went to Government House, Canberra, for Investiture with the insignia of the Companion and to have a meal with the Governor General. We have remained close friends with other Companions ever since. All of this pales into insignificance for Christians.
The Christian never works for honours from country or community or for recognition from his or her peers. The Christian works for one reward only—not to please men or the community but to please God. The highest award lies not in the gold medals that are pinned on your chest or hung around your neck, despite all their beauty, glitter and value, but the highest reward is to stand before the King of Kings who reflects upon our record as a Christian and to hear his words “Well done good and faithful servant”. The highest award for any Christian is the joy of being able to serve God.