Sermon Preached by Bishop Felix Arnott at the Solemn Requiem in Christ Church St. Laurence, Sydney, for the late Frank William Coaldrake, Chairman of the Australian Board of Missions and Archbishop-elect of Brisbane, on Friday, July 24, 1970.
From ABM Review, October/November 1970, pages 8-10.
John 5: 35: "He was a lamp, a light and shining, and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave".
We come with a sense of tragic loss to this Requiem service for Frank William Coaldrake. Those of us who had known him for thirty-odd years rejoiced greatly when he was elected Archbishop of Brisbane, and sent greetings with real thanksgiving. It is one of those mysterious happenings that 12 days later he should have been taken from us. It is, however, one of those experiences in which we have to try to find the hand of God, who is always the loving Father who knows what is good for His children far beyond anything that we can know. The loving purpose is there, however difficult it may be for us to discern it; and like William Cowper, we must feel that "God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform".
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs
And works his sovereign will.
"God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain." Our prayer to-day is that he may do this for Maida and her family.
John, the fourth Evangelist, saw John Baptist as a tragic figure. The words that I quote probably came shortly after his death, but John saw the Baptist as the last and greatest of the prophets, the forerunner and herald of the Lord himself.
He was a lamp that burned and shined in a dark world, and one of the characteristics of a lamp is that it must always be lit by somebody. God lit the lamp that was John, and God lit the lamp that was Frank Coaldrake. The light of a lantern guides through darkness, and John pointed all sorts and conditions of men to repentance, and to the kingdom of God, and to the Lord himself. He was not that light but came to bear witness of that light. In Frank Coaldrake there was much of the spirit of John Baptist. All his life he was a burning and shining light to many, and we rejoice in his light. He was a leader in every respect, a man of courage, one who had a prophetic vision, and above all a man of God.
He was born in Brisbane, to which we thought he would return, in 1912, one of a family of six. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar School. It was the depression years when he finished school. He went to the Teachers' College, taught for two years, and became Warden of the Bush Brotherhood Hostel at Charleville for four years. There he came into close contact with a very remarkable priest, Canon [8/9] Edwards. Frank often spoke to me of him, for he had a great influence on Frank's life. Here he found his vocation and came back to the University of Queensland, and St John's College within it. He took honours in Mental and Moral Philosophy. Later, when he was working in the slums of Fitzroy, a very appropriate setting for his theme, he completed his M.A. thesis on "A Theory of Evil". He became a travelling Secretary of the Student Christian Movement, and it was in that capacity that I first met him, for when on the 1st April, 1939, I arrived in Brisbane, Frank Coaldrake was working as a travelling Secretary of the SCM at St John's College. He was there for one month, and it was in that time I got to know him, and through him learned my first great lessons about university life in Australia. For he loved universities. He was the third President of the National Union of Australian University Students, and he loved the SCM.
Bishop Felix Arnott
After he left the SCM he joined the Brotherhood of St. Laurence with Father Tucker. In those difficult days of the war, and at Keble House, the Brotherhood Hostel, he did his theological training. He became deacon in 1942 at the age of 30. He continued to work for the Brotherhood and for a time was Precentor at St Paul's Cathedral. He used to laugh at the many encounters he had with Dr Floyd, its famous organist.
After the war he felt he should go to Japan. He spent 15 or 16 months studying Japanese, not only the language, but the history and literature of the country. During that time I saw a lot of him because he also acted as an assistant priest in this church.
For 10 years he was in Japan. He was the only European in the Diocese of Yokohama. It was a difficult age, that post-war age. He went into the district of Izu, an isolated and mountainous district of over a quarter of a million people, in fishing and farming communities. He was very happy there.
He returned to Australia in 1956 to become Chairman of ABM. He was a great Chairman and a great missionary statesman. He travelled to mission stations throughout New Guinea and the Pacific. He became an acknowledged leader both of the missionary movement and of the ecumenical development. He was one of the figures to be reckoned with at the Toronto Conference, and the MRI document owed a good deal to him.
The qualities of leadership he had shown made him the obvious choice for Brisbane when Sir Philip Strong retired and, as I have said, his appointment inspired universal joy. He was looking forward to it. I know how happy those twelve days were but God had other work for him to do, and God consecrated him in his own particular way, quietly, as he slept into his presence. He was a burning and a shining light, a John. He was a man who had the courage of a prophet.
It is rather hard, looking back over 30 years, to understand what it meant to be a pacifist in the years before and during the war. Frank Coaldrake was an unashamed pacifist of a very creative kind, who edited a pacifist newspaper in his spare time. His conscience was outraged by all that went on in the war. It cost breaks with many of his friends [9/10] and great suffering. He felt all the agony. He was a great Australian, but like Jeremiah he felt his protest must be made and he did not spare himself. It was because of that background that he felt called to go to Japan, and he broke with much of the past and many attractive offers that could have been made to him here. This to him was a real Christian attempt to live out the life of reconciliation between enemies to which he had devoted so much of his youth and energy.
Finally there was his energetic leadership of the ABM. He took strong lines. They were sometimes unpopular, but he carried them through. I have mentioned his work with the MRI programme; and I would also like to mention his close co-operation with the Church Missionary Society, which was a great joy to him, and with the missionary leaders of other Churches.
I have already said that I knew him from the first week-end I arrived in Brisbane in 1939. On his furlough from Japan on December 3, 1949, he asked me if I would marry him here on a Saturday morning in this church, and it was a great joy and privilege to do it, with Bishop Cranswick, of Tasmania, later taking the celebration of Holy Communion.
By one of those strange accidents of history, I still have in my Prayer Book, and it has been there for a very long time, the Christmas card which he sent me that announced the arrival of Bill in Japan. It was probably put in as a convenient bookmark and it has never been removed.
I also had the privilege since I became a Bishop, because of old friendship, of confirming, in Melbourne, his two daughters, Margaret and Kimi. So I feel it is both a privilege to be able to pay tribute to Frank on behalf of the Australian Church, and also to express our grief and our love and sympathy for Frank's family. For Frank, in spite of all the problems of his missionary statesmanship, did not neglect his family. He loved and cared for them, and was immensely proud of them. He loved the holidays which he used to enjoy in the winter time in the stimulating air of the Dandenongs, and he enjoyed enormously the visit eighteen months ago to Japan.
"He was a burning and a shining light." I have said a lamp must be lit, but the lamp of Frank's life was surely lit by God. He was convinced of it, for he was a man of deep personal religion and a sense of vocation that communicated itself to all his friends. Like John he was more than a prophet. He was truly a man of God, one who in his preaching and all his work and every department of his life proclaimed the way of the Lord.
We grieve for his passing, and our love goes to his dear ones. We shall all miss his friendship and his leadership, but this Eucharist reminds us of our fellowship with him and all the saints which is unbroken by death. This service proclaims until the end of time the victory of the Risen Lord. Late last night, when I came back from an Induction Service and knew I had to think of this sermon, I, for some reason or other, picked up my edition of Bonhoeffer which is always on my desk and I came across this passage, written on the last Easter Day that Bonhoeffer spent in his prison before he was dragged out and hanged by the Nazis. He wrote this:
"The Old Testament day begins at evening and ends with the going down of the sun. The day of the New Testament Church begins with the break of day and ends with the dawning light of the next morning. It is the time of fulfilment, the resurrection of the Lord. At night Christ was born, a light in the darkness. Noon turned to night when Christ suffered and died on the Cross, but in the dawn of Easter morning, Christ rose in victory from the grave."
Ere yet the dawn had filled the sky,
Behold my Saviour Christ arise!
He chaseth from us sin and night
And brings us joy and life and light. Alleluia.
So says Bonhoeffer. So sang the Church of the Reformation. Christ is the Son of Righteousness, risen upon the expectant congregation, and they that love him shall be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.
The early morning belongs to the Church of the Risen Christ. At the break of the day the Church remembers the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.
In that same faith, on this lovely morning, and in the early mornings to come, we will remember Frank Coaldrake, and thank God that in him he gave us a shining light.