There are two subjects that are best left alone when in company, and they are religion and politics. Religion is an interesting topic when researching the family tree as one never knows where it may lead; or should I say, which side of the tracks you will end up. The subject of religion in my family has been quite contentious over the years as there were such divided forces at play, and I might add that God had very little to do with it. It was more like which team you back, and in the case of my family: Protestant or Catholic.
There is one person who comes to mind when I talk about my family’s inherited faith. My Grandmother Phoebe Lyons was the staunchest protector of the Protestant faith that I have ever encountered, apart from her sister Dulcie who also erred on the side of bigotry.
Nanna was more than just a regular churchgoer; moreover, she was the church. She lived and breathed the church. I recall helping her on Saturday afternoons cleaning the church prior to each Sunday morning service. We cleaned the pews, swept the floors, opened the windows to air the space, polished the brassware, placed freshly laundered linen on the alter and ensured there were enough prayer and hymn books for the parishioners to use. It never seemed a chore for Nanna, rather it was her duty.
Nanna Lyons didn’t drive, so my Grandfather dutifully drove her to church each Sunday. When I grew older and got a license, she bribed me to take her to church with the keys of Pop’s nice Triumph car. I didn’t take much bribing as Pop’s car was a dream to drive. One day on our way home from church, Nanna said to me,
“Kim, religion should be an important part of everyone’s life.”
Well, I never shared Nanna’s view in her lifetime, but I did like driving my Grandfather’s car which was the ultimate reason for my attendance at church each Sunday.
Being a staunch Anglican, Nanna’s biggest enemy, next to evil itself, was the Roman Catholic Church. There would have been hell to pay if any of her immediate family married Roman Catholics. Mind you, many of her friends, including her best friends were of that persuasion. I have heard whispers along the family grapevine that her Mother, who was also a staunch Anglican, was born into the Catholic faith. Charlotte Hughes was born in Ireland, so perhaps her family switched faiths due to persecution. We will never know why and it is something that remains a whisper because there are a few people in heaven who would come down to haunt me if word got out.
If it wasn’t for the actions of my Grandmother’s Mother in law, history may very well have taken a different course than it did. Harriet Lyons was born into an Anglican family and married William Lyons who was a Catholic. They were married in the Catholic church and their oldest son Ron was baptized in the faith. However, when Kevin and Jack were born, in 1905 and 1907 respectively, they remained unbaptized. The Catholic priest in the town where they lived on the Darling Downs kept asking, “Mrs Lyons, when are you going to baptize your children?”
Now, Harriet was a fiery little redhead and retorted to the constant harassment by organizing the baptisms in the house of the opposition. When her fourth son Bill was born, he was also baptized an Anglican. Then when her oldest son Ron was sent to Mt Carmel Catholic Boarding School in Charters Towers, she insisted that he attend the Anglican Church on Sundays which must have ruffled a few cassocks at the time.
I can thank my Great Grandmother’s steadfastness for my own existence. As much as my Grandmother might have been attracted to that cheeky larrikin, Jack Lyons, I do believe that her views would have prevented them from marrying if he was a Catholic.
Many years after my Grandmother’s death, her beloved church, St. Augustine’s, in Giru opened its doors for its final service. I am glad that her church saw its demise well after my her lifetime although I sensed that she was indeed present that evening. I am sure I could hear her high pitched voice belting out hymns above the warbles of the congregation. Then as I stood in front of the congregation delivering a reading, I experienced an epiphany.
In the passage was a statement about religion being a battle of good against evil. As the words rolled off my tongue I was suddenly taken back to that moment in my Grandfather’s Triumph car when my Grandmother preached to me about the importance of religion. I knew with certainty that she was indeed watching over me that night with pride as the meaning of her words hit me like a flash. I finally got it! She triumphed at the eleventh hour, on the eve of the final curtain call.
Now as a tribute to my Grandmother and her almighty Church, I wish to share with you the Eulogy recited at my Grandmother’s funeral in 1978 by her friend, Father Ted Steele. It is an incredible testament to the person she was and I remember Father Steele struggling with the delivery.