Shepherding God’s people

Easter 4 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Benjamin Glennie
Marian Free

In the name of God who calls us to serve and to shepherd God’s people and the world beyond the church. Amen.

The history of the church in the colonies must be full of stories of heroism, vision, steadfastness and good humour. Clergy from a vastly different climate and landscape faced isolation and indifference, they had to travel vast distances in a largely unpopulated and sometimes unforgiving country and minister in situations that were quite different from the English Parish Church. A pioneering priest in this Diocese, Benjamin Glennie faced all these challenges with courage, determination and humour. I imagine that many of you are familiar with the Glennie School in Toowoomba, but I wonder how many of you know much of this tenacious man whose anniversary of death falls on April 30 and whose 200th anniversary of birth falls this year.

Benjamin Glennie was born in 1812, in Dulwich in Surrey, England, the twelfth son of William Glennie a school principal. On leaving school, Glennie spent time as a tutor in Europe before, at thirty, entering Christ’s College Cambridge. By this time three of his brothers had migrated to New South Wales – one a landowner, another a doctor and the third a farmer who was later ordained. Glennie himself came to Australia in 1848 with the first bishop of Newcastle, Dr William Tyrrell. Bishop Tyrrell brought with him several young men who were to be ordained and he took advantage of the long voyage to prepare them for ordination.

After their arrival in Newcastle, the only priest in the settlement of Moreton Bay drowned. As a result, Glennie was urgently ordained and sent to replace him. This was only three months after he had arrived in Australia and before he had had any experience in the ordained ministry. When he arrived in Brisbane he was taken to Newstead House to stay with the Governor. The very next day he conducted morning and evening services. Almost immediately, at the Governor’s insistence, he bought a black horse “Jim Crow” which was to be his companion for the next 20 years.

Glennie must have been shocked by his new home. Moreton Bay only opened to free settlers in 1842. It was isolated from the rest of the colony and sparsely populated. There was no church building so services were held in a converted carpenter’s shop on North Quay. This prompted Glennie to begin a fund for the building of what became St John’s.

Like his predecessor, Glennie was the only priest to minister the whole of Moreton Bay which included Ipswich and the Downs. He held services at St John’s church and also established day and Sunday schools in Brisbane. He visited Ipswich once a month and toured the Downs. Glennie was ordained a priest in 1849 and from 1850-1860 (another priest being available) he was made responsible for all of the Downs meaning that he had the oversight of all Anglicans west of Toowoomba! It must have been a daunting task. Each year Glennie (who did not have a strong constitution) covered a distance of nearly 5,000 kilometres and as he did so he established congregations and bought property suitable for the building of churches or schools.

Glennie disliked riding, but in that era, it was the only means of transport available to enable him get around his vast Archdeaconry. At the same time, there were few roads and those that existed often reduced to tracks through the scrub. This meant that, even if the church could afford one, a gig would have been of little use. It is reported that on many occasions, Glennie could be seen walking from place to place with the laden horse walking along beside him. Riding was not his only trial. In the days before telephones – let alone the internet – communication was slow or non existent. On one occasion Glennie wrote in his diary – “Drayton very wet, no one came to church: The Swamp very wet and no one came to church.” Another time he wrote: “Wet day, no person came to church and I did not go to Toowoomba.”

Among the other hardships were locusts, flies, intolerable heat, fleas and the vast distances with no homestead in which to seek shelter for the night. At times he was forced to sleep in a shepherd’s hut which he records was: “a place miserable in the extreme. The natural earth formed the floor and was quite wet.” Loneliness was another problem and he writes that he was “sadly isolated from my brethren of the clergy”.

A testimony to his drive and hard work are the four churches which he built in the four major centres: Drayton, Warwick ,Toowoomba and Dalby – named for the evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John respectively . A considerable amount of the funds for these projects came from Glennie himself. That he used money from his own pocket is revealed in a letter written to the Bishop after St Luke’s was built. “ St Luke’s building paid for, but in debt to me of 20 pounds.”

That said, he did not release the congregations of their obligation to support him. At one time, when the Parish of Warwick were behind in paying his stipend, his curate wrote: ” he had an extraordinary suit of clothes – blue frock coat, high collar and sleeves rubbed at the elbows, a pair of short grey trousers which displayed a good deal of white sock and an old cabbage tree hat. Whenever his stipend was in arrears he donned this suit and continued to wear it until the reason for doing so no longer existed.”

One of Glennie’s passions was education – not only for boys but also for girls and to this end whenever he built a church it was expected that during the week it would be used as a school. Glennie also established the “Schools Endowment Fund” to which again he contributed from his own funds, some of which came from the sale of fruit and vegetables grown in Rectory gardens. In 1882 Glennie transferred to the Diocese the sum of £1627 and in 1900 the Synod voted that schools for girls and boys be established in his memory. (By that time the Toowoomba Preparatory School had been founded, so only a school for girls was needed.)

In 1863 Glennie was appointed as the Archdeacon of the Downs. Glennie’s last appointment was to the Parish of Toowong where he built his fifth and final church. He is buried in the Toowong Cemetery and his grave can be visited there.

In 1919, a writer in the Toowoomba Chronicle said of him “The little children ran to welcome with outstretched hands and eager joy in their faces, for to them he truly was the Good Shepherd. ” On this Good Shepherd Sunday, it is fitting that we remember Benjamin Glennie and give thanks to God for his passion for the Gospel, his dedication to the Church and his love for the people. May we, remembering the stature of those whose shoulders we stand on, continue to support and build the church, preach the Gospel and show God’s love to all.


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