Archive for the ‘House of Freedom’ Tag

Feast of Athol Hill (September 5)   1 comment

Above:  The Flag of Australia

Image in the Public Domain

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ATHOL HILL (SEPTEMBER 5, 1937-MARCH 9, 1992)

Australian Baptist Biblical Scholar and Social Prophet

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[Jesus] comes time and again and calls us to follow him, offering a fresh start in the life of discipleship.  The options don’t vary, but the choices continue.

–Athol Hill

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Athol Hill comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via the revised edition of Cloud of Witnesses, edited by Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday.

Hill was a renowned scholar of the Bible, the New Testament in particular.  He was also a Christian so committed to following Jesus completely that he was too radical for the comfort of the conservative establishment of the Baptist Union of Australia.  Hill, when accused of being a Marxist, replied that he was not, for Karl Marx was too conservative.  Not surprisingly, Hill was the defendant in a heresy trial.  He was not always diplomatic.  Hill also recognized the existence of differing interpretative traditions within the Bible.  The most controversial aspect of his faith and practice was his radical commitment to service to the poor and other vulnerable people.  Passages from the Gospels that affirmed the divinity of Jesus, Hill argued, also challenged Christians to shake off middle-class and upper-class complacency, and to engage in complete discipleship.

Hill, born in Wauchope, New South Wales, Australia, on September 5, 1937, took Jesus seriously.  Our saint, a former retail manager, pursued theological studies.  He studied at, in order:

  1. New South Wales Baptist College, Macquarie Park, New South Wales, Australia;
  2. Spurgeon’s College, London, England, United Kingdom;
  3. The University of London, London, England, United Kingdom (Bachelor of Divinity, 1965);
  4. Rüschlikon International Baptist Seminary, Prague, Czechoslovakia; and
  5. The University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland (Master of Arts, 1967; Doctor of Theology, 1971).

In 1971 Hill started his new job teaching at the Baptist Theological College of Queensland, Brisbane.  Quickly he became persona non grata at the conservative institution.  When he and 20 students opened a coffee-house in Brisbane they made contact with the counterculture in that city.  The coffee-house led to a communal residence then to an intentional community, the House of Freedom.  Hill taught at the Methodist Training College, Brisbane, in 1973-1974, but he and his wife Judith had to leave the city for greener pastures in Melbourne in 1975.

From 1975 to 1992 Hill worked at Whitley College, The University of Melbourne.  He was the Dean of Students from 1975 to 1979 then Professor of New Testament from 1979 until his death in 1992.  In Melbourne the Hills found urban congregations moving to the suburbs.  The Hills disapproved of this.  They founded an intentional community, the House of the Gentle Bunyip (1975-1996), named after a creature from aboriginal mythology.  A bunyip found his dignity and identity when he met another rejected bunyip.  As Hill explained,

The search for identity is the quest for community.

The House of the Gentle Bunyip became a means of ministering to the homeless, those suffering from schizophrenia, the sick, the elderly, and the young of Melbourne.  Sometimes, out of idealism, members of the community attempted to do too much at once, but they learned from their mistakes.  Disagreements and personality struggles–in other words, human nature–also afflicted the House of the Gentle Bunyip.

Hill’s commitment to radical discipleship led him to place himself at risk for others.  In the 1980s the U.S.-supported government of El Salvador, a brutal regime that tortured and killed many of its citizens and targeted elements of the Church for violence, fought a war against Communist guerrillas during one of the proxy conflicts that were part of the Cold War.  (The Cold War made for morally indefensible international bedfellows.)  The national police had arrested, detained, and tortured a Salvadoran Baptist minister who had been helping poor people.  Hill flew from Australia to El Salvador to confront the chief of the national police.  The colonel who led that agency was a man who had no compunction about ordering the tortures of people, so Hill was taking an extreme risk.  The scholar asked the colonel why the national police had arrested the Salvadoran Baptist minister.  The colonel accused the minister of being a Communist.  The scholar asked the colonel if helping the poor was always a crime in El Salvador.  Fortunately for Hill, he was persuasive that day; the colonel freed the minister and signed a document permitting the Salvadoran Baptist community to continue to aid the poor without fear of reprisal.

Hill died suddenly of a heart attack on March 9, 1992.  He was 54 years old.  Around the world admirers mourned him.

We Christians–especially we very churchy Christians raised and steeped in the faith–experience the temptation to become bogged down in our comfortable pews, to borrow a term.  We are not necessarily bad, but we risk domesticating the Gospel and losing touch with those with whom one should be in touch.  We need people like Athol Hill to kick us in our complacency as we sit in our comfortable pews.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF LEO XIII, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGISUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge,

and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith.

We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Athol Hill,

and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth

we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 61

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