Saturday, July 27, 2019

Vale, Father Reg Mills!



Father Reg Mills in 2008

A Requiem Mass was offered last Thursday, 25th July, at St James' Mermaid Beach (on the Gold Coast, south of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia), for the funeral of much loved priest, the Very Rev'd Reginald E Mills. Both Bishop Ian Woodman and Canon Richard Martin asked that I put some words together to be read at that Mass. They are here: 

It was my privilege to preach at Father Reg's Golden Anniversary of ordination to the priesthood, back in 2006. So, that means that by the time God called him home, he had been a faithful priest, serving the Lord, and serving the Lord's people for almost 63 years!

I first met Father Reg in Sydney at a mid-week Christ Church St Laurence healing service in the late 1960's, and our paths crossed every few years since then, until my move to Brisbane in 1995 when we saw a lot of each other. Indeed, during my fifteen years in Brisbane I learned to depend on Father Reg for advice and pastoral wisdom, and it was to him that I would take my soul for a spring clean. He was a true pastor. He was never afraid to tell the truth as he saw it, but he always did so with compassion, love and grace. I am so grateful to the lay people and clergy who loved Father Reg and cared for him during his final months, for you gave him a little of the care that he selflessly provided for so many during his long and blessed ministry - whether as a Bush brother in Bathurst Diocese, as the legendary parish priest of Caloundra for 20 years, and after that stints in Sydney, too many Locums in Brisbane Diocese to keep track of, as a priest in the Traditional Anglican Communion, and most recently as Dean of Clergy in the Anglican Catholic Church, based at the Church of the Good Shepherd and Saint James Church Mermaid Beach. And if I may be very personal just for a moment, it was a huge blessing and an undeserved privilege for me to serve Father Reg for five years as his bishop.

Father Reg was representative of a kind of priest it is hard to find today as a result of what we can say without exaggeration has been the "ethnic cleansing" of real Anglo-Catholics from the Anglican Church of Australia. He had been deeply influenced as a young man - as were so many others who became priests - by the renowned Father John Hope, Rector of Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney from 1926 to 1964. Father John was in the forefront of the restoration of the healing ministry in the Australian Church, and he was open to the work of the Holy Spirit in what was to become known as the charismatic renewal. But he was first and foremost a real catholic Christian. In Father John's life and ministry, the catholic, the evangelical and the pentecostal coalesced happily, along with a range of other disparate and eccentric interests! Father Reg was nurtured in the wholeness of this vision of what it means to be a catholic Christian and a catholic priest, a vision to which he remained faithful right to the end, as everyone who has known him will testify.

So, when I was thinking about what to write for you, my mind took me back to the amazing Solemn Requiem Mass offered at Father John Hope's funeral at Christ Church in Sydney in 1971. Father John had requested that the preacher should be Archdeacon Clive Goodwin, Rector of St Philip's, Church Hill, in Sydney, which was as "low" as Christ Church was "high." At one level it was about unity, but at a personal level it was a sign of Father John's gratitude for the Archdeacon's friendship during his retirement. I was there that day, and I can tell you that Clive Goodwin really preached! He took as his text the pithy description of St Barnabas in Acts 11:24 "He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." He reminded us that if ever there was a successor to Barnabas, whose name means "Son of Encouragement", it was Father John.

Well, today in a quirky twist of apostolic succession, I want to say the same of Father Reg, so deeply influenced by Fr John! Fr Reg was a "good man", a manifestly good man. His goodness drew many to know and love the Saviour. He was unfailingly good and kind to all manner of people who came to him for help. He gave all that he could give, even to those who were never likely to be grateful. He befriended the lonely, and in all his dealings with others he sought to assure them that there was a way back to God that would bring them wholeness and life more abundantly. His goodness was apparent to all.

Father Reg was full of the Holy Spirit. Even to particular friends who could be a bit dismissive of his charismatic/ pentecostal experience (and that did hurt him), he would emphasise the importance of the fulness of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, as being just as real today as in the New Testament era. A preacher of the "full Gospel", he was a practitioner of the healing ministry, and a great blessing to the sick and the suffering.

Father Reg was a man of faith. He exercised "faith" - trusting in the promises of God even in the darkest of the valleys he was called to tread. He really knew the Lord ... he didn't just know about the Lord. And we knew that he knew the Lord! He prayed. He worshipped. Whenever he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he knew that he was parting the Eucharistic veil through which we gaze into heaven and experience the unity of all things in Christ. He knew and firmly believed that even in the tiniest church here below when only a handful have made it to Mass, we are swept into the glorious worship of that great multitude that no man can number gathered around the heavenly throne. From this perspective Father Reg's vision could never be limited by what was "realistic." I think that's why he could look at a situation from the standpoint of faith (what I dare to suggest was very often God's point of view) and see possibilities that no-one else could see.

But he was also a man of THE faith in the sense of clinging on "to the faith once delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) when even dear friends of his fell for the deceits and empty promises of the kind of theological liberalism that has engulfed much of first world Anglicanism. In different ways he paid the price of remaining orthodox, and he is one of our heroes. Humanly speaking, the cost of faithfulness can be high indeed. 

Today we offer the one perfect and sufficient Sacrifice of Jesus for the repose of Father Reg's soul. We offer it for his final sanctification, we offer it in the words of the old Missal - as he would wish - for his "healing in eternity."

And as we make our way to the holy altar of God - you on the Gold Coast in far away Queensland, and I here in the south of London - we are surely allowed to imagine that our dear Father Reg, our friend, priest, pastor, intercessor, and brother in Christ, who taught us so much about walking with the Lord, can already hear, growing louder and more distinct, those words from Matthew 25:23, "Well done, good and faithful servant . . .  enter into the joy of your Lord."

"He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith." (Acts 11:24)


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