Six people from St Michael's travelled to California to be guests of the Jesus Seminar in March 2003. It was a remarkable and unforgettable experience!
This is how it happened. In 2000-2001, we had a visit from Dr Robert Funk, the Leader of the Jesus Seminar. This Seminar is made up of scholars of international distinction. Since the late 1970s, they have been studying the ancient texts and historical records to reach a consensus on what Jesus of Nazareth actually said and what he really did. The results have been quite astonishing.
When Dr Robert Funk visited St Michael's, he was obviously affected by what we were doing. He extended an invitation to Dr Macnab to come to the 2003 Convention of the Fellows and Scholars of the Jesus Seminar which would meet in California. He also expressed an enthusiastic hope that a group from St Michael's would also attend and make a presentation to the Convention.
Dr Macnab was asked to preach the one-hour long sermon to the Convention, and the next day, the St Michael's contingent would tell the story of St Michael's, Melbourne.
The team consisted of Dr Louise Harms, Mr Max Kidd, Mrs Margaret Kidd, Mr John Waters and Mrs Gwen Waters and Dr Macnab. Had the world situation been more stable, many others would have been with them.
On the Sunday before they left, they gave an after-church presentation of what they would say. Over 200 people attended and showed intense interest and support.
Upon their return on Sunday 16th March, all six gave a report to the whole congregation during Morning Service, and at a meeting after morning coffee about 150 people attended to ask questions.
One surprise event of the Conference was the announcement that the Scholars and Fellows of the Seminar would confer on Dr Macnab their Order of Merit.
Louise Harms was asked to read the citation and Dr Roy Hoover, Dean of the Seminar, presented Dr Macnab with the ornate scarf or stole of the Order of Merit.
Several people, on hearing Dr Harms read the citation in church on Sunday 16th March, asked if they could have a copy of it.
Here it is:
Tonight we recognise Dr Francis Macnab's pioneering and courageous work.
Francis Macnab has an unfailing capacity to connect us with a ruthlessly honest, authentic religion.
He strips away the layers of destructive dogma and doctrine and thereby allows us to explore who we really are and what is God.
In the face of great criticism and as a lone voice in the Australian crowd, he provides extraordinary vision that speaks right to the heart of individual experience, to our moments of deep isolation and to our moments of connectedness and transcendence.
He creates spaces for community, understanding and healing to emerge in radical new ways:
- He has built a large and vibrant St Michael's community of several thousand people from the one hundred who were there some thirty years ago;
- He created Mingary, the Quiet place - a non-denominational sanctuary in which the symbols of water, rock, light and new beginnings are there for all to experience;
- He founded The Cairnmillar Institute, an internationally renowned centre of excellence for providing psychotherapeutic treatment and training;
- He has written, to date, 24 books and his preaching and lecturing influences thousands throughout the world.
His profound contribution is recognised both nationally and internationally; most prominently with the awarding of two honorary doctorates - a Doctorate of Science from the RMIT University in Melbourne and a Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is a member of the Order of Australia, recognised for his contribution to religion and psychology, with the highest national honour one can receive in our country.
Francis Macnab speaks intelligently and provocatively about what it is to be human, what it is to search for meaning and purpose. At the same time, he creates colour, laughter, vitality and celebration for our souls, reflected in the purple and red of his robes.
He is poet and artist, scholar and interpreter, Minister in the best sense of the word.
He is fulfilling the very purpose of the Jesus Seminar - introducing a new understanding of the historical Jesus into our lives today.
Dr Hoover then addressed Dr Macnab as follows:
The Jesus Seminar Order of Merit honours clergy and lay leaders who have pioneered new forms of faith. These courageous leaders have applied the wisdom embodied in the parables and aphorisms of the historical Jesus to church life and practice. As innovators and reformers, they have fulfilled the latent hopes and aspirations of the Fellows and Associates of the Seminar. For your remarkable achievements, we are pleased to award you this stole as a symbol of the Jesus Seminar Order of Merit.
If you wish to read of more about Jesus seminars, one relevant link is http://www.westarinstitute.org/