Churchman became St Kilda mayor




2-9-1938 19-7-2012

FROM East Geelong to the world ecumenical stage was a long journey by the Reverend

Dr Ian Williams.

Williams died after a progressive decline arising from Alzheimer's disease. It was an ironic passing for a person who earlier in his career had published a small book of reflections titled The Power of Memory.

He was born in Benalla but at three years of age moved, with his parents Ralph and Rita and his three brothers, to Geelong where his father was to take up the position of art master at the Geelong High School. Geelong was to become his nurturing environment.

Williams was educated through the state system, and left high school at the end of 1954, with his leaving certificate (year 11), to take up a position in the local Eagle Star Insurance office.

It was during that first year

of work that he made the commitment to offer himself as a candidate for the ministry of the Methodist Church. Two influences were significant in that decision: the strong Methodist tradition of his family, and the dominant role

of the churches in the society of the 1950s.

Not only did the churches of the day facilitate religious worship and teaching, they were also active in conducting social and sporting clubs, especially for young people. These social and sporting clubs widened and strengthened the religious influence of the churches, and Williams was a keen participant.

In putting himself forward for candidature, he faced several hurdles, not the least being the requirement to matriculate in order to enter the arts faculty at Melbourne University, and with that the need to have a second language.

He met the second language requirement by taking up the study of Dutch (which was considered the language closest to English) under the tutorship of a recently arrived Dutch immigrant working at the local Shell refinery.

In admirable fashion he decided to return as a full-time secondary student, and so after two years in the workforce he once again pulled on the school uniform of Geelong High School and took his place with fellow students in the matriculation classes.

He obtained first-class honours in history at the end of the year (and passed in Dutch), showing an academic ability that was to remain a cornerstone of his life and work.

In an age long before the gap year had ever been thought about, Williams took the next year off to build a bank balance before he embarked on university studies. For a year he was a bread carter for Cherry's Bakery in Geelong.

It was at the end of that gap year, at one of the Methodist Church's summer school camps, that he met Joy Fisher, the elder daughter of Maurice and Edna Fisher, a wheat farming family from Yaarpeet in Victoria's Mallee country.

She was to become the exemplary minister's wife, including being hostess to visiting guests from around the world, and standing with Williams at the door of the church at the end of worship services.

Ordained within the Methodist Church in 1964, Williams had early parish appointments to North Launceston and St Kilda.

In Tasmania he completed a master of arts degree with a thesis on Rudolf Bultmann, the German Lutheran theologian.

It was while minister at the

St Kilda Methodist Church that he stood and won a seat on the St Kilda City Council, which he held for five years, and was mayor in 1973-74. He also was invited to become a member

of Rotary the first clergyman to receive such an honour in

St Kilda.

It was always of great significance to him that in his mayoral year the local Jewish rabbi conducted a civic service in the synagogue in his honour, not only recognising him as the mayor of the city, but also acknowledging him as the minister of the local Methodist Church. Williams saw this as a tangible act of ecumenism.

An invitation to the central Wesley Church in Hobart followed, and this opened a period where he held major city pulpits.

In 1977 he was appointed minister at the National Memorial Church, Canberra, where he led a congregation that included senior public servants, diplomatic representatives and politicians.

He continued to pursue his personal studies and completed his bachelor of divinity and doctorate of ministry with the San Francisco Theological Seminary. He later spent a period of long-service leave at Yale.

It was while in Canberra that Williams became president of the Australian Council of Churches International Affairs Committee.

It was back to his alma mater Queen's College in 1984 to take up the position of director of field education within the Theological Hall of the (now) Uniting Church of Australia. He worked within the Theological Hall for 14 years, being principal of the hall for his last 10 years there.

Within the broader Queen's College he served as secretary to the college council, and was then elected president in 1989.

Being the secretary was a theme of Williams' life. As a teenager, he was secretary of the church boys club, the Methodist Order of Knights then secretary of the students' sports and social club when a student at Queen's College later secretary of the college council itself and finally, on the world international stage, secretary of the World Conference of Associated Theological Institutions (WOCATI).

WOCATI was established in 1989 as an initiative of the World Council of Churches to foster global co-operation on matters related to ecumenical and contextual theological education.

It might be said that Williams walked through life, pen poised, ready to take the minutes of the next meeting!

Approaching 60 years of age, and with early stages of memory difficulty appearing, he relinquished his positions within Queen's College and returned to Geelong. He took an appointment within the ministry team at Wesley Uniting Church, Yarra Street, in 1998.

Williams retired from active parish work in 2003, and in 2006 took up residence with Joy in the Bendigo Retirement Village.

Three main threads are woven into his life: community engagement, ecumenical relationships and continuing education. Community engagement led him to apply his Christian faith to the betterment of humankind. Ecumenism was seen in his approach to stronger relationships between the religious faiths and traditions. Continuing education was present both in his own development and in his support and encouragement in the growth of others.

Williams is survived by his wife Joy, son Jon, daughter Sue, daughter-in-law Lynise, son-in-law Brad, and granddaughter, Ingare.

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