Gifted preacher inspired strength




9-1-1924 22-1-2012


THE Reverend David Hodges, whose considerable talent as a minister for more than 50 years, firstly of the Presbyterian and then Uniting Church, was spent empowering others, has died of pneumonia at home in Glen Iris. He was 88.

Born in Melbourne, he attended Malvern Grammar then Scotch College, where he excelled in athletics. He finished school during World War II and joined the army when he turned 18. As one of only two recruits who achieved matriculation, he was asked to decipher how a consignment of Dutch tanks operated with all instructions in Dutch! With this atypical start in the army he became an "expert" in tank warfare.

David's time in the army affected him profoundly and set his life on a course of service to others as a minister of religion. An arts degree from Melbourne University was followed by a bachelor of divinity at Edinburgh University, where he topped his year.

He was placed at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh as a student assistant minister. In that capacity he was asked to attend the Queen during her visit to the church before her coronation. He returned to Australia in 1952 and was ordained and inducted at Scots Church, Melbourne, where he acted as assistant minister.

In 1954, he married Eleanor Le Plastrier, a member of the Scots Church Youth Group, and they moved to their first parish in Bairnsdale, where they stayed until 1960. Three of his four children, Catriona, Christopher and Alastair, were born there. A move followed to Scots Church, Adelaide, where his youngest child, Jeannie, was born, before he was appointed to Toorak Presbyterian (later Uniting) Church in 1968. David retired from full time ministry in 1983.

In the 1980s he was guest preacher at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York and did locums for several congregations, including significant contributions at St Leonard's, Brighton, and St Aidan's, North Balwyn. These were all vibrant and exciting ministries, and David was an inspiring preacher. He believed that the church should reach out to the community and established programs for the young, for families, for the elderly and to celebrate the arts. These diverse, innovative programs guided and enriched many people far beyond those who attended church.

Also a gifted administrator, he oversaw the expansion of the work of his parish and the wider church. From 1969, he was chairman of Presbyterian Social Services in Victoria and a leading figure in the establishment of social services in the Uniting Church, as well as being one or the architects of the Basis of Union for the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches in Australia.

Always committed to ecumenicalism, David helped create the Toorak Ecumenical Movement. He was deputy chairman of St Catherine's school council for many years. His work was recognised in 1983 when he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to religion and the community.

He was also chairman of Trading Partners, a not-for-profit organisation helping developing countries by importing their handicrafts, as well as being a volunteer counsellor for AIDSline.

In addition to his work for organisations and churches, he continued to conduct weddings and funerals and to provide counsel to those who asked. He had a particular skill in extracting and verbalising the essence of a person when conducting a funeral, even for those he only met through discussions with their loved ones.

In retirement, David had the time to express his creativity in designing and building beautiful homes and gardens in Sherbrooke and Glen Iris.

In his latter years, he came to disbelieve in the concept of a supernatural God, but retained his passionate belief in the ethics and values of Christianity and their continuing relevance, which he expressed in his book Making Love Real.

David also came to the realisation of his homosexuality late in life and with great courage and respect for those he loved, he lived out this new awareness of himself.

A modest and loving man, David discovered the innate goodness of all people, and believed that the only legitimate use of power was to set others free. He did not fear brokenness and distress in others, his non-anxious presence and unconditional love was healing. He was gifted in recognising and nurturing the strengths and skills of others and providing opportunities where people were encouraged to reach their potential.

Through his skill in preaching, teaching, counselling, mentoring and guiding he helped people to succeed in living more fulfilling and loving lives. He was one of those rare and special people who inspired strength and self-confidence in those around him.

David is survived by his partner, David Ross-Smith, his former wife Eleanor, four children and nine grandchildren.

Dr Alastair Hodges is David Hodges son.

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