Sid Harta Publishers
Hilarity and sadness in outback parish ministry As the Sparks Fly Upwards, by Richard Stamp (Sid Harta, $24.95) reviewed by Beryl Rule Like Brother Mark, the central character and narrator in As the Sparks Fly Upwards, author Richard Stamp left England when newly ordained to serve as a Bush Brother in Australia. His account of outback ministry during the 1960s, which he describes as ?fiction loosely based on fact?, is both hilarious and moving, and rich in its evocation of the characters and challenges encountered in dealing with a parish of 25,000 square miles. The opening chapter sets the tone for many of Brother Mark?s adventures: not too many young priests spend their first night in a new parish in a prison cell, after being discovered by the local constable with an arm jammed in the partially collapsed wall of the bank. However, as Mark tells his irate superior, Brother Edwin, at least it makes everyone aware of his arrival, since The Inlander newspaper features a full-page photo with the banner headline: NEW BUSH BROTHER MISTAKEN FOR BANK ROBBER. No sport has lent itself better to storytelling than cricket, and Mark?s description of the Ferryton versus Lizard Gully match is a gem. Pushed into unwilling last minute service for Ferryton, he walks ?on legs of jelly? to the crease to face the murderous bowling of his enemy, the terrifying Ferret. Not for worlds would I spoil this story by giving away what happens, but I admit that I laughed aloud. Another memorable chapter involves Mark?s meeting with two well off ladies regarded as pillars of the church. They entertain him with an elegant afternoon tea in the course of which they stun their guest by merrily revealing their pre-marriage occupation. The young priest goes away oppressed by the need to bring these ladies to a true sense of repentance. His prayers are answered ? in a totally unexpected way. But there are tears as well as laughter in Mark?s ministry. He is frequently frustrated by his own pastoral inexperience, and never more so than when he has to care for a frightened young man, Glen, faced with death from a rare and deadly cancer. As things turn out, Glen?s funeral has to be held on the same day as the wedding of two other parishioners, with the same people attending both services. Mark, who ?wept bucketsful? when Glen died, learnt how emotionally wearing it was to respond to people?s needs by moving swiftly between grief and joy. His sensitivity was demonstrated in a different way in a chapter about the burial of ?Old Man Tuckerbag?, the last of the Yanta people. The feeling that he was ?treading on someone else?s territory? ? a territory walked by Aboriginal people for tens of thousands of years ? grew stronger the longer Mark spent in Blaxford. The final paragraph of this chapter, when ne?er do well Steve plays his people?s song over the grave, is a moving and memorable piece of writing. As the Sparks Fly Upwards gives a lot of pleasure. Remember it when you are compiling Christmas lists, for others and for yourself. By Beryl Rule The Melbourne Anglican, the newspaper of the Anglican Church in the Melbourne Diocese and others.
When Mark, a newly ordained young English Anglican priest feels called to work with one of the bush brotherhoods in the Australian outback he discovers that all of his recently acquired book learning is one thing... Read more about “As the Sparks Fly Upwards”