19 June 2024

A multicultural Melbourne ministry: Jim Houston’s legacy

The Reverend James Houston worked for a multicultural Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. Picture: supplied

Dave Fuller

19 January 2023

Jim and Marjorie Houston were part of the Anglican Parish of Greensborough in the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne for my entire incumbency, from mid-2012 to early 2021. I had the joy of working with them and observed their hearts and commitments, up close and personal. Although retired from paid working roles, their passion for the gospel, social justice, mission to the poor and encouraging multi-cultural engagement were hallmarks of their combined ministries. 

During that time Jim had his long-awaited memoir published, A Multi-Cultural Odyssey: A memoir (almost) sans Regrets, which was later launched by Dr Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne during the Diocesan Synod in October 2018. I had the delight of reading his memoir and later writing a book review for Equip Magazine, part of the Ethos stable of publications. While I was aware of some features of Jim’s remarkable life, his book awakened me to so much more! 

It was his contribution to the multicultural vision of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne which I will focus on. When he began to articulate this vision, the Anglican church of Melbourne did not reflect the ethnic diversity and demography of one of the most multicultural cities in Australia. In fact, quite the contrary, it was fundamentally white and Anglo-centric in flavour and outlook. When Jim was ordained to serve as an Anglican Priest at the age of 56 years, he and Marjorie were sent by Archbishop David Penman to one of the poorest and most multicultural suburbs of Melbourne, the parish of Dallas, where they served for seven years.  

The Reverend James Houston OAM, 19 November 1932 – 27 December 2022. 

Archbishop Keith Rayner, who succeeded David Penman then appointed Jim to the role of director of Cross-Cultural Ministry in 1993 to examine the progress of the Anglican Diocese with respect to multicultural ministry. He worked full time in this part time position for three years. What came out of that time was a comprehensive report titled, Seeds blowing in the wind: A review of multi-cultural ministry and mission. He concluded that the diocese had a long way to go but progress could and would indeed be made. 

Read More: Missionaries need to understand diversity and multiculturalism to be effective, expert says

By 2016, Melbourne’s original five non-Anglo congregations would grow to 40, drawn from 20 ethnic groups and linking some 3000 worshippers. 

Jim was thrilled to see these developments and lived long enough to see his vision unfolding. Over the past 10 years, at the annual ordination services, at least 40 per cent of the candidates have been from non-English speaking backgrounds. Melbourne now has 47 non-Anglo parishes, some of which are the most dynamic and vibrant in our city. At my own local monthly deanery meeting, there are priests now from Karen State in Burma, South Sudan, China, Sri Lanka and Polynesia. 

Jim was also part of a small team in the Greensborough church which led the parish on a Journey of Reconciliation with the few Wurundjeri people still living in the area, on whose land the church was built. This led ultimately to a Service of Repentance and Restitution, and an ongoing financial commitment to a surviving Wurundjeri elder. 

Thank you, Jim and Marjorie, for one of the most fruitful and dynamic partnerships, I have ever observed in my 36 years of full time Christian ministry. 

The Reverend Dave Fuller is vicar of the Anglican Parish of Yarraville. 

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