Bishop Ray Smith (right, above) is now 82 years old. In December this year, he will celebrate 60 years since his ordination to the Anglican clergy.  For a total of 27 of those years, Ray ministered in the Armidale diocese at a particularly important time in its history. In 1965, Clive Kerle was elected as Bishop of the Diocese. While there were some evangelical clergy already in the diocese, (Trevor Griffiths, Matthew Burrows and Bruce Holland to name just three), Clive Kerle was the first evangelical to hold that position. His election signaled the beginning of Armidale’s great evangelical tradition. Ray Smith was there at the beginning, and in September this year, he will be back to celebrate the 60th anniversary of St Paul’s Tamworth, the church where he ministered so effectively in its early years. We have much to learn from an old warhorse like Ray, so we asked him for a rundown on his Armidale years. 

“Like so many things in the design of God, my going to Armidale was as a result of subjective factors rather than a prayerful well thought out plan on my part”, he said. “When I entered Moore College in 1956 at aged 20 to train for the ministry I did not apply to be a Sydney candidate but had a vague idea of serving with the Bush Church Aid Society. My decision to apply to work in the Armidale Diocese came about through the influence of three men–Trevor Griffiths, John Chapman and Peter Chiswell. I had met Trevor in 1953 at Moore College and the following year joined him as a youth group leader at Yarra Bay (La Perouse) in Sydney. After college he was ordained in the Armidale Diocese where he served as an assistant curate in Gunnedah and then as Vicar at Mungindi. I had met John Chapman at a Katoomba Convention houseparty in 1955. In January 1957 he invited me to accompany in him on a mission he was taking in Gunnedah where Trevor Griffiths was ministering. In the May of that year I visited Trevor in his new parish, Mungindi. While I was there he encouraged me to consider applying to Bishop Moyes, the Bishop of Armidale. Meanwhile John Chapman was now in College and after our trip to the Diocese earlier in the year had continued to encourage me to consider ministry in Armidale. I had also become friendly with Peter Chiswell who had started college as well in 1957, as an Armidale candidate. 

After graduating form Moore College, I commenced work in the Diocese in 1958 as an assistant in Barraba. I moved to Moree in 1961, still as assistant, then became Curate-in- Charge at Ashford. I moved on to Uralla as Vicar, and spent a short time as Director of Christian Education and Chaplain to New England Girls’ School. From 1971 to 76, I was the Vicar of St Paul’s West Tamworth. I took on the job of Archdeacon of the North West, then branched out to become Diocesan Archdeacon and Director of Christian Education. That position entailed me looking after parishes without incumbents. I organised and trained local teams to run the churches where there was no clergy help available. 

My old friend Peter Chiswell succeeded Clive Kerle as Bishop in 1976. In his term of 25 years Peter Chiswell proved to be one of the finest and most effective bishops in country Australia. His major achievement from an evangelical perspective is that he completed the process of establishing the Anglican Reformed Evangelical Tradition in the Diocese which had begun under Bishop Kerle.

Looking back over 60 years I can truthfully say every ministry in which I have engaged has been significant in my ministry formation. Each ministry has been greatly blessed by God, despite my sinfulness and shortcomings. In many respects I do consider my time in the Armidale Diocese as the most significant and rewarding in my life. It was in Armidale I first learned to depend on the sovereignty and grace of God. 

Firstly, and most importantly, I learned about the sovereignty of God in bringing about His plan and purpose, and the power of God’s Spirit to transform people’s lives through the proclamation of the Gospel and teaching of God’s Word. This has challenged me and given me confidence to teach the Bible, promote evangelism and engage in caring ministries, in different settings, one-to-one, small groups and to whole congregations. 

I learned that church growth is the work of the Holy Spirit. God grows His church in line with His will both through planning by his servants but also quite independently, sometimes in spite of them. Two strategic things we can do are; first, to encourage, equip and release lay church members for the one-to-one-ministry of witnessing, discipling and care in the congregation and community. Second; to organize Biblical/Christian Education programs to expand Biblical knowledge and understanding as well as to equip church members for ministry. I began my ministry in Armidale setting out to be a one-man-all-competent-in-everything-minister who performed all the ministry in a parish. I began to learn in Armidale Diocese the importance of training and releasing others in the congregation so that evangelism and ministry instead being confined to one person expands exponentially through many others. 

I also learned in Armidale that ministry to an individual in assisting them grow from an unconverted state to being fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ is a long term process, which includes. Over the years, I have consistently noticed principles which inform this process. 

We need to befriend people, and be patient sharing of Gospel facts.  When the time is right, we need to challenge people to make a decision to follow Jesus.  We need to assure and help them to establish them as new disciples in basic beliefs and practices, like regular Bible reading and prayer. We need to encourage them to deepen their understanding through more intensive study of the Bible and Christian beliefs, and of course, we need to promote the idea of being a member of a small Christian fellowship group for sharing, Bible study, prayer and engaging in service.

Finally, we need to equip them for the basic ministry of witnessing and caring as well as exercising their particular ministry gifts. 

I can trace my enthusiasm and competence for evangelism, under God, back to my Armidale days due the example, passion and training provided by John Chapman. My administrative ability and skills I learned from the examples of Peter Chiswell and Peter Smart, and as a member of Diocesan Council and other committees. 

While in the Diocese I learned my counselling skills by engaging in a New South Wales Marriage Council program conducted in conjunction with the Counselling Unit at the University of New England, and in a Holistic Counselling Course (Sydney Diocese) conducted in Tamworth. 

I gained my expertise in theological education by extension (TEE) in Armidale Diocese as a result of being a private study student with the Australian College of Theology, being an external study student at the University of New England, and from mentoring by Ms. Patricia Harrison, an international TEE specialist, who providentially resided in Armidale. TEE later led to an appointment as the first director of Extension Ministries at the Trinity Episcopal College of Ministry (Pittsburgh, USA) for 4 years.”

We asked Ray what advice he would have for young people who are just beginning a life of ministry. 

“God is sovereign…He works out His purposes. We must be faithful in seeking His will and following His leading, not worrying about our own security. Amazing things will happen! God has looked after us in a marvellous way. My wife Shirley and I didn’t focus on setting ourselves up for the end of our lives, but God has cared for us wonderfully. We both believe in making the most of opportunities up to the end of life. I suppose I will have to ‘retire’ at some point, but in the remaining years of my life, I would like to do some ministry amongst both the gifted and able people in later life (I’m not allowed to say old people!), as well as those who are more frail and needy. Just because you are older, it doesn’t mean you have to give up proclaiming the gospel and ministering to those who need to hear it.”