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Region to lose iconic pastoral service

Thursday, 2nd April, 2015

No more ... Former Flying Padres Ian Diamond, left, and John Blair in 2002. No more ... Former Flying Padres Ian Diamond, left, and John Blair in 2002.

By Craig Brealey

It is almost a year since Broken Hill’s Uniting Church pastor left and he is yet to be replaced. Now it seems that the church can do without its famous Flying Padre as well.

The BDT has been told by reliable sources that the Uniting Church is about to announce that it is withdrawing the pastoral service from Broken Hill, although it is keeping it in Darwin and Cloncurry.

The Flying Padre mission was established in Australia about 60 years ago, long before the Uniting Church was formed by the amalgamation of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in 1977.

It was set up by the Reverend Fred McKay whom the Reverend John Flynn (“Flynn of the Inland”, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service) had appointed his successor.

From the Broken Hill airport, the padre flies his single-engine plane to stations, outback schools and towns where he ministers to the faithful and also performs baptisms and weddings.

But the “patrol padre”, as he was originally known, is also a kind of social worker and confidante to families on the land, especially in hard times.

His mission covers about 180,000 square kilometres, from Tibooburra to the north, Ivanhoe to the east, west to the SA border and south almost to the border with Victoria.

Among the most famous of the Flying Padres from Broken Hill was John Blair, a six-foot eight-inch-tall American whom some bush kids thought was God because he was so big, had a grey beard and came out of the sky.

The Flying Padre today is the Rev. David Shrimpton who took up the post about a year ago.

In August last year the Uniting Church asked City Council to waive the Flying Padre’s landing fees at the Broken Hill airport but its request was denied on the grounds that the padre did not directly serve the city itself.

The BDT contacted the Uniting Church’s headquarters in Sydney yesterday to ask if the Flying Padre was to be withdrawn but received no reply.

As to the inability of the church to provide a pastor to replace the Reverend Will Pearson, who left here 10 months ago, a local parishioner said that this was not particularly unusual because even some of its churches in Sydney were having to wait just as long for a pastor.

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