This morning I’m visiting Murrumbeena Baptist Church, and talking with them about what some of us noticed when we read some of the gospel stories in the local Murrumbeena neighbourhood.
We found that one of the most interesting local stories we came across was the story of the Boyd family, and particularly the resilience of the family in the midst of disaster and illness. Merric and Doris Boyd provided for their family by producing ceramics, but in 1926 when Merric was upgrading the kiln there was an explosion and the whole pottery burned down. At around the same time Merric had his first major epileptic seizure.

The story brought to mind the story of a father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. The boy suffered from seizures, which often caused him to fall into the fire and be burnt. In the society they lived in disabilities and illnesses were often understood to be caused by sin or by demonic posession, so the family had to put up with being demonized on top of the boy’s condition. In this situation of despair and damnation, the father (or faither) says to Jesus, ‘I AM FAITHING, HELP MY NOT-FAITHING!’ This happens right in the middle of a period where Jesus is trying to tell his followers that he isn’t the kind of Messiah they think he is and that he’s going to die. The father/faither in this story is the kind of person who is ready for this kind of Messiah because he’s in the midst of damnation and demonization, and he’s faithing on anyway.

I think the Boyd family’s story speaks of faithing on in the midst of despair as well. With the help of others they built another, smaller pottery. Doris and Merric travelled into the city to work ina. Factory, making ceramic insulation for cables. They also nurtured creativity in their kids, who all went on to be involved in the arts as painters and sculptors. Their son Arthur Boyd (named after his painter grandfather) went on to become one of Australia’s most famous artists. In these ways they continued their practise and passed it on to others, despite the disaster.

Theologie en plein air

Painting: Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood. John Singer Sargent. 1885.

This week I’m doing some work with Murrumbeena Baptist Church. We’re going to be having a look at some gospel stories in their neighbourhood. We’ll be seeing how the neighbourhood and gospel might interact in dialogue.

In preparation I’ve been doing some research on the neighbourhood. That’s included walking around the neighbourhood with Asher and Carly, who are part of that church. We’ve talked about what we already know about the neighbourhood. I’ve also spent some time at the State Library doing research.

I think one of the interesting things about the neighbourhood has been the story of the Boyd family, who were residents of Murrumbeena. The painter and sculptor Arthur Merric Bloomfield Boyd is probably the most famous member of the family, but he was actually part of a large family of painters and sculptors.

Arthur Merric Boyd’s grandparents, Arthur and Minnie Boyd, were what was called en plein air painters. That means that instead of painting inside a studio using rigid, academic rules of composition, they went outside into the natural light of the wider world. Their aim was to paint the world as they saw it, and not let artistic conventions warp their depictions of the world.

I think the church needs its own en plein air movement. What if we did theology en plein air? What if we did our Bible reading en plein air? If we stay inside when we read and reflect, I think there is a danger that’s our theology and and the story we live out of has no connection with the very real place we’re situated in. There’s a lot we can miss if we keep our reading of the Bible inside private or sacred spaces like our homes and our churches. So this week I am looking forward to reading the Bible en plein air with some of the locals in Murrumbeena.