vale robert withycombe scholar pastor gospel

Vale Robert Withycombe

Friday 17 March 2023 4:19 PM

To note the recent passing of Robert (Bob) Withycombe, whom I've known at a distance since my late teens, though never been close. A fine servant of the gospel and of the Anglican Church of Australia, as noted in this obituary from St Mark’s National Theological Centre. Towards the end of the obituary is a paragraph about his particular interest in the Parish of Cooma, which I served as Rector for about 8 years (well after Bob's years of active involvement). I'd like to add a little on that theme.

From the start of my ministry at Cooma (2014), Bob's interest and encouragement were clear. Despite his physical frailty by that time, he and Susan-Mary took the trouble to drive the 90 minutes from Canberra for my induction. It quickly became plain to me that he'd followed the life and particularly the ministry of the parish over about three decades, with much faithful prayer. He'd sleuthed out who I was and where I "fitted" so to speak. (Though an old Canberra boy, I was an unknown quantity coming from Melbourne). He shared with me his quiet happiness at the continuation of evangelical ministry at Cooma.

But that was not all. About two years later, I had another surprise visit from Bob and Susan-Mary. They brought with them a crate full of copies of a book for children, written by Susan-Mary¹ and self-published at (I think?) their own expense. Possibly not among the scholarly writings that history will record against the Withycombe name? It was a Christmas theme titled "They Came with Haste: A Sheepdog's Story." It was based upon some of Bob's personal pastoral experiences in the far flung rural centres of the parish around the Christmas season. It really was a rare personal and pastoral enculturation of the gospel for rural Australia, in a children's genre. It's difficult to capture the impact on me of this extraordinary gesture and what it represented. Most of the books were simply given to me to sell or distribute as I saw fit. I think the Withycombes ended up with some sale proceeds, but I'm certain it didn't cover their expenses in the venture.

A church history scholar and a children's book telling the gospel out of rural ministry. That's rare, and it both lives and teaches the gospel. A modest privilege from but a passing association, yet one I shall continue to treasure. Vale Robert Withycombe. Soli Deo gloria.

¹ [Correction:] Not by Bob himself as I originally wrote.