Launch of Christine Ledger’s book Who is this Vernon Cornish?
by Dr Christine Ledger
Sermon preached by The Revd Jon Cornish
St George’s Cathedral, 19 May 2021
Revelation and Memory
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Welcome and thank you all for coming. Vernon and Dell would be delighted. It’s 42 years to the day when my father was ordained a bishop here at St George’s Cathedral and became an Assistant Bishop of Perth.
I think my Father would have liked the fact that 42 years later, some memory of his time here is being recalled. Forty-two is a good number. In Douglas’ Adams book The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 was the answer to ‘Life, the universe and everything’.
Douglas Adams was a Christian and in fact, the answer to ‘Life the universe and everything’ as ‘42’ was a reference to Isaiah 42 (1-3) . . . It is a prophetic reference in the Christian tradition to Jesus, his life and teaching: Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.
Special mention goes to my brother Philip who has come all the way from Melbourne to be here and my brother Nicholas sends his apologies. To have two out of the three brothers here isn’t bad, as the song goes, ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’ . . . it was a song first performed by Meatloaf in 1977 (from his album entitled ‘Bat out of Hell’, which should remain nameless – especially in this place!). I don’t like Meatloaf anymore – his music I mean, not the meal - but that’s another story.
Finally, special mention also to Christine Ledger the author of Who is this Vernon Cornish? and her husband, Geoff, all the way from Canberra. I will shortly invite Christine to share some fascinating facts about Who is this Vernon Cornish? but before I do that, I wanted to share my theme today.
My theme today is Revelation and Memory.
Revelation is that unveiling, be it of a person, an insight into creation, the witnessing of something beautiful and full of light, or indeed, revelation can be the unmasking of something dark and hidden, difficult and ugly.
The life of Jesus is a revelation of God. The revelation of the light – so we can see and follow him.
Memory on the other hand, is to recall something, a detail, a thought, a memory of an action, a memory of a feeling. Feelings are the strongest memory. The memory can be clear, a little foggy or dim.
Memory in the ancient world is fundamental in understanding who we truly are. For the ancient world, to remember who you truly are, is actually a revelation of the truth. The truth that we come from God, we are invited to walk with God in our lives and that we return to God.
Both Memory and Revelation are fundamental Spiritual themes in Christian discourses. In remembering Vernon, we remember too, what was revealed in his life as a Christian, as one of the faithful, who lived a full and busy life in the service of the Lord.
I now invite Christine Ledger to share with us five fascinating facts, perhaps even revelations, revealed in the process of writing a book about Vernon.
Christine Ledger’s Five Fascinating facts about Vernon’s vocational path:
- Vernon’s first love was the stage. He was an actor, musically talented and a natural comedian. In the 1940s, while still a teenager, he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He was shattered when he couldn’t take it up.
- Vernon left high school in Ipswich in 1949 to work as a cadet journalist on the Queensland Times. This honed his talent for storytelling. When television arrived in Queensland in 1959, he was on the screen within a fortnight and soon discovered that live television had its perils. Storytelling infused his sermons.
- Vernon was a rectory kid and knew that the life of a priest was not all smooth sailing. He did not rush into it. It was Hilda Beaumont, a pioneering woman leader in the Anglican Church in Brisbane, who finally convinced him to heed the call and he entered theological college in 1955. He proved to be an influential and much-loved priest and bishop.
- Vernon met Dell Caswell at Brisbane diocesan summer schools. Dell’s family were not church goers and she had a questioning mind. She embraced faith in Christ and embarked on theological training that closely resembled Vernon’s. Vernon embraced marriage to Dell in 1960. They made a wonderful and inspiring team.
- The Cornish family arrived in Perth in 1976. Soon, Dell embarked on a degree and did a research project on the attitudes of lay people to the ordination of women. Vernon led the debate at the 1980 synod on the ordination of women and so helped pave the way for this diocese to make history with the ordination of women by the new archbishop, Peter Carnley. We have since seen the fruit in the blossoming of the vocations of many women. Vernon and Dell would be thrilled to witness the leadership of Archbishop Kay and Bishop Kate in this diocese today.
Christine has given you some revelations of the light of Vernon’s life revealed for God’s glory. I now share with you, one memory of Vernon from me. A memory of his revelation, of his light and lightness.
My time at UWA was short, but while I was at St George’s College; once a week I would happily ride my bike into St George’s Cathedral to have lunch with my father. We would just go up here to a shop (I point in the direction of where the old Law Chambers was). He would buy me lunch and we would just talk. Honestly, we’d talk about anything. I think I would do most of the talking! He would usually get a jaffle - I would get a ham and cheese toasted sandwich. In short, these were happy days and he remained patient with me.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was in communion with him. This is what communion is all about. Here he was, a kind-hearted, faithful man, loving his children and reaching out to them, providing emotional and practical support. It was his gift to me.
As too, is the gift of the Sacraments to us in the life of Jesus.
When we hear the words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. This is a call to be ‘re-membered’ – to be pulled back into line to be part of the body of Christ. Communion and the shared meal is lived.
We too are called to do the same. To be members of his kingdom and to live the faith.
Memory and revelation are inextricably linked, and it is the fundamental purpose of the Gospel to invite us into this process of ongoing transformation.
God through Jesus calls us to be one, like he is one and through this, remember the Gospel and reveal his light. God wants us to remember who we truly are. That we are in truth of God, all love and lightness and to live a life of that truth as his revelation.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.