by Brendan Wood
Still serving faithfully in his centenary year – Celebrating Alf Bourne’s life of service.
With a tear in his eye Alf Bourne recalls his early memories of his Methodist Sunday School teacher, a wonderful Christian lady by the name of Mrs Holland. She was the first to share the gospel with Alf, explaining to him the importance of being on the right path with God.
It was in his teenage years, whilst Alf was attending a Church of Christ Church closer to home in Tempe, that he made a confession of faith in January 1930 and was baptised that same month alongside his two brothers. This commitment to follow Christ would be the launching pad for the next eighty five years of ministry through local Churches, with the wider community, and alongside specific people fortunate enough to come across Alf’s path.
Born in Petersham on 25 October 1915, Alf is gearing up to celebrate his centenary year in the same manner he’s spent the majority of his life as a follower of Jesus; giving his time and energy to faithfully serve others as God leads. This servant attitude and selfless availability has provided the platform for a life of rich Kingdom ministry throughout country New South Wales and across parts of Sydney.
Alf left school after Year 6 at age 14 due to the Great Depression, and started work with the State Family Endowment Department in 1930. He served there until he joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1940, where he would work until his retirement in 1975.
He met Grace at Rockdale Church of Christ in September 1936 and they were married in May 1943. In 1946 Alf was offered a move with the Sheriff’s Department to the small country town of Hay, which he accepted. It was here in 1948 that their daughter Lynette was born. Grace and Lynette would follow Alf to further postings with the Sheriff’s Department in Armidale, Dubbo, and Albury before the family relocated to Sydney in 1958.
Serving wherever you are
While in each regional township, Alf would seek out opportunities to continue his Sunday School Superintendent ministry, but also serve the local Church in Boys and Girls Brigades and in various Church choirs and worship bands. In locations where there was no local Church, or where it needed a burst of new life, Alf and Grace would work faithfully to bring the local followers together for fellowship and to begin reaching out.
Their gift of serving was greatly appreciated with Grace, an apt name for his dedicated wife, because it described so well her ministry of kindness, gentleness, hospitality and her beautiful Christian devotion.
Alf’s wise counsel to the Church was also acknowledged. His expert wisdom and work with the Brigades and young people was always a great encouragement. Alf was also very musical and his speaking ability has had great impact in many of the Churches he served in.
Alf is described by many as a cheerful, generous and encouraging friend and mentor; a man sold out to his Lord, the Church and those who need Jesus.
To the people he has served over the decades he ‘walked the talk.’ He backed up his Christian convictions by a life of Christian action, putting his abilities, job and influence at God’s disposal. His wife Grace always supported his vision by providing hospitality, delicious meals and beds as needed; especially appreciated by poor college students.
“Alf provided transport for me every Sunday,” says one Church member, “and also often during the week if there was something special taking place. I always remember his happy face appearing at the door as we arrived at Church.”
Alf also began to volunteer his time for a Hospital Board and for the Ambulance Service, both in country New South Wales, driving the ambulance whenever needed.
In 1977 Alf was awarded the Imperial Service Medal from Her Majesty the Queen for Meritorious Services. This award was presented by the Late Sir Roden Cutler at Government House, a very proud moment for Alf and his family.
When the Bourne’s moved back to Sydney Alf became heavily involved in the New South Wales Churches of Christ Conference where he was on the Home Missions Committee from 1960 to 1985, and was Conference President in 1983.
Guided by a living God
The inspiration for Alf’s many years of service stems from his resolute belief that “we serve a living God.” Alf is thoroughly convinced that God speaks to us and that all we need to do is listen, watch and then be prepared to act. “We’ve got to be ready and available as God does speak to us,” insists Alf, recalling the many times he has heard or sensed God’s guidance.
He shares many stories of his experiences of this where God provided for his needs, and also where God prompted him to speak with people who were in need of a touch of God’s love.
The opportunity to share the gospel and connect with people is what led Alf to respond to the advertisement for the Santa Claus position at the Eastwood Shopping Centre in circa 1981. Alf was encouraged to apply for the role and of course got the job. After a decade of service at Eastwood Centre, Alf was offered the Santa position at Carlingford Court where he continued on for another four or five years.
Being Santa was one of his favourite past-times as this gave Alf the opportunity to give the Christmas message each year. This also sparked many conversations as Alf asked God to guide him to speak with people about Christ.
Over 30 years later Alf is still playing Santa each year, now with the people of BaptistCare’s Macquarie Park aged care facilities.
Going the distance
When queried about how he maintains his spiritual vitality, Alf is quick to point to his daily prayers for God to open doors, asking God to use him in His humble service.
Attentiveness to the Scriptures also comes as no surprise, as Alf has benefitted from Scripture guides that continue to lead him through the whole of God’s Word. He is honest in saying that even the boring bits in the Old Testament have something to offer so it is worth persisting with the reading schedules.
There are two Scriptures, however, that have been particularly important for Alf’s spiritual vitality and his volunteer chaplaincy. The first is from the Psalms as Alf loves to remind people that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). This verse is used to encourage those Alf ministers with, particularly when they are going through difficult times. Alf reflects on the hard times he’s experienced and the way that God has been his refuge and strength also.
The other passage that has been significant for Alf is John 14 which speaks about Jesus as the way to the Father. Alf draws on verse 14 of this passage which declares, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” This is a great opening line, says Alf, to pose the most important question for those he is comforting, “Do you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?”
Seeing people understand and receive God’s amazing grace is still Alf’s greatest joy in life. It is for this cause that Alf rises at 5.30am every morning to prepare for the day ahead. “You never know what the Lord has in store for the day so you need to be ready,” says Alf enthusiastically.
A deep trust in the Lord
With the move to BaptistCare’s Willandra Village in 2002 Alf was quick to offer his services to the staff and residents as a Volunteer Chaplain.
Sadly, Alf lost Grace in 2001, only a week after their 58th wedding anniversary and a total of 65 years together. Alf was at her side two or three times a day during her stay in Ryde Hospital, and for the final weeks in BaptistCare’s Shalom Centre where she passed away.
Based these days at BaptistCare Dorothy Henderson Lodge, Alf frequents the adjacent Shalom Centre, seeking out opportunities to share devotions, lead worship and offer prayers for residents and their families. In his spare time Alf devotes himself to spending time with residents who are lonely or not well.
When sharing with residents and their families Alf offers encouragement wherever he sees opportunity. He doesn’t withhold the opportunity to tell of his many experiences, and in this trusts in God’s leading for what to say or to pray as invited.
Ross Cochrane, BaptistCare Chaplain, describes Alf as, “a volunteer Chaplain of Chaplains [with a] quiet confidence and infectious enthusiasm that is disarming and charming; a gentleman who is both sensitive and engaging in his visits.”
“I am grateful to God for however long I have the privilege of his friendship and blessed by the wealth of experience he brings to my life and the lives of countless others whom he has touched with the respect, care and faith he shares,” says Ross.
Alf shares with Ross, “that if he wasn’t involved in Chaplaincy work, then his life would have been shortened long ago.” Now entering his centenary year Alf is very circumspect that he will soon be called home to be with God in glory. Contemplating this, Alf smiles joyfully in the confidence that whether we praise God here on earth, or we praise God in heaven, being with Him is the main thing.
Well done Alf, a faithful servant and godly example to the many who have been privileged to know you. May God continue to richly bless your humble service as you celebrate your centenary year.