Rev. Nicholas Rundle, 11 May 2023
For Rev. Nicholas Rundle, church ministry is in the family. Quite literally, his mother Rev. Beryl Rundle has handed down her example. And now, Nicholas serves others in a spiritual way, with special attention to their hands.
That story will come later, but let’s start with some of their history. Nicholas grew up with his parents and siblings in small towns in the United Kingdom. His father had been in the air force in World War II, then worked in the steelworks. Beryl, his mother, was “quite pioneering” as she went to university straight after the war and became an English teacher. They worshipped as a family in the Church of England across the road. Nicholas has memories of carrying the incense boat while his sister sang in the choir.
Then in the “next phase of life”, the Church became more prominent as they moved to another town. All of his family were swept into the life of their local Anglican, especially during his father’s illness and eventual premature death. For Beryl, in her 40s, raising 3 children with an insecure income, it was a prompt to become even more involved. She took on a “quite rigorous” 3-year training course to become a Lay Reader. This meant that she could not only proclaim the word, but lead the sung evensong service and preach at the Eucharist.
Yet Beryl felt called to even “deeper ministry in the church” and decided to train as a self-supporting deaconess. At that time, in the 1980s, women were not ordained in the English Anglican Church to any of the orders. However, deaconesses were reviving in various denominations. Some were in religious orders, others assisted priests at services. They were not ordained, but there was “some ambiguity”, as they received the laying on of hands by the Bishop.
In the meantime, Beryl’s children were making their own religious explorations. Nicholas’s sister accompanied beach missions and participated in the charismatic renewal. Nicholas himself started a journey in search of meaning that seems to have continued throughout his life. Towards the end of his schooling, he was interested in the religious question and studied it academically after some time as a “secret Buddhist and atheist”. Nicholas became fascinated with the history of the Church, the interaction of science and religion, and he met Jesus through the vividness and intensity of the Gospel of Mark.
Then Nicholas had what he calls a “religious experience”. He became a Christian in his own right and felt called to ministry. He explains, “The question of God was something I had to devote my life to – it was a heroic enterprise.” Yet after a degree in theology and religious studies, he was deemed too young to start ministry. So he had two years working as a hospital orderly, in which he learned much and “grew up”.
Finally, in 1985, Nicholas was ordained an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Chichester, in the impoverished south of England. In 1987, his mother Beryl was herself ordained as a deacon for the same diocese. She worked in several parishes and, though she would have loved to have become a priest, it wasn’t accepted for women. As a permanent deacon, however, Rev. Beryl led and assisted at services, ran retreats and prayer groups, and did education both in parishes and in the diocese. This ministry continued long past her retirement, and she found community as an Oblate of the order of the Sisters of Bethany convent. Beryl was proud to witness her daughter also being ordained, now as a priest, in the Church of England in 2021. After a “full, long and tough life that was very stoical”, she died in Portsmouth that same year, aged 92. Her son reflects that she was a “true trailblazer… and lived out the charism of the diaconate.”
Inspired, Nicholas pursued his own journey in ministry. He was firstly placed as a curate, then joined the airforce as a chaplain. Nicholas married and migrated to Australia with his family, where he served in parishes of the Adelaide Anglican Diocese. His spiritual influences included Thomas Merton, Charles de Foucauld and Etty Hillesum. Following Nicholas’s earlier Buddhist leanings, he explored contemplative prayer and ran Christian meditation groups in his parishes.
This interest deepened as Nicholas took a break from parish life and worked with Mission Australia for 10 years. He studied to become a meditation teacher, which became a “bridge-building tool, to work with stressed people and clients who had experienced marginalisation.” In that time, Nicholas became chair of Adelaide City Ministers, and then the Anglican Church seconded him to be minister at a Uniting Church in Wayville.
Alongside parish ministry, Nicholas has been a chaplain at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, served on ethics committees, run philosophy cafes and developed prayer on the margins or outside established religious communities. Although he is an ordained priest, Nicholas believes that his ordination as a deacon 40 years ago was his “formative ministry”. He reminds me that in the threefold ordained ministry, everyone is ordained as a deacon before anything else, and that the Bishop wears a dalmatic under his chasuble and alb. Nicholas considers his ministry “profoundly diaconal”, as it is about “integrating the life of the wider world and the life of the table… moving to the edges and the centres.”
Appropriately, Nicholas has brought together various strands of his spiritual journey to offer a unique way of ministry in a secular environment. As a hospital chaplain during COVID, he developed a process of mindful hand care for both patients and staff. A simple meditation exercise calms the mind while maintaining good hand hygiene. What a good example of ‘handing on’ what has been given, just as Rev. Beryl handed down her example of faith and ministry to her children.
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