How do you thank your pastor for 20 years of faithful ministry, for answering a call to travel across the oceans from Northern Ireland to Australia? How do you thank him for leaving his parents and brothers, his childhood friends, his congregation?

How do you thank him for sharing our special moments, for being there as we celebrate our weddings, when we say our final goodbyes to our loved ones and as we watch our children make their professions of faith and join the congregation as members of God’s visible church?

On the 12thOctober the RPCA gathered at a restaurant in Geelong for a dinner to give thanks to Rev Andrew Stewart for 20 years as teaching elder to the Geelong congregation and for so much more. Andrew’s wife, Katie, was in attendance, along with his two Australian-born children, Adam and Mei (pictured below). The congregation had also brought Andrew’s mother, Pearl, and brother, Peter, from Northern Ireland to join in this very special occasion and we were delighted to show them how esteemed Andrew was by his congregation here on the other side of the world.

The dinner was a time of fellowship and good food, but it was also our opportunity to acknowledge some of this things Andrew meant to us. Geelong Elder, David Feldman spoke on behalf of Session to thank Andrew for 20 years of service to Geelong.  David recognised Andrew’s commitment to prayer: to personal prayer; congregational prayer; and prayer for our land and the wider Christian world. .  Andrew is always willing to pray. He highlighted Andrew’s commitment to pastoral care – his empathy, his tactful way with words, his willingness to help. He acknowledged Andrew’s faithful preaching of God’s Word and his joy in seeing people come to faith and being sanctified.

”Truly God’s Word is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path.”

But Andrew is more than just our minister.  Andrew’s walking buddy, Brett Mikelsons showed us a more personal side to Andrew Stewart. We learned about Andrew’s love for a cup of tea and a biscuit. He explained to us that Andrew is the Irish ‘Siri’, filled with random facts about things strange and wonderful. Andrew has a prodigious memory and a great breadth of knowledge and Brett showed us just a little of how broad and great and sometimes strange that knowledge can be.  Brett also gave us a lesson in poultry anatomy.  We are better informed by that knowledge.  Brett used as his verse for his speech Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”. It was a privilege to learn about Andrew the friend from Brett.

There were other speakers too. We acknowledged Katie’s contribution and thanked her for walking beside Andrew as fellow worker, helper and friend. Rev Graeme Hart spoke for the McKinnon RPC, Peter Stewart represented Andrew’s Northern Irish family and Adam Stewart spoke on behalf of his family here in Australia.  All these are Andrew Stewart, and this is what he gave to us 20 years ago when he answered the call to Geelong, one of only three congregations in Australia on the other side of the world.

It was most fitting that we ended the evening by singing Psalm 91:

I therefore of the LORD will say,

”He is my refuge and my stay;

My citadel of strength is He,

My God, in whom my trust will be.”

We are so very grateful!

Jeanne Webb, Geelong RPC Australia

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