Harper House School of Divinity

At the conclusion of the Bachelor of Arts in 1983 a number of opportunities opened up for me. One was return to the Police Force, another to try my hand at journalism or even consider the diplomatic service. Teaching was another appealing option. By this time as I have elsewhere mentioned I had become deeply interested in theology. Not only in the Church Fathers for I had also been reading Christian writers from the low Church Anglican and Reformed traditions. And though to my surprise I was offered the honours stream of my philosophy major it was this I decided to do, follow in the footsteps of my forefathers, great grandfathers and grandfathers, and study theology. After considering various options I was interviewed by Barbara Thiering for a place in Sydney University’s School of Divinity program at Harper House[1] (now long consumed by the Department of Studies in Religion).[2] With the formidable Doctor Thiering at the helm, who would later court considerable controversy with her reinterpretation of the New Testament,[3] this was a liberal school but one which was comprised of a strong cross denominational faculty. Theologians of the calibre of David Coffey, John Chryssavgis, Gordon Dicker, Graham A. Cole, and others, would regularly cross our paths and give classes. It was also one of the few university degrees which though a Bachelor was only open to postgraduates. A fellow student, the bespectacled and grey-peppered Patrick G., was one of the most well-read individuals I had ever met. Hullo dear Patrick. Yes, it is good to remember: what good is a prophet without knowledge (Aesop).

I enjoyed an initial semester at the school and was introduced to subjects and approaches to biblical studies not only new to me, particularly in the areas of exegesis and hermeneutics, but also confronting to my ‘literalist’ interpretation. Also in those early weeks, when studying the reception of the Pentateuch, we were enlightened to the critical distinction between orality and literacy.[4] A few weeks into the second session after having bumped into one of the guest lecturers, Archbishop Stylianos Harkianakis, I left however uncertain to accept an invitation from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the Greek Ministry of the Exterior, to study theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in northern Greece.[5]

One of the great legacies of my first contact with Harper House (for I would later return to complete a postgraduate degree), was that I witnessed first-hand how fruitful the interdisciplinary and ‘inter-confessional’ model could be for teacher and student alike. That is, if there existed the genuine intention to listen and to learn one from the other. Ideally, the teachers would be charismatic and the students mature in their faith. Which in this place, I am happy to remember, it was often the case.

As an aside, but something which would afterwards relentlessly test my reserves (given the ‘terrors’ that had yet to unfold), I would set out to complete the Bachelor of Theology on three separate occasions and at three different academic institutions. At the minimum it should have taken me three years to complete this degree. In the end and despite the promisingly good results, it would take through some admittedly hasty decision making on my own part, at least seven years. And so time does pass.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Harper

[2] http://sydney.edu.au/arts/religion/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Thiering

[4] http://www.biblicalperformancecriticism.org/index.php/2011-08-26-20-28-44/articles-mainmenu-37/articles/64-kelber-review-of-botha-orality-and-literacy-in-early-christianity/file

[5] https://www.auth.gr/e