Former South Australian premier, Rev. Dr Lynn Arnold AO, is the inaugural patron of the Schools Ministry Group (SMG). Politics and Christian faith have always been side by side in his life, as Julie Houghton writes.
What does the role of patron of SMG entail?
It’s a public voice supporting the role of the board and management of Schools Ministry Group (SMG), as they pursue their mission and strategic objectives.
Having stepped down as chair of the board of SMG, I am keen to have the opportunity to indicate my support for the valuable work SMG does. I saw at close hand just how well done that work is, and how important are the needs that work addresses.
What is the range of activities undertaken by SMG?
SMG offers ongoing pastoral and practical support through chaplaincy, Christian education and wellbeing services to school communities in partnership with the combined Christian community and other organisations.
At times there has been controversy about having chaplains in schools—why do you think they have a place in schools?
Yes, there has been controversy at times; some of that has come from groups opposed to faith; and that has been a contest of ideas that Christians have always had to take part in.
But there is a much more important silent controversy that should shock everyone: namely the growing levels of distress (with all its manifestations) amongst the younger generation—increasing levels of childhood depression, drug use, domestic violence, alienation, suicide—and it is precisely to the young victims of these blights of an increasingly secular modern society that chaplains speak.
Surely there can be nothing controversial about that!
What motivated you to become a politician?
I have always been interested in politics. The political ‘game’ can be invigorating, but it was a strong personal sense of community obligation that my parents instilled in me as a child that coloured my decision to use the political talents I felt I might have for the wider community.
Looking back, what is your proudest political achievement?
That’s a hard question for two reasons—firstly, because I was 15 years in Parliament, over 11 of which were in Cabinet, so I was involved in a great many things over that time; and secondly, because, no political ‘achievement’ is ever achieved single-handedly—there are always others who have been significant in the outcome.
But my answer would be the establishment of the Kaurna Plains Aboriginal School in Elizabeth. Founded in the face of some considerable opposition, this school has gone on to provide significant education opportunities for Aboriginal children in the urban area and also has provided the intellectual and cultural catalyst for the recuperation of the Kaurna language, which is now spoken by many more people than 30 years ago.
What led you to go from politician to Anglican priest?
My late father inscribed in a book my parents gave me on my PhD graduation some words from James Elroy Flecker’s The Golden Road to Samarkand—”We are pilgrims, Master, we will always go a little further.” The message being that our whole lives should be an ongoing pilgrimage until we have ‘run the race’ as Paul wrote.
So after 15 years in politics followed by 15 years in community organisations (World Vision and Anglicare), I went into a deep period of prayer and reflection to seek out the voice of God’s Holy Spirit as to where I should journey next.
What was your early life like—were you brought up in a Christian family or did faith come later?
Both my sister and I were brought up by loving and deeply faithful parents—Christianity was the spiritual air we breathed. As I have gone on my own life’s journey, I have taken personal responsibility for seeking nourishment of my faith, deepening my relationship with God through Christ.