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Colin Gibson - 50 Years

A tribute by  Ken Russell - Sept 2,  2007


This weekend at Mornington is given to Colin Gibson for 50 years as organist.   That in itself is no mean feat,   but for those of us who have sojourned with Colin along the way,  past and present,  it is as much the distinctive qualities of his service as its length in years that draws us to the celebration.

    The man is irrepressible energy,  unbounded enthusiasm,   and perpetual motion.   If truth be known,   his duties as organist  take up only a small portion of any given week.   Well into the age when lesser mortals look for at least a measure of relief from the demands of their working life,  the erstwhile Professor of English has, if anything,  diversified and increased his output.  He  is constantly sought for his leadership and wisdom.   The University still lays a claim.  Gilbert & Sullivan  -  Chair.  The Mission (Methodist Connect)  -  Chair.   Lay Preachers  -  edits the magazine and conducts a vigorous service .  U3A  -  lectures.  Choirs -   sings.    Workshops,  from Auckland to Invercargill and points between.   NZ Hymn Book Trust,  a major player.  Yet let’s be clear.  Here is no celebrity employing a manager to keep his diary and arrange his appointments.   Neither is he a Trappist monk.  He’s married to Jeanette,  he cares for her, he’s no mean cook,  and the two of them find quality time to enjoy their friends,  the multiplicity of cultural delights in Dunedin, and the occasional bonus of overseas travel.

    The point I make is important for assessing a complex man.  The Colin Gibson who so enriches Mornington Methodism,  organist,  choir leader  and hymn writer,   is no parochial musician.    His approach to Church music,  and his own contribution to it,   is grounded in the deepest appreciation of the Hebraic/Christian tradition  into which he was born,  and in which he was nurtured in the church family that continues to gather Cnr of Galloway and Whitby.   He profited from good teachers,  despite terrorising them occasionally; had stimulating role models,  and the good fortune of being brought up and graduating in a university town of classic yet liberal disciplines. 

    Colin embodies the best creative and inclusive persuasions that have together defined the Methodist tradition in New Zealand over his lifetime membership of our Church  -  catholic,  ecumenical, and prophetic, each of them laced with an emerging sense of our unique identity as a church and as a nation.   In his hymns Colin articulates all of these treasures,  re-defining them for the contemporary world  in words and melodies we cannot ignore.   As such he must rate as highly as a working theologian as he does as a hymn writer.

    So what are we to make of this versatile man who has done us the immeasurable favour of playing our organ since the tender age of 16?   I have canvassed a little among those who have known him much longer than I,  and these are some of the words I hear  -    enthusiasm.  imagination,  humour,  compassion, faith  and a passion for justice,  all of these coupled with a special ability to toss in a metaphor, or turn a phrase to rivet the attention. And in case I overlook it  -  a remarkable mischievous ability to communicate with kids! 

     I will be sparing with my examples from hymns I have come to cherish, but here are a few  that well deserve their stature as an integral part of the new  hymn-singing landscape,  as vital to the communication of a viable faith in this generation as anything composed by Charles Wesley or Isaac Watts for theirs.

The call to faith  . . . . .
    Where the road runs out and the signposts end,
    Where we come to the edge of today,
         Be the God of Abraham for us,
         Set us out upon our way.
The gathering in faith  . . . . .
         In this familiar place,  I know the mystery of your grace.
        Among these friends of mine  I taste the company divine.
 The imagination of faith  . . . .
         Fancy Noah sailing in the ark
                Rainbow people, every creature too
                Rainbow people,  what a motley crew.
The humour of faith   . . . . . .
      I’m a fishbowl Christian, watch me flutter my fins,
      I nibble at the virtues and I gulp at all the sins.
The inclusion of faith  . . . .
      For the man and for the woman, for the body and the soul,
      For the mind and for the spirit, for the love that makes us whole.
The questioning of faith  . . . . .
 Is there no other way than this, when children learn to curse and kill?
The mystery of faith   . . . .
    Out of such sun and air,  what Christ may come?
The unity of faith   . . . . . .
     God is the One who we seek together,
     God is the Life,  which is part of us all;
     God is the Truth,  and the work of mystery,
     God is the Love and the Joy that makes us whole.

Exactly!   Thanks Colin.  Thanks for the music.    



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