Home' Aurora : Aurora November 2012 Contents 16
Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
SEASONS OF GRACE
EDUCATION IS THE soul of a
society passed from one generation
to another", wrote the English
intellectual GK Chesterton. He was
referring to the bequeathing of literacy
and numeracy to the young, yet his
words apply even more to Christian faith
formation where the soul is more than
a literary metaphor. But what children
absorb in the classroom, adults pursuing
faith education must work hard to attain.
Jennifer and Scott Rumbel live on a dairy
farm in Eccleston, a hamlet in the Hunter
Valley about 100km from Newcastle. As
a mother and wife, Jennifer knows all
about giving to others and being there for
her family, yet at the same time her need
for spiritual growth keeps pushing her
to new places. When her daughter, Ellie,
tore the ligament in an ankle just before
enrolment at Newcastle University, it was
Jennifer who drove her down to the UoN
Open Day and stayed around to listen in
on the courses on offer. When they left
that day Ellie had enrolled in a Bachelor
of Visual Communications Design and
a Diploma of Latin and Jennifer in a
Diploma of Theology.
"The reading for theology is at times
challenging but extremely rewarding in
revealing its treasure," says Jennifer
Rumbel from her Eccleston home. The
balancing act of being a full-time Mum
and part-time student is apparent at a
glance at the family dining table. One end
is set with place mats and condiments;
the other is stacked with books
Jennifer sits here surrounded by materials
assembled for her latest assignment -- a
1,000 word essay on the third century
theologian Saint Athanasius of Alexandria.
The essay is a component in the subject
she's currently studying, 'Christianity:
The History of a Global Religion'.
Theology at UoN is currently undergoing
a renaissance, in part from the recent
partnership with Catholic theological
provider, The Broken Bay Institute.
The result is an array of theological
and spirituality courses on offer to
Jennifer says she's a beneficiary of this
academic enrichment. "The choices are
good and there's flexibility in the different
modes of delivery." Two-hour drives
to Newcastle for face-to-face lectures
alternate with Internet streaming received
via the satellite disk on the farmhouse
roof. "I didn't think I'd like going online
first up but it's fantastic!" Jennifer says.
"It's everything you'd get in the classroom
plus access to the library. I'm reading
research material online, or printing it
out at home."
Besides going down to Newcastle to stay
with Ellie, when she's at home Jennifer
says she likes "to bounce off ideas" in
phone conversations with her friend Bette
Diver, a mentor in Dungog parish. Jennifer
also has a special affection for the
Jehovah's Witnesses who make the long
trip out to the farm. "Whenever they come
calling I always make time and we go into
these great stimulating conversations."
Her studies, she says, have exposed
her to the writings of the founders of
the Church, which in turn has deepened
her appreciation of the early Christian
experience. "Having a window on the past
really enables me to better chart how and
why the Church is where it is today; that
there's nothing new under the sun, and
that there is much hope for the future
of the faith."
In recent years the struggle in Dungog
parish has been dealing with the removal
of a number of priests over sexual
abuse allegations. These developments
have nonetheless brought stunned and
hurt parishioners closer together in
faith, says Jennifer. Lay-led liturgies are
not uncommon these days. She says
her theological studies have given her
perspective on the crisis.
She draws an analogy with the earliest
days of the Church where deacons were
common and the community was always
struggling. "We're here for the long
haul. Someone once said that religion is
something you do to receive a reward but
spirituality is where you know that you are
constantly in the presence and grace of
God. I am very much of the latter belief."
Originally from Goulburn, Jennifer moved
to Eccleston when she married Scott.
They have three grown children-- Melinda,
Ellie and Alexander. Scott is a third
generation dairyman in Eccleston. His
grandfather settled here after World War
II. His father and mother are neighbours.
Dairy farming is hard, constant work and
the well-publicised supermarket discount
'milk wars' have served only to reduce the
margins of profitability for farmers. Scott
begins his day at 5am in readiness for
milking the herd. There are visits back to
the house for breakfast and lunch, and
then back to work with a dog at his side.
The double tragedy in his life was losing
his first wife Noelene, who died of cancer
at 28. She was pregnant and that baby,
Allison, born at 23 weeks, outlived her
mother by only ten months. Left to care
for his daughter Melinda, aged 5, Scott,
understatedly remarks, "It was a very
difficult time." He acknowledges "the
great support of my family" for getting
him through his grief.
Meeting Jennifer was a new beginning.
The couple has been married for 22 years
and it's easy to see that they are still very
much in love. They too have had to brace
themselves against life's storms, or as
Scott says, "We've been rolling through
it a bit."
It was shortly after they married that
Melinda fell sick. The second month of
marriage found Scott and Jennifer by
her bedside at Camperdown Children's
Hospital. A brain tumour diagnosed at
18 months had become active, requiring
surgery. Because adolescence was
ahead of her, radiation treatment was
delayed, so the following years were
spent in a cycle of anguished waiting and
medical checks before further treatment.
Today, Melinda, aged 26, is well, working
part-time and living an independent life,
although the legacy of the tumour is that
she is visually impaired.
"Yes, we've had plenty of stresses in our
lives," agrees Scott. What holds this
couple together against such adversity
is the bedrock of family. "I think we
agree on the same things. We have the
same values," says Jennifer. "We don't
very often fight," adds Scott. "The only
argument we had was before we married,"
says Jennifer, "about my driving."
"Family is central to everything we've
faced together. We've cried through
heaps of stuff and we've supported each
other. It doesn't have to be a deeply
religious thing; it's just that you're there
for each other."
Ellie, who has returned from uni for a
visit, makes a statement she wants
included in this story: "Everything I know
about values and family for the most part
comes from my parents. I admire both of
them enormously." She also adds, "And
as a fellow uni student I'm also very
proud of Mum for getting distinctions in
all her theology assignments."
By DAN MCALOON
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