Tim Edwards : Geelong College, Newtown : Victoria, Australia
“I don’t ever want to feel like I’m putting bits of my life or me into boxes. Now I’m at work, and now I’m not. Now I’m being a minister, and now I’m being Tim. I actually just put it all in together and go, “This is who I am, and this is what you get”. I find that, for me, that works. That might not necessarily work for everybody because the potential downside to that is that you may feel that you’re at work 24/7 and, in a way, I am. But I don’t feel pressured by that. I like the concept that my life, hopefully, has some meaning and purpose.”
Whether it be creating a community, entertaining with a microphone, or sharing a comfortable silence over a coffee, Tim Edwards has a strong focus on one thing; human connection. And there’s a natural ease to the way he communicates; a gentle cadence that is in stark contrast to the buzz of activity behind his eyes. As a pastor, he’s dedicated much of his life to bringing people together with a common belief, and along the way has demonstrated a keen understanding that the tools he has developed within the architecture of a church can be embraced by anyone, regardless of their religious persuasion.
Growing up in Geelong, his life from 17 is an impressive, head-tilting blur. As an accomplished vocalist, he completed his secondary school studies and took a year to study voice in England before returning to Australia to enrol in the Victorian College of the Arts. No sooner had he finished his training, he entered the chorus of the Victoria State Opera (VSO) and set up his own theatre company, Postcard Productions (with co-founders Ross Mueller and Christine Davey). From within this project, he unleashed a set of skills and a passion that would help shape the following chapters in his life, as Postcard sought to bring performers together to bridge a gap between community and professional theatre by staging a series of mainstream productions in unexpected locations. Over three years, Postcard staged seven shows including performances of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in an abandoned jail, and their acclaimed staging of “Macbeth” on Big Rock at the You Yangs National Park (located between Melbourne and Geelong).
With whatever time he had left, he built The Courthouse Project – a youth oriented creative centre for the arts and performing in Geelong now thriving and known as Courthouse Arts – which led to an appointment on the Geelong Performing Arts Centre Trust. Without taking a breath, he travelled to Canada and the US on an ambassadorial exchange program before he and his family of six accepted an invitation from the Bathurst City Council (New South Wales) where he was charged with the responsibility of creating a regional Entertainment Centre from the ground-up, with a focus on genuine community engagement. Building on skills he’d tested with the success of The Courthouse Project, he worked hard to see the realisation of: a 650-seat Lyric Theatre with Proscenium Arch and Fly Tower; a separate 1500 seat Conference and Event Space; a commercial kitchen, bar and foyer space; ticketing facilities and contract with a ticketing agency; a Theatre Subscription Season; and a stable and committed team.
“I’ve actually always felt like I’ve been in the right place at the right time, growing with my world – the people around me, learning, making plenty of mistakes – but always able to wake up each day and go, “Cool, let’s get on with it; I know I’m meant to be here”. I don’t think I’ve ever had a time where I’ve gone, “Oh no, I’ve chosen the wrong pathway or I’m miles down the wrong road””
The next move would be full circle with a return to Geelong to begin full-time Christian Ministry building his own church from the ground up. Bayside Christian Church started with an attendance of only his immediate family of six, but within four years grew to having 500 parishioners and seven full time staff running four different organisations including feeding programs and a counselling centre.
It’s pretty clear that Tim’s a guy who is entirely comfortable with his foot to the floor, driven by the beauty of creativity and the need to grow and spread his knowledge across a variety of exciting activities. When not balancing concurrent projects, Tim was immediately moving from one to the next, and despite the enthusiasm and exuberance with which he was tackling all of his new and exciting adventures, there came a point where his body taught him the lesson of balance in the only way it can; and it was a hard lesson that is always front of mind for him.
“My ignorance at that point was the human body and the human mind needs rest; and you’re not supposed to go that hard that fast for that long. So eight years ago I ran into a big brick wall and it took me out for 18 months. So my biggest challenge now is learning to watch and not ignore the signs of the triggers; not being impatient and rather than saying, “We can go faster, we can go harder”, learning to say “You know what? I’ll come back in in the morning, and we’ll start again, and it’ll be fine and we’ll go again, and I can still work at 100%, but I don’t need to go at 120%”, because that was depleting me and therefore my family. So if I care for myself and keep my mind body and spirit fit and healthy and moving forward then I can balance that whole life/family wheel; but if I go too hard, too fast, trip myself over again, and end up in a little bit of a pile in the corner on the floor then the whole thing will come crashing down and I’ll be of no value to my wife as a good husband or to my kids as a decent father or to my employers here or to the community in any other way that I attempt to help. That’s my biggest struggle; the challenge of mandating a pace that’s achievable and not getting ahead of myself. And I’ve always found that tricky”
Now he finds himself back at his old school – The Geelong College – with the new title of “School Chaplain”, but that really only describes an aspect of an otherwise broader responsibility of the role that certainly reflects the diversity of his skill-set.
“It’s complex, in the sense that it’s not a Church and yet as a Minister I sit right in the middle of it all, so sometimes when you try to explain it to people they scratch their heads and say, “What is it that you actually do?! Because I understand if you’re a minister, don’t you run a church?” Well, been there, done that, and that was great, but this is different. It has some of the characteristics of being involved in a church, but it’s not a church. It’s a place of education and therefore a place of investigation and curiosity, and everybody’s got a slightly different take on it throughout the student body – but we’re operating under the one clear vision, we’re heading in the same pathway which is terrific”
It seems to have allowed a freedom for Tim to explore his passion outside of the traditional church architecture and reframe his passion and focus which is purely and simply on people. To add broad value through important conversations within his new community.
“I don’t work in an organised church or a structured system because I believe the same questions are being asked by people in everyday life. They don’t necessarily go to a church or have an established faith or believe system or pattern; but they still ask the same questions, they’re still interested in how they can learn and grow and what kind of positive contribution they can make to the world around them – and I want to help with that. I want to be around to see positive stuff happen and, as far as I’m aware or concerned, I did the very same thing when I worked in theatre and music, just with a different set of tools”
Tucked into a corner of the beautiful College grounds is the quaint school Chapel which falls under Tim’s purview, and as a minister it’s clearly an aspect of his responsibility that he enjoys as much as he respects. Within its walls, Tim is afforded further opportunity to engage with people directly, whether it be a Sunday morning Chapel Service or a marriage ceremony; and, regardless of the circumstances, he’s genuinely touched by the ability to be with people during both the regular days and the milestone occasions in their lives.
“They often want to share that (joy), so you are the recipient – the confidante for a lot of life’s most wonderful moments. And that is an absolute privilege; and indeed a responsibility to hold that information in confidence, because it’s not my information to share. So I don’t talk a lot about that, but that concept is very real; being able to share that joy, to help and assist. Conversely, you also have the honour and the privilege of being with people in their most difficult moments in life…when they have lost a loved one, or have just found out they have an illness from which they probably won’t recover, or when they have a massive financial difficulty or a relationship breakdown; to be able to hold hands with people at that time – figuratively and/or literally – and attempt to provide them with an ear, a shoulder, someone to listen. And even if they’re not people of faith, to see if they want someone to pray for them or just talk to them – take them out for a coffee – those opportunities, that’s really what I believe best describes who I am and what I do.”
Despite a list of never-ending responsibilities, the wheels continue to turn with a life of their own as Tim formulates new and interesting ways to satisfy his creativity. And when talking of his long-term dream project – although still a little fuzzy around the edges – there’s a spark of excitement at the potential of a space that boils-down his ideas into one precise community-driven epicentre of interaction, music, and positivity.
“I still love the concept of running a place of creativity, a place of live music and art, where people can express themselves and ask questions. Where great food and great coffee are enjoyed and community events are held, and where there’s a real sense of working together for a great goal. And I’m not being silly and saying we all need to wear ripped clothes and eat carrots straight from the ground and share our belongings, unless that’s what you want, I just believe there are so many better ways of doing things and I’m sure we’re going to get to a place where we need to explore some of these things; for the sake of each other, and for the sake of our environment. Right now it appears that we don’t care enough for each other and we don’t care enough for the resources around us – so I’ve got this little buzzing dream for finding an appropriate space or spaces and creating a place that, which, whilst it serves food and drink, doesn’t necessarily look or sound like a cafe”
Working from such a clear values base, Tim demonstrates a deft ability to give back to his community; to appreciate our individual differences, filter words through his own experiences, and communicate in a way everyone can genuinely engage with. And Tim’s diverse role at The Geelong College seems the perfect fit for an adaptable method that illustrates a need to be part of the change he wants to see, and he’ll always find time in his hectic diary to seize every opportunity to help add diversity and clarity to the way young minds shape questions, perceive the world, and percolate the challenges everyday life tosses them. Despite anybody’s chosen beliefs, you’ll find Tim Edwards’ mind working overtime to foster conversations where the only lean is towards a genuine connection derived from a clever understanding that it doesn’t look like one particular thing. A fresh awareness that, although religion plays a huge part in many people’s lives, the value lies in a broader approach by focussing on our inherent human commonalities; our questions, our understanding and our compassion.
“I sincerely believe we waste a lot of time being negative, focussing on things that are just not important; they’re really not important. But we put a lot of energy into them as a society and we don’t put enough time and energy into the things that really count; the choices that matter. And we wonder why we have difficulty in society with human behaviour – because we simply don’t spend enough time doing this…just talking and working with one another to get the simple things right. And the more I live a life spent with people, the more I realise how very similar we are, no matter where we come from, what colour our skin is, and how tall or short or fat or skinny we are, or what language we speak; it really is quite irrelevant. I think I’ve now sat with, conservatively, 8-10 people as they’ve literally breathed their last breath and I’ve not yet had one of them sit bolt upright and say, “Oh please, can you bring my Ferrari in to sit next to me, or can I just have one last look at the balance of my cheque-book”. It’s of no consequence whatsoever. And that’s not an argument for socialism, we need capitalism – it’s not an economic argument – it’s purely a people-observation that we are very quickly losing the ability to communicate, talk, articulate, express, negotiate, meditate, mediate…all the things that are actually really important. We’re throwing them out really quickly in this insane grab for stuff and land and possessions and power”