About Don Whebell

Don and Pam in Rockhampton

After schooling at many primary schools in North Queensland and Shorncliffe and secondary school at Industrial High Brisbane, I took up an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, then later, went into the RAAF as an engine fitter.

In 1959, I began training for the ministry of the then Presbyterian Church, graduating in 1968. The training included field placements at Bundaberg, Cairns (where I met my wife, Pam), Mackay, Maroochydore and Auchenflower.

After Ordination, my appointments were to Charleville, then to Townsville as Christian Education Officer for NQ, then to Brisbane on the staff of the Presbyterian Church’s Christian Education Department. Then to Toowoomba as a Minister of the Word at St Stephen’s Uniting Church in the city. During that time, I had leadership of the Department’s ‘Camp Quest’ Adventure Camping program, which was for teenagers and operated in the Cooloola National Park. I also participated in the Church Union Education program, aimed at educating our people on the forthcoming Uniting Church’s Basis of Union. Which was a great way for me to learn about it myself!

The next move was to Rockhampton as Presbytery Chairperson for Central Queensland. We were there for 9 years, with my role being ‘pastor to the pastors’, ecumenical relationships motivator, and overseer of the life of the Presbytery, its ministers and congregations.

During my term in the Presbytery of Central Queensland, I was called to be Moderator of the Queensland Synod. That was for a term of one year – as was the practice of the Queensland Synod at that time. It gave me a touch of ministry at the level of a wider responsibility for leadership and pastoral care for the Church.

My next move was to Brisbane. The Synod had decided that the term of Moderator should change from one year to three.  So I was elected to be the first full-time Moderator. That gave me the opportunity to be more widely available to the church, and to the leaders of other churches – hence giving me the space to operate more affectively in the ecumenical sphere. At the end that term, I was appointed Presbytery Chairperson for Mary-Burnett and retired in 1999. Quite a lot of my working life involved lots of travel and too little time at home.

I have been Secretary of the Qld Synod’s Ecumenical Relationships and Interfaith Committees. And have been a member of the Catholic-Uniting Church Dialogue.

In my life and ministries, I have drawn on the Basis of Union for inspiration and guidance. From my early days in youth groups, I had heard a fair bit about the ecumenical imperative that faces the Church – all churches, not just the one I belonged to. Our youth group at Sandgate was encouraged to explore studies of the ecumenical dimension of Christianity.

In those years of my youth, I was introduced to The Faith of the Church – the first Report of the Joint Commission on Church Union. It was my first encounter with a theological statement that aimed at union for the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. A new source of excitement and inspiration for me! And…I could understand it and invite it to speak to me!

I never cease to be amazed, inspired, guided by and awe-struck by the Basis of Union each time I read it – or even read bits of it! Its vision for Christian unity is always timely and necessarily provocative. The centre of what inspires me in the Basis of Union is its Christological focus, its timely call to respond to the missional imperative, the Gospel and the call of Christ to mission that is ecumenical.

My retirement interests have been: lecturing at the Uniting Church’s theological college on the UCA’s Basis of Union, mentoring ministers, messing about with Citroens and making sawdust in my woodwork shed. Pam and I tried to play golf – but were continually well below par!