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Vale Elizabeth Craigie McChesney-Clark (Nee Williams)

Rev Elizabeth McChesney-Clark on her 88th birthday. Photo courtesy of the McChesney-Clark family

Born 21.11.1918  Died 26.11.2006

Elizabeth Craigie McChesney-Clark was born in Swinton, Scotland, the eldest child of clergyman Benjamin Scott Williams and Helen Wallace Craigie Aitchison.

After spending her school days in Leeds, Elizabeth won a scholarship to attend Cambridge University. She graduated with a Master of Arts in 1940 and completed her Cambridge Teacher’s Certificate at Selly Oak College, Birmingham in 1941.

During her undergraduate studies Elizabeth meet a fellow student named Arthur McChesney-Clark, a young Australian clergyman who was preparing for mission service with the London Missionary Society.

Much to the horror of Elizabeth’s mother, they fell in love and became engaged to be married after she completed her university degree. Arthur went ahead to start work with the LMS in China in 1939, and Elizabeth was to join him for their wedding on the mission field in late 1940.

As so often happened to people of that generation, World War II completely destroyed their plans. Arthur spent the war years in harsh conditions in a civilian concentration camp run by the Japanese in north-east China. Elizabeth remained in England, teaching in high schools in Chester and Portsmouth, with little or no news of her husband-to-be.

Arthur McChesney-Clark was fortunate to survive his experiences in China and returned to England in 1945. Elizabeth and Arthur McChesney-Clark were married on 20 October 1945. Their first child Eric was born on 8 August 1946.

By the end of 1946, the family was sailing to Australia bound for a new LMS posting in Papua. They arrived at Fife Bay, a remote mission head station on the far south-east coast of Papua in early 1947.

They plunged into a very busy life that included teaching primary school students on the mission station, visiting the outstation pastors on foot, by canoe and small launch, attending to the financial and physical administration of the mission, and providing spiritual leadership to the Papuan church workers. They also learnt to speak the local languages, and initiated a youth program. Their second child, Ian, was born on the mission in 1948, and their third, Quinton, arrived while on leave in Melbourne in 1950.

Elizabeth and Arthur served in Papua for twenty-one years, during which time their boys went away to boarding school in Australia, only returning home in the Christmas holidays. Nevertheless, many years after leaving Papua, Elizabeth used to say that those mission years were some of the most challenging, and exciting of her lifetime.

Elizabeth and Arthur returned to live in Brisbane in 1967, when Arthur was appointed minister of the Eagle Junction Congregational Church, Brisbane. Sadly, this new life in civilisation came to an abrupt end when Arthur died, following a motor vehicle accident, on 11th October 1969. Elizabeth accepted an invitation to continue the church work that Arthur had been doing, and set out to complete the formal qualifications to be eligible for ordination. After all, twenty one years experience as a missionary had given her an extensive informal preparation for life caring for a suburban church.

In March 1973, Elizabeth was ordained as a Minister of the Congregational Union of Queensland. With the dawning of church union in 1977, Elizabeth was recognised as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament of the Uniting Church, and moved to the Redcliffe Parish for five years. In 1981, Elizabeth took up her last posting in the Rockhampton Uniting Church Parish, where she served until her retirement in 1984.

Elizabeth returned to live in Brisbane in retirement, occupying a granny flat in a house in Gordon Park she shared with her second son Ian, and his young family. That was the beginning of a greatly increased involvement with the growing number of grand children, and then later on numerous great grand children.

Elizabeth was especially close to Ian and his wife Shirley’s two children, Kara and Ashley, to whom she was almost like a second mother. Elizabeth was often called on by her growing extended family to don her minister’s robes to conduct weddings and christenings for her sons, grand children and great grandchildren. That was how she came to be affectionately known as the Reverend Mother.

Even in retirement, Elizabeth continued to serve her Lord and the church, as she threw herself into many aspects of the life of St. Andrews Uniting Church in Brisbane City. As Associate Minister, she would take her turn to lead worship, conduct weddings and funerals, visit the sick and elderly in hospital or their homes, and give much of her time and energy voluntarily.

She enjoyed taking communion to her ‘oldies’, the house-bound members of St. Andrews, many of whom were younger than she was. She epitomised the ideal of Christian service and was much loved and respected for her quiet dignity, and devotion to duty.

In recent years, Elizabeth’s advancing age and declining health gradually limited her mobility. She was especially debilitated by an episode of Ross River fever in 1999, from which she never fully recovered.

When her care and health needs grew Elizabeth moved to the St. John’s Nursing Centre, Chermside. She was an active and contributing member of the resident community at St. John’s and is remembered by the staff there as a special and gifted lady. Elizabeth’s extended family is very grateful for the caring, gentle and homely ways in which the staff at St. John’s looked after her, and all the residents of that facility.

The day before her death Elizabeth celebrated her 88th birthday. It was a happy occasion, with food, fun, music and presents, and plenty of conversation. Elizabeth was alert and bright, and enjoyed everything immensely. Little did any one know that twenty four hours later, Elizabeth would be leaving us on the Lord’s Day, Sunday 26 November 2006.

She had seen and enjoyed the company of many of her family members, and then it was time to go, happy in the knowledge that she had been with so many of us together at the one time.

We celebrate the life of Elizabeth Craigie McChesney-Clark. We honour the memory of a good and gracious lady, who was a loving wife, a devoted mother, grand-mother and great-grandmother, a hard working missionary and minister, and a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout her lifetime.

Elizabeth always said that she never feared departing this life, because she knew that she would be re-united with her husband in the next. Farewell, Elizabeth, you have gone to a better place to be with your beloved Arthur, and with your Lord. Hapa rua, Sinebada! Aioni, tama eno!

Photo : Rev Elizabeth McChesney-Clark on her 88th birthday. Photo courtesy of the McChesney-Clark family