This article is from the Easter 2024 edition of Encounter Magazine. Click here to read the entire article.

Reverend Paul Robertson celebrated his 50th anniversary of being a priest on 15 December 2023. He was the first deacon in the history of the Diocese of Newcastle to be ordained priest in full ‘Catholic’ vestments. Here is his journey.

Newly ordained priests (L to R) Paul Robertson, Greg Rorke, and Geoff Rowney on ordination day, 15 December 1973.

I was ordained a priest 50 years ago in Christ Church Cathedral on 15 December 1973.

The occasion for me had its fair share of crisis, drama, and stress.

I was stuck in New Delhi, India, with a useless Cathay Pacific airline ticket, courtesy of my London travel agent. It could get me back to Australia, but only after the ordination. 

Ah….now British Airways could get me home in time, but I would need to buy another ticket. 

In the end, I arrived in Sydney on 12 December 1973.

I had returned after three years in England at Durham University, having been made a deacon the previous year in Durham Cathedral and graduating with a degree in Biblical Studies and Theology.

Prior to the ordination, there was a quick reunion with the others to be ordained priest with me: Greg Rorke and Geoff Rowney. And the three to be made deacon: Terry Frewin, Bruce McAteer, and Graham McLeod.

The focus, however, was on the rehearsal.

Changes were afoot. A new bishop had arrived, and he was determined to make his mark.

What better place to start than at an ordination, by changing a few things. Priests had previously been ordained in simple surplice, cassock, and red stole.

We were now to be ordained in full ‘Catholic’ vestments. This meant cassock, alb, amice, chasuble, and stole. Because the colour was red for the Feast of St Thomas, red chasubles had to be found, along with dalmatics for the deacons. Red chasubles were rare in those days.  

The ordination went ahead on Saturday 15 December.

The six candidates were on parade for all to see as we made a figure of eight procession around the Cathedral, chanting the Litany. 

Being a Robertson, in front of Rorke and Rowney, I was the first deacon in the history of the Diocese of Newcastle to be ordained priest in full vestments.

A dubious honour? 

The irony was that I was from the evangelical stable, along with Rorke, and we sat uneasily in this new garb. 

To us, it was akin to Saul’s armour on a young David who, as we know, preferred only his trusty slingshot against Goliath.

Nevertheless, we blazed the trail for those who came after us, and who rejoiced in this advanced form of apparel. 

Fifty years on, what was then an innovation has become the accepted tradition. 

Yet, as with half a century ago, the tradition may change again.

The first Bishop of Newcastle, William Tyrrell, wore the white rochet and black chimere, and his candidates for ordination wore the simple black gown. 

Times change, and so does fashion – even clerical dress.

I went on to be appointed curate at St Peter’s Hamilton. It was at Hamilton where the most important event of my life occurred: marriage.

I met a beautiful young woman, Noreen Drury, a dairy farmer’s daughter from Central Lansdowne, near Taree.

We were married in St Peter’s Church on 15 May 1976.

In the years that followed, there was another curacy at Cessnock and further post graduate study at the University of Newcastle.

Nine years as rector at Scone saw to the reestablishing and reopening of Scone Grammar School.

I then spent a year on exchange back in the Diocese of Durham, and 22 years as rector at All Saints’ Church New Lambton.

There was more study; lecturing part time to ordinands in Church History at Morpeth, until the college closed; and pressing for the purchase of property to establish Bishop Tyrrell Anglican College while serving as Area Dean of Newcastle West.

I was also a pre-retirement locum in Ireland before actual retirement in 2010.

As I thank God for 50 years as a priest, I am grateful for the opportunities given to lead and to serve among God’s ‘royal priesthood’, the body of Christ.

In the time that remains, Noreen and I spend as much of it as we can with our grandchildren. Family life has become so much more important.

We now live in a multicultural, multi faith, secular Australia – a world away from 50 years ago.

Our prayer is that in their journey, our grandchildren may encounter the living Christ and find life, meaning, and purpose in Him. As is our prayer for all who may read this.

A recent photo of Paul Robertson and his wife Noreen.

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