Today’s guest is Greg Foot. I first met Greg when I was in grade 12, I think – I may have before, but I don’t remember – but when I was in grade 12 taking part in the World Vision 40 Hour Famine bus tour. So we all got on a bus – there must have been 30 of us or something like that.
We travelled around the state for the whole 40 hours collecting donations, through the snow, down the windy east coast, feeling quite ill –
Without eating. And we finished – I think we finished by eating KFC, which is really probably the worst way to finish a 40 hour fast.
But memories, we have memories. And Greg is now an associate pastor at our church, and he’s a great blessing to us. And Greg and Anne have three grown up children and seven grandchildren, some of whom are also pretty well grown up.
Indeed. The youngest is 10, and I had the great privilege of marrying – doing the ceremony for my oldest granddaughter’s wedding a few months ago, which was wonderful. She’s 24.
How cool is that? Wow. That’s awesome. So, we’ll start where we start: how did you become a Christian?
That was a long time ago, the 40 Hour Famine! Well, only a few years. How did I become a Christian? I was privileged, Ruth, to grow up in a Christian family. My mum and dad were both very committed Christians, and they basically lived their faith. There’s an old saying that God doesn’t have grandchildren – I had to work it out for myself. And thankfully I managed to do that, and I think it was the age of 13 I made a commitment to follow Jesus, and I was baptised in the Margaret Street Church of Christ in Launceston by the minister, who at the time was a man by the name of Jim Wright, who later became my father-in-law – but that’s another story! So that’s how I came to faith.
Does that mean that you grew up in church with Anne?
Well, sort of. We didn’t actually know each other all that well in those years, and I was a couple of years older, so she would say that I wasn’t interested in a lot of things she did. But it was only after she moved to Adelaide and then came back to be bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding in Launceston that we sort of connected, as it were. (chuckles)
So 13 is still reasonably young – did you have a time in your adult life where you thought ‘I have to draw the line here’?
There was a time when I drifted away, probably during some of my university days when I was still attending church but not on a regular basis, and I had some questions and I was searching around. I didn’t actually pursue my faith actively in those years, but it was after I’d finished university and become more of an adult that I managed to figure out that yes, that was the right decision, and I wanted to commit the rest of my life to being a follower of Jesus.
So your first career-type job was as a teacher, am I right?
You’re right, and a reluctant teacher. Because I’d finished a 4-year degree in mathematics, and because I’d done an honours year I thought that some firm would buy out my education department bond. They’d paid for me to go through university, so I had to teach for 4 years, reluctantly. But the department in their wisdom sent me to Taroona high school, which was a great blow to my pride because I thought with an honours degree I should at least go to a college. But it was the best thing that ever happened. I went to Taroona high school, I was mentored by extremely good teachers there: the principal, the deputy principal, and my Head of Maths Department, and I found out two things: a) I loved teaching, and b) I was okay at it, as a mathematics teacher. And sadly, mathematics teachers are in short supply today. But I walked in front of my first class in 1964 with no teacher training, and I still see some of those students today.
So you did your undergrad maths degree and honours, and they just said, ‘You can teach’?
Yep. And I did a Diploma of Education while I was teaching, and that’s why I benefited and was blessed by these mentors who were so excellent at showing me the ropes, but I learned I loved it, and made a career of it.
Fantastic. So you were at a public school?
Always at a public school, and in saying that I don’t want to denigrate private schools, all of which do excellent jobs and particularly Christian schools, but I taught my whole career, 25 years at public schools, and we sent our three children to public schools because we wanted to. I didn’t feel I could teach in a public school and have my children go to a private school, not a good look.
But in a public school you can’t openly share your faith, so how did your faith show in that sort of position?
In those days, people were more – the things happened in school, like we used to have prayers in assembly, and even say the Lord’s Prayer or we’d sing a hymn in assembly, but personally my faith as a teacher in a public school, I think showed itself in the way I tried to treat students. I always tried to give students respect and treat them in the way I wanted to be treated, and particularly, in Jesus’ words, ‘the least of the least’ if you know what I mean. There are a number of students I can think of that I’ve worked with over the years, one of whom comes to St Clements now, a disabled lady who was one of my students, and I tried to make sure these students were given every opportunity. And also that as a teacher I was modelling what a Christian should be in that environment.
For example, I never ever used corporal punishment. And I spent 12 years as a deputy principal in a big high school, which is normally the henchman role, swishing the cane. Didn’t have a cane in my office. Never used it. And at one school I led a campaign to abolish corporal punishment at that school because it was prevalent, and I felt it was bad, it was discriminatory – it was only administered to boys, and usually physically small, low-intelligence boys – so I led a campaign to get rid of the cane, and the staff voted by 60 votes to 2 to get rid of the cane. And that school was a better place! It was a more humane place as a result. And this I felt was an outworking of my faith and my belief in the intrinsic worth of every person as being created in God’s image, however bad they might seem in the eyes of the world or however difficult their background was.
Because it’s just so much better to – I want to use the term ‘discipline by relationship’ which I’m sure many people don’t understand – but just coming alongside.
Exactly. And people who I meet now, I’ve often heard them say to me, ‘There was something different about you as a teacher’. And I think I probably know what that was, in that I didn’t discipline in the normally accepted ways, and I think I managed to achieve what I wanted by being who I was and giving students the kind of respect I expected from them.
Absolutely, that’s awesome. So what was the journey to go from teaching to World Vision?
Interesting. We started after we’d had our third child in 1973, Anne wanted four children but the doctor said no, she’d had a tough time having the third one. So we decided instead that we’d adopt a child from Vietnam – there were a lot of Vietnamese families and kids up for adoption after the war. That turned out to be an administrative nightmare so we didn’t get down to that, so we sponsored a child from World Vision. 1974 this was, started sponsoring for World Vision.
That ended up us being World Vision voluntary reps in Tasmania, sort of being a bit of a clearing house for material, doing a bit of a speaking engagement. And in 1988 when I took long service leave I went and did some work for the World Vision office here as a volunteer, and that was the year before we went on that bus trip! And that ended up with the head office in Melbourne saying, ‘We want to start an office in Tasmania, and we want you to be the first State Manager’.
So I prayed long and hard about this, because people were saying to me ‘Look, you’re at the top of your career, you’re a deputy principal, you’ve been acting principal for 18 months, you can do A, B, C and D,’ I was only 46… but I felt God was calling me out of this after 25 years, and so I made the break.
It was a step in faith because, in those days, you could not preserve your superannuation. You couldn’t take it with you. But God’s hand was in it because I had leave without pay working for World Vision for five years – the Education Department gave me leave without pay for five years and then they brought in preservation of superannuation, so I resigned the day after they did that! (laughs) Because I wasn’t going back. And continued my career with World Vision.
Looking back, you can often see God’s hand in these things. You pray at the time, you think you’re doing the right thing, but looking back it’s probably one of the best, greatest blessings God’s ever given me to go and join World Vision. The depth of that organisation, the wonderful Christian people you meet there that are from right across the theological denomination spectrum. It was just such an enriching time, that 11 years I had with World Vision.
Do you have some stories you remember from that?
Oh, endless. Over the 11-year period – you can cut me down here because there’s time restrictions – but over the 11 year period I was privileged to do five overseas trips. World Vision ran the 40 Hour Famine Study Tour, you may recall, in which Qantas sponsored one student from each state to go and experience World Vision’s work first hand at the coal face, and a number of our staff were reluctant to be chaperones for these tours but I was always the first to put my hand up because I was a teacher, and I loved being with students. We’d select the cream of these people, one from each state, and so we had some great times.
But I can recall things like going to a remote village in Africa and an old man presenting me with a bag of tomatoes as a gift, which of course you can’t refuse. And I was later told that this was a week’s wages for him. That is something.
And then another time we were in the Philippines and we landed at some remote island and we went then by a truck, bouncing along on this hard, flat tray truck to some remote project, then we had to walk in the hot sun for two or three kilometres to get there, the furthest you can imagine from civilisation. What was the first thing they gave us to drink?
Absolutely. Coca-Cola, with all their marketing brilliance, could get into the far corners of the universe, the world, the earth, but they didn’t have clean water to drink. There’s a story in that.
And so many many times we’ve just been blessed and humbled by the experiences I’ve had. I remember walking along a flood levy in Bangladesh with a young 16-year-old. He’d had to evacuate because of the floods. His family were in the process of setting up home in another place, they didn’t have a lot. I said ‘What’s your ambition?’ He said ‘I want to be a doctor.’ And I thought ‘Wow.’ I don’t know what happened to him. But we’ve sponsored a number of children over the years and it’s so satisfying to see that they grow to adulthood and are able to make a life for themselves because of the support.
World Vision’s about giving people a hand up, not a hand out. Working with what they’ve got. I can remember sitting on the ground in a remote village in India in the dirt, and watching a community development person help this community decide which was the best way forward for them. Using local resources, local leadership. Very few times do you see ex-pats working in World Vision projects, it’s normally local leadership empowering and developing that, which is the way to go.
That’s really encouraging to know, isn’t it?
It’s nearly 20 years since I left World Vision, it seems like yesterday. I still talk about ‘we’, but I’m still passionate about the work that World Vision is doing. And that doesn’t mean they’re any better than other agencies, we all have our faults and our foibles, but it was and still is a wonderful organisation to be part of. Very privileged.
I guess it’s better to do something with a few faults than to do nothing at all.
Exactly. I think Mother Theresa might have said that.
Do you get frustrated with the church back here, that they don’t do as much as they could?
No. Because I’m aware that churches have to look after their own communities first, but I’m absolutely excited about the advent of St Clements work with Empart, because that’s right near and dear to my heart. I had the privilege of leading a couple of teams to India in 2014 and 2015 to see the work of Empart and if you’re part of a church that is involved with overseas development and supporting Christian mission and ministry in those places then if you can I’d encourage you to go, because it’s life-changing experiences. You know nearly 50 people have gone from St Clements now, and it’s just a wonderful time.
Again with Empart, as with World Vision, you’re working with the people on the ground, so we’re not going in and setting something up and leaving or whatever, we’ve got a long term relationship with these people.
And we see their transformation centres in which they’re training their own pastors to pastor in their own communities. In India, of course, they wouldn’t allow ex-pats to work. I remember one guy saying to me once ‘You stay here longer than one month, government will start to ask questions’. But with Empart – and the thing that’s so good about Empart is that with the right-wing Hindu government being so tough on Christians now that it really is hard. We’ve lost some workers who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice. We talk about persecution of Christians in the west but you ain’t seen nothin’ compared with what they have to endure. Houses being burned, and people being attacked, it’s not good. But we keep going because God is faithful.
Absolutely. So the latest thing that you’re doing is working as an ordained minister – did that come directly out of World Vision?
No. No, there was a fair gap. I left World Vision early in 2000, and didn’t do much for a while. Anne said I had the cleanest car in Hobart. That was retiring from full-time work, I was only 57 – that was the average retiring age for Australian males in 2000, 57. It’s a bit higher now. So I decided, ‘Alright, I’ll go back and do a bit of relief teaching’. At the end of 2000 I’d done a little bit of relief; wasn’t all that rapt in it, you couldn’t choose which schools, I thought, ‘I’m not going to that school again’. But I got a phone call from Gary Hills, who was just at the end of a long successful time as principal at Ogilvie High School –
Oh yeah, he was my principal!
Gary Hills, yes. A legend at Ogilvie. And he said, ‘Greg, there’s a bunch of classes here who have had seven maths teachers this year – they need sorting out.’ So I went out in third term and I had to sort them out. To cut a long story short, I ended up staying there for four years – 2001, -2, -3, -4 – teaching maths to bright girls which was a dream for me as a mathematics teacher. two or three days a week, it was just lovely.
And at the end of 2004 they offered me a job as Project Officer for the school’s building redevelopment, which everyone thought was a huge joke because I can’t even drive a nail. But my job was to liaise between the stakeholders, the staff and the architects and the builders, and keep the peace, and that I could do. I wasn’t actually building the new development.
People management, yeah.
So after that – that was only one year – then I came back home again and Anne said to me one Saturday, ‘There’s a little ad in the paper,’ she said, ‘you could do that.’ I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Chaplaincy Support Officer with Scripture Union.’
God has strange ways, you know?
I forgot about the Scripture Union!
Scripture Union took me on, and I worked for Scripture Union and that, again I think, was God’s timing. It was just after I’d started we’d moved house from Blackmans Bay to the unit we’re now in, we were unpacking our boxes and I get a call to say that John Howard has tipped a bucketful of money into school chaplaincy. So I’m thinking this is a nice little retirement job with about 19 or 20 schools to look after with chaplains in Tasmania. (laughs) It goes from there to about – I think now there’s about 80 to 100 schools with chaplains in Tasmania.
But God has blessed that ministry and it was a miracle to me to see how the ministry of school chaplaincy has now become an accepted part of the education environment in public schools. And we have some wonderful – I keep on ‘we’ again, I’ve been gone from Scripture Union for nearly nine years – but we had some wonderful people who God raised up. People would say, ‘Where are you going to get all these chaplains?’ and I’d say, ‘God will find them.’ He did. And still some people that were employed there back then when I started, are still doing school chaplaincy and wonderful ministry in schools.
So if you want to hear more about that one, I had an interview with Ruth Pinkerton as well, talking about how she came down here expecting it to be a quiet little… and then suddenly –
Exactly! Ruth arrived shortly after I did. I remember her saying at one SU retreat we had shortly after she came – ‘Who’s that old man over there in the corner?’ So it was me. It was a pleasure to work with Ruth. She was God’s person for the time, as I believe humbly that I was too because I had this entré into schools, being known in schools. And I heard one principal say, ‘Well, if Greg says this chaplaincy’s okay, it must be alright.’ They were a bit suspicious about these religious people coming into schools, but in terms of spirituality and helping kids explore what the meaning of life is, I think they got that bit of it right.
It’s interesting, isn’t it? Again, as you look back you see all the dots being joined. I love talking to people who can look back and say ‘Here is the picture’, and also talking to people who are looking forward and they don’t know what the dots are yet, but you just keep moving forward.
Well, Ruth Pinkerton was a dot, and I think she and I working together were dots being joined at that time, it was a good time. And then it was time to go. And you asked me about ordination.
So I left that in 2010, and at that time I’d been going to St Clements for two or three years, and Pete [Adlem, St Clements Senior Pastor] had me doing a little bit of lay preaching here and there, and he came to me and said, ‘Would you consider going down the path of ordination?’ So I went away and prayed long and hard about that. And really I think that’s another example of the looking back that God was calling me to use the gifts that I had in service in some way. And so I was ordained two months after my 70th birthday. A lovely present, by John Harrower in St David’s Cathedral on December 1 2012.
And it’s been a great time, I’ve learned and grown. You’re never too old to learn. And the older I get the less I know, and working with people like Pete Adlem, and yourself, and everyone at St Clements – St Clements has been a blessing to Anne and me because we were just getting a little bit sort of … tired, is the word, I think? And it’s been a reawakening. God had blessed us both spiritually and I hope we’ve been able to be a blessing to others through that.
So whilst I have the capacity, I think we’ll keep going. We’ll see what God’s got in store.
I did a review with Pete recently and he said, ‘What’s the future?’ and I said, ‘Well… in about three years I’ll turn 80, it may be time to have a review then, but we’ll see what God’s got in store.’ And that’s the beauty of it, God knows what the future is. I don’t, and I’m very happy with that. I’m just happy to continue.
That’s fantastic. So when do you feel close to God?
Good question. I feel close to God when I’m studying scriptures, particularly in preparing sermons, and I’m conscious of God speaking to me and directing me in certain ways.
This might seem odd, but I feel close to God when I’m out on the remote roads riding my bike. And you can just stop and sit by a river and reflect, as I often do. Snug river’s one of my favourite spots. So those two times are the most – one should feel close to God when reading his word, and I do. That’s the time when God really speaks to me, I think, but I’m open all the time. I’m conscious that it’s a constant sort of conversational relationship thing, that God speaks into me and I’m aware of His guiding me. But those two times are the times I feel most close. It used to be running in the bush but I can’t run anymore, so it’s cycling.
I was thinking, you’re one of the fittest – I was going to say ‘older people I know’, but you’re one of the fittest people I know.
Oh, appearances can be deceiving. I think God has blessed me with good health. Put it that way. It probably isn’t altogether accidental, you have to work at it, but I’m not obsessive about it. My wife might say I am, but she’s fairly fit herself. But it’s one of those things that you just tend to take for granted but you shouldn’t, because it’s a blessing, it’s a gift.
So what’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
Oh, good question. I think what I would say is I wish everyone could be aware that the message of Christianity is the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to life. We’ve been looking at the book of Ecclesiastes where everything’s meaningless.
The book of Ecclesiastes ends on a positive note: ‘Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.’ I wish everyone could understand that the creation, fall, redemption, renewal is the framework in which gives everything meaning. And that’s the first thing I wish everyone knew.
The second thing I wish everyone knew is the uniqueness of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. That He is – ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ None of the other religions did God come to Earth as a person that you and I can relate to, you know? And that’s the second thing that I wish everyone would come to see and understand.
Awesome. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Oh, lots of things but I can’t remember what they are. As I said, I’m not all that fussed about talking about myself because it’s not about me, it’s really about God having blessed me in terms of family and career and in what I’m doing now.
And you know, sometimes I even have to pinch myself that I’m at a church like I’m at which is so – there’s someone new to our church recently that described St Clements as being like a theme park. (chuckles) And he meant that in a positive sense! That there’s always something happening, there’s always something new, there’s always something refreshing and there’s such a range of people that it’s so stimulating. I’m just happy to be a tiny little cog that helps keep going.
I think Pete and I have been blessed to have each other. And selfishly he’s a bit like my son who’s my best mate, and he’s in ministry in the States and he’s only a year younger than Pete, and we just relate so well, Pete and I, it’s a similar kind of relationship.
Which is so neat.
It is! It is. It’s God-ordained, I think. If someone had said to me back in the early 2000s, ‘You’re going to become an ordained minister’ I would have laughed. Laughed in their face. But God’s got a sense of humour. He takes me from a non-conformist tradition, and introduces me to a tradition. Says, ‘You’re going to be an ordained pastor’. But we’re all pastors, we’re all ministers. Priesthood of all believers. You know that.
Yeah, exactly. Well, it’s been really awesome talking to you Greg, thank you very much.
I hope it’s been helpful, and thank you for making me feel relaxed as I so reluctantly talk about myself! I hope you can get something of it that will bless people.
Absolutely. I am sure I will. Thank you.