Vale Lucy Griffiths – 1931 – 2015

May 18th, 2015

Lucy Ellen Griffiths

27 June 1931 – 1 May 2015

The Age (3/11/61) some 40 yrs ago informed its readers that the Melbourne Anglican Archbishop had appointed Rev Nash to be a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral; that the army’s Chaplain General was to speak at a Methodist remembrance service, & that Bishop Fox was to address the Roman Catholic members of the Vic Public Service Assoc.

Also was the news that a “Lucy Griffiths of the Churches of Christ (CoC) Good Companions State Exec & Sec of the Aust Council of Churches’ Youth Dept, has left to take up her new post in Geneva as Sec for youth projects of the World Council of Churches”.

Lucy’s faith journey had commenced well before this time.

And took many of us, said one on learning of her death, “to a level that was beyond our expectations as a small denomination of CoC; she was an inspiration to those of us who believed in our desire to be an ecumenical church”.

Her journey had begun at a time of world turmoil, destruction & death, but at a time when young people were full of confidence & hope.

Immediately prior to WW2 youth from the churches, universities, & the Ys(YM & YW) met in Amsterdam (1939), & barely had the guns been silenced than the youth of the victors met with the youth of the vanquished (Oslo 1947).

A few years later young people decided it was time to move the conversation from Europe to Asia. Australian young people returned from the 1952 Indian (Travancore) meeting with renewed enthusiasm & the Aust Christian Youth Commission was born.

In 1956 Lucy was appointed part-time sec of this new Commission, a position she held for the next 5 years & part-time assisting the Secretary (H.A.G. Clark) of the newly formed Victorian Council of Churches.

Two events at this time had a great influence on her life & work : a national conference in Geelong heard the charismatic Philip Potter (then Youth Department Secretary of the WCC) – & it would be interesting to know more of the role played by Potter in Lucy’s appointment to the WCC Youth Dept a few years later; & 2nd conference in 1959 (Canberra) at which the leadership came from Asian theologians (Harry Daniel). There can be little doubt that Lucy was heavily involved in the organisation of these meetings.

The WCC was formed in 1948, only a decade or so before Lucy joined the staff.

Right thru WW2 people like Visser’t Hooft, who later became World Council of Churches (WCC) Secretary & was the Secretary when Lucy joined, had maintained communication with the German churches, had cooperated with the rescue of many in the European Jewish communities, as well as funding & supporting the underground movement of people escaping into Switzerland from Nazi Occupied France.

In the ‘90s Lucy reviewed a book on the life of Madeline Barot, who was a leader in the French churches & during the war she had been a member of the French résistance. When Lucy joined the WCC, Barot was the Director of the program on the Cooperation of men & women in church & society. Madeline Barot exploits & ministry were still a talking point in my time with the WCC a decade after Lucy.

In the review Lucy wrote “what follows is ….. an account of Madeline’s memories of the challenges confronting Christians …it is a record of solidarity with the victims & the marginalised we meet along our way, & in whom Christ is present; it is a story of men & women who organised themselves to work for social justice”.

It would’ve been fascinating to yarn with Lucy on the degree of influence that Madeline Barot had on her own views of women in church & society.

Lucy, for example, wrote to the editor of the CoC journal (1991),”I have two other letters to the Editor forming in my head – one the involvement of Christians in trade unions & another on the use of the term BROTHERHOOD (in capitals) to describe CoC. I regard myself, she writes, as a fairly peaceable person, but that term provokes me to fury!”

I can only guess what was in her head about Christians & trade unions. Maybe there is a clue in her life after the WCC. Study in Africa & then work with the British Methodists & was a member & officer of the church that the Rev Donald Soper had lead & his continuing presence & influence would’ve been very evident for someone like Lucy.

Soper was a Hyde Park orator, a socialist, a Labor Party member & pacifist, whose biographer, Brian Frost, a close friend of Lucy’s, wondered how come “a minister with such radical views came to receive so much affection & acclaim?”

Lucy on her return to Australia continued to be actively involved with those issues & causes she felt most strongly. Speaking at one meeting she describes herself one concerned about justice for all people & the environment, how Orthodox & Asian Christians living in Australia can enrich our protestant traditions & the need to take seriously people of other faiths”.

Lucy had the remarkable good fortune to trip across some of the great figures of church life & the ecumenical movement; she travelled extensively, worked in Europe & studied in Africa. Take a walk thru her (& Doug’s) library which she gave to the CoC theological college – multiple copies of Brunner, Tillich, Bonheoffer, Robinson, Newbiggin, as well as 104 books from the progressive Student Christian Movement.

Lucy’s faith journey took her on a lifelong ecumenical adventure.

Beginning in CoC, she found, after being significantly involved with a range of CoC committees & congregations, that her journey was taking her in new directions & in the late 90s relinquished any positions which saw her representing CoC.

One of the verses from the hymn, she wrote with Brian Frost, the biographer of Donald Soper, says much about her life,

“”Where there is squalor, let there be beauty,

Where there is sadness, let there be light;

Cry Hosanna, shout Hallelujah

Turn a world of strangers into the family of hope”.

Lucy held a unique position in the life of the Australian church.

She was perhaps the only person to have held staff positions with the Victorian Council of Churches – state, Australian Council of Churches – national & the WCC – global, organisations of churches.

The Executive of the VCC meeting on Wednesday noted, “with her husband, the Rev Doug Dargaville, they formed a significant partnership, mentoring, teaching & encouraging many of us in our ecumenical formation.

We will miss the wisdom, the grace & the insights that Lucy shared with so many”.

Vale Lucy Ellen Griffiths.


Alan Matheson

8 May 2015