Homily for the Funeral of Group Captain Ronald G Mills OAM
St James, Kings Street Sydney, 17 November 2008
by the Revd Michael Deasey OAM
(Precentor, All Saints’ Cathedral, Bathurst)
Dear Ron, the first thing I knew about you was your sonorous bass voice. I was a very young
deputy organist of St Andrew’s Cathedral in the late 1960s and you were the bass soloist in most
of the verse anthems. The first time I ever heard them, such as: William Boyce ‘O where shall
wisdom be found’, or ‘I have surely built thee an house’ or Michael Wise ‘Prepare ye the way of
the Lord’, they were stamped in my memory forever with your sound, your passion and your
When I returned to Sydney to become organist of St Andrew’s Cathedral after twelve years
overseas you were still there in your place in the choir stalls, not clinging to all your old solos but
being a gracious mentor to up and coming young singers. And when you retired from the choir
on Easter Day in 1983, having sung under five cathedral organists encompassing 54 years, you
still maintained your links with your beloved cathedral.
Over twenty years later do you remember I visited your home as I researched the book I was
commissioned to write? It was to be the story of St Andrew’s Cathedral choir under the title of
Conversations with Choristers. Ron, we had a great conversation. You ended up having a whole
chapter to yourself because you had so many stories to tell, from the time you joined the choir
with your younger brother Eric in early 1929 to the time you left in 1933 and then rejoined later
as a lay clerk. Your observations about organists, choirmasters, deans, precentors, archbishops and
other clergy made for compelling reading.
And you would have recognised those verses we just had from Revelation. Edgar Bainton’s
anthem ‘And I saw a new heaven’ had no bass solos but it did have that wonderful moment when
all the basses sing ‘And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying’, and then the full choir
responds ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them and they shall
be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God’. I can never read those
words Ron without picturing you in the choir stalls and hearing your voice.
Because Ron, this was not just a piece of music, this was your faith.
A faith that was also bound up in the words from John chapter 11 when Jesus said: ‘I am the
resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone
who lives and believes in me will never die’. And then Jesus asks a question ‘Do you believe this?’
Ron, you really believed it. You knew of course, like all of us, that there’s much mystery here, but
what sets the Christian faith apart from all others is the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.
It goes against all our rational instincts and I was reminded of this just a couple of weeks ago
when I stood in an isolated and lonely graveyard in a remote paddock way out in the central west
as I committed a body to the ground with the words ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’,
words which resonate with such finality. But then I had the authority from the scriptures to add
something else: ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, and was buried, and rose again
for us, and who shall change our mortal body that it may be like his glorious body’.
Ron, as an old airman, you knew a fair bit about faith. It’s something we all have to exercise every
day, the sceptic and the believer alike.
You knew that in life, human reason would take us a long way, in fact, like an airplane will take
us all the way to the end of the runway. But that’s as far as it would take us. Faith then needs to
take over, and like the plane soar up into the air in the same direction as our reason did on the
ground. Your faith Ron was a continuation of your reason, because as in flying, you wanted your
whole life to be an adventure with God, and so you were willing to leave the runway. You knew
also that we don’t need great faith, only faith in a great God.
And your adventure would be linked forever with the one who said ‘I am the resurrection and the
life’. Because this scripture tells us that the resurrection is no longer just a doctrine. It’s not just a
future fact. It is in fact a person. Of course, our bodies weren’t designed to last in their present
state, but neither should they be dismissed as irrelevant. For our bodies are to be changed, not
abandoned; to be transformed, not destroyed; ready to embrace a new environment, the world of
the new creation.
And of course, it’s life’s ultimate mystery. Mysteries are not to be explained but to be proclaimed.
Because Ron, you are now in the hands of the same infinite love, the same purposeful planner
that brought you into the world. And the God who arranged human birth so that loving hands
welcomed us into this world and cared for us, will not have overlooked that the next phase of the
journey will be just as strange, and the everlasting arms are now waiting to welcome you and all
who die in the faith of Christ.
Ron you now really have something to sing about. You’ve begun your next adventure as you wait
in paradise for the great Resurrection, where all tears will be wiped away, where death will be no
more, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things have