Remembering Donald Finlay

Donald Finlay funeral eulogy

Peter Lineham, June 2015

I speak with deep love and sadness today. I have known Donald for some twenty years. I probably first met Donald when I was a young lecturer at Massey University in Palmerston North and joined the Palmerston North Choral Society. The choir practised in the All Saints Hall in the city every Monday night. Guy Donaldson was the young conductor and Janet Gibb the pianist and we performed two or three concerts a year, originally in All Saints or in the Teachers College auditorium or latterly in St Patricks when it was restored as the cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Donald was one of a carload of Levin people who came up every Monday for the practices. Donald loved to sing. He was a natural musician, with a fine bass voice and a great knowledge of a traditional repertoire. He loved harmony, he also loved the community of the choir and I got to know him along with the personalities of the choir. I also got to know Donald through our shared community in the Brethren. The Manawatu is the heartland of the Brethren, and unlike me Donald was a Manawatu boy, with deep roots in the Levin assemblies. There were three assemblies in Levin and Donald was a member and for a while the treasurer of Queen Street chapel, the more open and more flourishing of the assemblies. Donald lived at home and after the death of his mother in the family home. I attended Kingston Street chapel in Palmerston North but I did a lot of preaching in Palmerston North. I often got to speak at town and country assemblies, and my long bible expositions with entertaining illustrations took me one Sunday to Levin where I was asked to commence a series on Romans. I still have the notes of that talk where I wrestled with Paul’s account of God’s wrath at gentile sins, including his condemnation of the homosexual acts which Paul suggested brought condemnation on Gentile society. Re-reading those notes, I don’t believe I condemned gay people, but Donald heard it very differently and he told me later that this sermon by this suspiciously single man drove him out of the Brethren! Donald who had already helped to found the Kapiti Rainbow Club, began to attend Galaxies in St Andrews Church in Wellington as well as the Gay Christian group of which Tony Pears is present today Then after his job at Horowhenua Power Board was restructured with government reforms, he moved to Auckland in 1996, with an apartment in the CBD from which he ran his accounting practice, with Jim Goldsbury, although he continued to audit many Manawatu clients including the Army and Queen Street Chapel. In Auckland he played the organ at Wiremu Street Chapel, but in the evenings he became a very loyal member of Auckland Community Church at St Matthews, a board member and sometimes an organist and always a strong singer. His first contact had been when he attended the Gay Christian conference at St Luke’s back in 1991.

It was evidently with a certain grim satisfaction that he recognised me on the first Sunday I came to Auckland Community Church in January 2001. He evidently pointed me out to Charles whom he was sitting beside and told him the story.  For me, nervous as I was attending this den of iniquity and liberal theology, there was a certain alarm being recognised by Donald, until Donald told me that a lot of people in the congregation would not want their attendance broadcast, and he made me very welcome. I soon discovered as far as Donald was concerned, it ought not to be a home for liberal theology either. He had been a treasurer of the church and a member if the board. He originally along with the late Doc Martin, also from the brethren, formed a little Brethren core of loyal members, and he explained to me that with the level of participation and elected board and no pastor, ACC was quite like a Brethren assembly.

Donald was a real conservative. He became part of the Gay and Christian group linked with Ponsonby Baptist church, but his love of the old time gospel led him to link up with Calvary Chapel when he moved to the North Shore about ten years ago. He loved the bible with a deep intensity, he loved our bible studies, he loved traditional hymns sung rather slowly, and his face and his opinions reacted swiftly to suspicious theology and noisy music. He expressed his opinions forcefully at annual meetings and he boycotted what he did not like. His deep faith was nurtured on the rich words of scripture and its promises, and he loved reading it and latterly being read to.

Donald had a lot of friends. We should particularly remember John Carbutt, Rod Clucas and Tony Franklin, Craig and the organists. His long term partnership was breaking up when I became reacquainted with him, but many friends enjoyed his company and once he had more space his birthdays became crowded events spilling from his cluttered lounge out onto his deck. He was a messy person, untidiness strewed around him, and I used to wonder how he could ever finish his accounting work. He was greatly helped by the support that Hugh Dyson gave him, after the horrible accident in 2003 when he was run down on a pedestrian crossing shortly after he moved to the shore.  None of us could quite see what he saw in that house in Chivalry Road, which seemed so unsuitable for someone with cerebral palsy, and his increasing lameness after the accident. He took many months in recuperation in the ward in Carrington Road, bit there was a feisty determination in Donald, and he battled on, more temperamental than before but equally determined, not to say obstinate. We all knew the frustrations that he felt in both of his churches, and each received the cold shoulder at times.

Donald was due to turn 70 on 21 August, and rightly we should have been looking forward to another invitation to are a party. But the stroke a year ago left him tragically disabled, and despite all the work which Bob Scott did on those noble daily visits, he slowly slipped backwards. However those of us who attended that little post-Christmas communion service at Eversleigh Home will not forget those flashes of unabated joy which filled his face. That was Donald as I will remember him, stubborn, determined, honest, but capable of joy and satisfaction. Above all I will remember the man of godly faith, the man with the big old fashioned bible, the man with rich memories of his godly heritage, the man who loved God and would have happily dispensed with all ritual for an evening of singing praise in freedom and faith. Of such, follow their faith and honour their memory. Donald will not see it in the flesh, but I am sure the day is coming when gay people and their partners will be welcome again in many evangelical churches. But he longed for that day.  I think of the words of Corinthians that this perishable will put on the imperishable, and 2 Corinthians 5 “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but to be clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

I am sure that in his new body in heaven he is singing now with saints of many backgrounds and waiting for the day when he can cheer us on into a new day when the gulf between the two churches has gone.