HT writer, Gay Liddington, recently spent a fascinating afternoon with minister, Neville Ross, where they delved into religion, humanity, love, quantum mechanics, energy healing and rock music. 

by Gay Liddington

My link to 90-year-old Uniting Church minister Neville Ross, was through his son John, who shared snippets of his father’s life. High regard was evident. Intrigued by the diverse career of this man-of-the-cloth, I was excited to know more.

I visited the Peachester home of John Ross where four generations reside. A firm handshake, direct gaze and mischievous grin told me this interview with the elder would be a roller-coaster ride.

Neville Ross describes himself as a non-conforming nonagenarian. He says, “At an early age I learnt that if you want to get answers, you have to ask questions. If you want to get to the truth you have to question the answers. And, you have to keep questioning the answers until you get the truth.”

I was keen to hear this apostate apostle’s take on Christmas and humanity. 

“It’s another thing I question. After church one day, a man asked me, ‘So what do you think quantum mechanics has to say about God?’ 

“Being a minister for over 50 years, I’d never had a question like that. So, I began to research the internet. But it wasn’t until much later, the penny dropped. 

“One of the fundamental precepts of quantum mechanics is, consciousness precedes observation. If you can bring the consciousness of an issue to the minds of people, their awareness will change.

“The best example of this in the modern world is Jacinda Ardern and the Christchurch massacre. This brought about a change of consciousness in New Zealand. 

“Until we get beyond religion of the tribe and get to religion for humanity, we will not be on the way to solving the problems of the world. 

“It’s only when consciousness of people in every religion, alerts to the fact there’s an existential consciousness that goes beyond tribal, that we’re on the way to discovering where humanity ought to be going. The difficulty is, theologians are not perceiving this as clearly as scientists.”

On the subject of Christmas, Neville shares: “I think of Jesus as the example of humanity. I can see no greater teacher, no greater example. My biggest theological departure has been, I don’t think Jesus planned to die for humanity. He confronted the evil of the day and was killed for it. And, he believed the way for humanity was to be willing to die for it. If only the Christian religion could rediscover that.

“That is where the world must go, embracing the simplicity of the life of Jesus, of his willingness to be there for people of whatever class, whatever creed.

Four generations of the Ross family – Neville, son John with granddaughter Evie Dobbins, Carly Ross with Jaxon and Ryder Dobbins

“To rediscover that the birth of Jesus was the life of Jesus. Whether you treat it all as myth, or whether you treat it as happening doesn’t seem to matter very much. You can interpret Christmas as family and community. It’s about closeness, elevating concern for others.”

A preacher who meddled in politics, it seems the blood of his ancestors runs deep. Neville’s great grandfather is George Down, accountant, politician and Mayor of Brisbane, 1915/16. 

John made tea while his dad shared: “My father was a printer. His family came from Northern Ireland, so he was a strong Methodist. I have one older brother and one younger, both of whom were Methodist ministers. 

“There are two things in my early years for which I am thankful. One is, I experienced firsthand what it was like to be born into the Great Depression. Being poor, is one thing that gave me my perspective on life.

“Secondly, I was only 10 when war broke out. The older boys went off to war and I gained opportunities as a result. 

“When I was 14, I told my minister we needed a boys’ club. He supported the idea and told me to lead it. And, I became a visitor to the older people in the parish. It seems I was destined for the ministry.”

He preached his first sermon at 16 and qualified as a lay preacher during his final year at high school. 

Two years later in 1947, he went to his first parish in Coorparoo as assistant minister then, onto Blackall and Innisfail where sitting astride an Ariel Deluxe Roadster motorcycle, Neville spied, “A vision on horseback wearing brown shorts, lemon tee-shirt, and Grecian sandals exquisitely complemented by the golden tan of her limbs and the beauty of her face.”

Eighteen-year-old, Rev. Neville Ross – first parish at Coorparoo, 1947

Esmé Edgerton and Neville Ross married eight months later in March 1952. Their next parish was Imbil in the Mary Valley where the first of their six sons was born; then a move to the St Lucia church. It was around that time with the Korean War in play that Neville’s reputation coloured. 

“Three young fellows came to see me. They asked for my support to be conscientious objectors so they could work as medics. None of the clergy approached would testify on their behalf but I spoke for them in court. They described me in The Catholic Leader as ‘the pink parson’.

“In 1957, I attended the Third World Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in Japan. On my return, I became an advocate for banning the bomb. That gave me a tint within the church.

Australian Delegation – Third World Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Neville Ross (centre back)

“50 years later, they gave a Nobel Peace Prize to those who set up an organisation that urged countries to ban the bomb. 50 years before, they regarded it as a communist ploy.

“In desperation, the church transferred me to Laidley where the opportunity for trouble-making might lessen.”

January edition of HT: The ’59 Laidley flood, a ministerial turkey breeder, the Department of Foreign affairs appoints the renegade reverend. An energy healer wife, and son who attains independent fame as a rock musician. Neville published his book, Could a Christian be an Atheist?