Christopher Hasler was a New Church minister for over fifty years, serving mainly in Britain, but also elsewhere, and for four years between 1960 and 1964, in the Brisbane Society, and for some of those years he served as the President of the New Church in Australia. Older people in the New Church will remember him well.
More personally, he is my wife Ruth’s father and was a highly formative influence on me during my twenties and thirties, undoubtedly influencing me in my eventual decision to become a minister.
Christopher passed into the spiritual world in August this year, and it is fitting that we acknowledge his work here in Australia. I am including the tribute given by Rev Bruce Jarvis at the service, which was given on behalf of the British New Church.
“I’ve been asked to speak about Christopher, about my relationship with him, and about his ministry. It’s always a tall order and a challenge to speak about anybody’s life, to summarise a lifetime’s activities, all in the space of a few minutes. In Christopher’s case it feels almost undoable, but I must do my best.
My association with Christopher goes back to 1964, and in slightly unusual circumstances. I was approaching the end of my 3-year teacher training course at Nottingham TT College, and had booked to attend what used to be known as the bank holiday Whit School at Purley Chase, near Atherstone. As one often did in those days, I hitch-hiked over to Purley Chase on Friday afternoon 15th May, having completed my final teaching practice the previous day. Rucksack on my back, I plodded up to Purley from Atherstone, trudged up the long drive, eagerly anticipating a long week-end with other young people, led by a minister I had never met. When I got there I realised I was the first to arrive. Well, not quite the first, because when I wandered out on to the lawn I could see some activity among the trees at the far edge of the lawn, smoke rising up, and a muscular bare-chested man vigorously wielding an axe borrowed from the caretakers. You’ve got it, the Revd Christopher Hasler, in his mid-30s, recently returned to the UK from Brisbane, Australia, with his wife Joy and family, and now ministering to the New Church congregations at Heywood and Middleton, just outside Manchester. I can’t say I remember anything else very specific about that week-end but Christopher certainly made his mark on me, and, I think, on everyone else. His commitment, convictions, and capabilities were apparent to us all. His joyous laughter, too, was delightfully infectious.
Looking back, I think a bond between us was established right there at Purley Chase in 1964, and our paths intertwined during the ensuing years. I pursued my teaching career, and Christopher his ministry, which quickly blossomed from local pastoral ministry into most areas of the national church’s life. His move to Derby, close to Purley Chase, meant that he became involved in many schools and week-ends there, including some of the Federation Education week-ends, of which I was one of the organisers. Later, in 1979, my wife, Liz, and I and our two children, Simon and Becky, attended a Family School during the summer holiday. Christopher was the inspirational leader, and introduced us to the recently published New International Version of the Bible. For me, that was one of life’s pivotal moments or events. No translation is without limitations, but Christopher’s commendation certainly influenced me, and I’ve been using that translation ever since as my working Bible.
Christopher had a passion for worship and teaching and pastoral care. Well, you’d hope for that in any ordained minister. But his gifts included so much more, much of it with a creative theme. How many of us have enjoyed the brilliant Hasler family puppets. His writing, too, including that very innovative cartoon book outlining Swedenborg’s life and theology. His work with students preparing for ordination at the New Church College in Manchester. His determination to spread the New Church message far and wide through outreach endeavours, initially via the National Missionary Board, and later through the Swedenborg Movement, and the festivals of Mind, Body and Spirit at various venues.
While Minister at Derby and Melbourne, Christopher met the Revd Michael Perry, who became a senior Anglican priest (and who himself died in January this year). Michael was a leading figure in the ecumenical Churches Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies. Christopher fostered that contact, became a member of the Fellowship, wrote articles and gave presentations affirming the validity of the Swedenborgian approach to the life beyond the grave. He also encouraged several of his colleagues, including Clifford and myself to become involved with the Fellowship.
In 1980 Christopher was appointed President of the General Conference of the New Church, and travelled around the Church, both in Britain and overseas. He made visits to Europe, Australia and Africa. I believe he visited North America, too, though I’m not sure whether that was during his presidency or later. Certainly, a little later on his private life and public one overlapped when he made contact with the tiny New Church community in Czechoslovakia, and renewed links with some family members there. He was an internationalist, and valued the concept of bringing branches of the world-wide New Church together.
One of the duties of the President, as it is today with our Spiritual Leader, was to establish contacts with anyone expressing an interest in preparing for ordination. So it was that one December evening in 1980 he travelled from Derby to visit me and my wife Liz, and conduct an initial interview. In July 1985, Christopher the retiring President, took part in the ceremony to ordain me into the New Church priesthood. We had become not only dear friends but valued colleagues. When the first annual meeting after I began ordination studies was approaching, Christopher asked me to form a choir to sing at the Holy Supper Service. That was in 1982, a lovely and welcome innovation, and one that has persisted to this day, now under the expert leadership of Marion Curry.
In 2000, when Christopher was about the age I am now, he and Michael Stanley gave presentations on the Book of Revelation and its significance to the annual Ministers Seminar at Purley Chase. I need to be concise here! Six of us resolved to form a study group, possibly one of the most creative groups within the Conference in recent decades. Until his health began to decline, Christopher attended our twice-yearly workshops at Purley Chase, and poured his energy into the project. In particular, he became our link with the graphic artist Roland Smith, and from that creative partnership emerged a set of 25 stunning illustrations.
Which brings me back to Christopher’s first proper pastorate after that initial year at Besses o’ th’ Barn – his ministry in Mauritius from 1953 to 1960. More than 50 years on since he and his family left for Brisbane, Christopher’s name is remembered and honoured among the Mauritian New Church family. I know that because as a result of Christopher’s cajoling I served 3 pastoral terms each of 3½ months there in recent years. Those who remember him speak of his energy and vitality, his knowledge and love of the Scriptures and the Heavenly Doctrines, his weekly classes for young people and for adult members, his capacity to invigorate and inspire. In the last few days I have had conversations with 3 Mauritian ladies who were teenagers during Christopher’s time there, and they all testify to what I have just said. His love for the Mauritian Church never faded, and it was Christopher to whom they turned in his retirement to go out for a few weeks following a rather difficult period. I am grateful to Christopher for having encouraged me to respond to their invitations to serve them, and for his support before and during my visits. All of us who have ministered there have developed a love for the people, as did Christopher. And by the way, his name lives on (or did in 2011) in a diorama he created for the Natural History Museum in Port Louis all those years ago.
Christopher: an ideas man, an innovator, creative, visionary. Restless, impatient sometimes, critical of sloppy practice and thinking. A dear and much-loved friend.”