It was July 1969, 50 years ago, that as an 18-year-old I went to see the chaplain at HMAS CERBERUS, the recruit training establishment for the Royal Australian Navy. This followed weeks of conversation about the Christian faith with Tony, another sailor who I shared a cabin with. I was confused. I mocked Tony’s idea that Jesus Christ had died for me and that I needed to trust him. I found it offensive that God could somehow find my life unacceptable and that I needed to do more than live a good life
I remember one day Tony saying, ‘Hey Eric, how much do you think you are right that Christianity is rubbish’. I replied ‘95%’. He said, ‘well when you think what’s at stake – your eternal future – don’t you think it’s worth keeping on looking for the truth for that 5% doubt’.
It was at that time that, despite my strong convictions that the Christian message was weird and simply wrong, I began to become convicted against my will.
After weeks of struggle I finally went to see Navy Chaplain John Jones to see what he would say. I was very fearful of going home on leave to tell my father – also Eric Burton – that I had ‘got religion’. He despised ‘weak people who needed faith’ and part of the struggle was the thought of becoming someone who was different.
And so in July 1969, after being shown by Chaplain Jones the scripture in Revelation 3:20 about Jesus standing at the door of my heart and seeking entry, I gave in and asked God to forgive my sins and be my Master.
My father was not happy with my conversion, and in my mind it just confirmed all that he thought of me. However, the following year I was in tears on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE as I read a letter from him. He used to drop Mum off at the Campbell Gospel Chapel in Canberra for Sunday worship, following her conversion shortly after mine. He’d wait in the car park for church to finish and then take her home. One day he decided to go into church and heard a powerful message. Mum said when he got back to his home in Farrer ‘he paced around the house for about a hour’ and then committed his life to Christ. Part of his letter to me at sea said, ‘rejoice with me son for I am born again’.
I cried on that flight deck because – despite my prayers for Dad – I didn’t believe God had the power to change my Dad’s hard heart.
I left the Navy in 1973, trained at St Mark’s and after ordination served as a priest in the diocese for 11 years from 1977–88. I re-joined the Navy that year to replace the now retiring Archdeacon John Jones and my first posting was HMAS CERBERUS where I became a believer. I retired as Archdeacon to the Navy in 2017 and currently serve as honorary chaplain to the Australian Parliament House Christian Fellowship.
I want to thank the Lord for all his mercies, giving me a hope and a future, and acknowledge that wonderful day in July 1969; an amazing year for a moon landing and God at work!’
by Venerable Emeritus Eric Burton