Most Australians will be forgiven for assuming that their 30th Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, is spending his 2019 Christmas morning at the local Sydney South, Horizon Church. If he does, he'll be listening to the charismatic, ever-smiling Pentecostal pastor, Brad Bonhomme. The Prime Minister is as open about his faith as he wants to be and has been a member of Horizon church since 2007. Naturally, a lot of us want to know more about his pastor. This year, I'm privileged to get an exclusive interview with Brad before Christmas rolls around.
Wrapped around the Bonhomme's belief that Christmas is about the birth of Christ, their traditions reflect the values that come with the nativity message: generosity, and a graceful inclusion of everyone. Somewhere in between that, there's also a festivity of food.
Each year Brad and Ali's children are given the opportunity to select gifts to give to community people in need. "They take it really seriously, and we always end up buying more than we planned!" Over the years, the Bonhomme's have evidenced the power of generosity first hand. Brad recalls that one year, whilst living in Adelaide, his wife Ali and daughter Tori encountered an older lady tucked away in a street corner near the Adelaide markets. "Ali and Tori purchased a whole lot of fresh foods, fruit and Christmas treats for her. Tori, who would've only been about seven years old at the time delivered it to her, and the lady welled up with tears and was overwhelmed with gratitude. It's one of the most memorable Christmas gifts we've given and a great life lesson for our daughter about the power of giving." Besides gift-giving, the Bonhomme's Christmas food menu reflects childhood traditions and new ones created with his own family.
Brad's childhood Christmas celebrations have the shavings of an Australian roast menu with a Southern African twist. "When I was a kid, Christmas was all about the FOOD. Other families may have done turkey and baked veggies, but being from South Africa, my family did curries, lots of meat and Koeksisters (you're missing out if you don't know what they are!)." These days, the family added to that menu summer mangoes. It's a Bonhomme penchant. While the atmosphere of gift-giving and food is part of the Christmas joy, it's the core of the nativity message that keeps the family's faith grounded.
The nativity message started with an announcement to a young Mary and continued with an announcement after the birth. The first one happened when an angel appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus, telling her that she would have a son who was destined to become the saviour of the world. The second announcement occurred after the birth to shepherds. For Brad, this is his favourite part of the story. "I find it encouraging that shepherds were among the first to hear the good news about the birth of Jesus. Shepherding was a humble profession in the ancient world, so this was a lowly, unglamorous group of people. It reminds me that the gospel is for everyone, no matter how important or unimportant a person may feel." A simple birth was announced to simple people in the most extraordinary way. While many people believe the nativity message, to others, it's just another story. For the latter, he invites them into a conversation about the integrity of the gospel message.
"The Bible is not just a book of great stories or manual for how to live a good life - it's an amazing historical text written by men and women who lived through extraordinary times and left a record for us! When you take the time to read the nativity story in the Bible, you will see that prophets had foretold every detail to the Jewish people centuries earlier. God is very kind. He gave people countless signs to show that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for. He still does this today, if we slow down to read, to question, it becomes evident that the familiar Christmas story is anything but simple!" The message speaks to the nature of what Christians believe God to be. Kindness.
He believes that the kindness of God is always reaching out to us. "No matter who you are, what you have done, or what you believe, the love of God is there for you. Christianity is not about rules, it's simply starting a conversation with God and allowing Him to love you as you were designed to be loved."
Christmas this year for the Bonhomme's is bittersweet, with the sudden loss of Brad's mum. Even then, the relatable pastor shares his story of loss with the hope that it comforts someone else. "This has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and this Christmas will be our first one since losing her. Loss, grief and challenging circumstances can seem all-consuming, so my encouragement is to reach out for help. If you feel alone, reach out to a local church for support. Many churches like ours have small connection groups, where people can get together to share not just good things but the challenges of life. Isolation only increases our pain. Community can give us the strength we need to get through the pain. Even if you don't feel like celebrating, put yourself out there - who knows maybe you could experience a miracle this Christmas?"
This year, if the Prime Minister is in his local church, he'll hear his pastor's 2019 Christmas message based on a famous hymn penned by Charles Wesley, Hark The Herald Angels Sing. With timeless gospel truths embedded in many Christmas carols, he is taking his church on a journey of exploration.
With the New Year in mind, Pastor Brad already has a theme for 2020. "Recently I read a quote which said, "Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, 'What's in it for me?'" My hope is that we would all continue to grow and recognise that true joy is found in the love and service of those in need."
Want to Spend Christmas with the Bonhomme Family? See below for details:
The community is welcome at our church services every Sunday, but especially at
- Christmas Day: Service starts at 9:30am for one hour on 25th December, and everyone is welcome to come and join in singing and listening to the Christmas message.
- Podcast: https://shirelive.podbean.com/