Two-thirds of Fr Ed Byford’s near 70-year-life has been devoted to the church, including Chicago, Manchester and, mostly, NSW.
Having started his theology studies at age 22-years, Fr Ed has served as priest for 44 years, the last three of which have been at the parishes of Mulwala, Berrigan and Oaklands.
The three parishes combined in 2010. “There are no actual connections between them, they’re not the same. The Wangarattas and Sheppartons are growing,” Fr Ed told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
“Little villages are being absorbed. If we are going to have a priest we’ve got to join to actually raise the money to do that.
“The modern church - the same for every church - is lay people on the ground are increasingly taking the responsibility for their own spirituality and welfare. They didn’t have to do that when there were more clergy around. This means we have a far more articulate bunch of lay people in church about their own faith and a deep desire to learn more.”
Fr Byford described his career as “satisfying and enthralling”. “If I had my time over again I’d still be a priest. I can’t imagine anything else,” he repeated last week, which is what he said to a great mate some 15 years ago.
“Being a priest has been both joyful and frustrating. Joyful because you’re dealing with people, a whole lot of people, about joyous occasions. You have great abilities to influence people and open the eyes of people to what’s going on around them, interpreting the world in the light of the great church’s Christianity, theology, biblical and spiritual insights, but also interpreting those great insights as to what’s happening in the world around us.
“The frustrating part is to do with the church itself. Because it’s so big, it can adapt so slowly because it’s got to carry everyone. In a church like the Anglican - and this would be true of the Catholic Church - it can’t suddenly change.”
A much travelled priest, before he arrived at Mulwala, Fr Ed spent five years at Deniliquin, five at Coolamon, 10 at Broken Hill, five at Binda, three as chaplain at Australian National University, four at All Saints Ainslie, two at Wagga, four at Woden Valley Hospital Canberra, three in England at Manchester Doctorate via a Lucas Tooth Scholarship for young ordained clergy in Church of England, one year in Chicago and at Queanbeyan.
Born in Sydney and growing up in Cooma, he experienced “the heyday of the Snowy Mountain Electric Authority” in the 1960s with the town soaring population-wise with substantially more employment from 2,000 people to 10,000.
“Pupils at school spoke 30 different languages. More than half were born overseas,” Fr Ed said, who went on to successfully complete an Honours Degree in Physics and Pure Mathematics at the Australian National University in 1965.
“Australia was drifting towards the war in Vietnam. I would have gone if conscripted but I found myself asking myself political and moral questions.”
At university, Fr Ed made friends who were going to church. He joined in and became involved in teaching Sunday School. The Bishop and clergy were always on the look-out for bright young people to become further involved in the church and the young Ed Byford believed he received a different calling, rather than being a scientist.
With all his studying which resulted in three additional Degrees, his priest duties, an earlier serious pedestrian accident in Toorak, Melbourne, Fr Ed’s varied sporting interests were as a keen supporter of Manchester United (soccer), St George (rugby), Essendon (Aussie Rules), Chicago Bears (American Football), Chicago Cubs ( baseball) and cricket (England in Tests, Qld in shield cricket).
Fr Ed and wife Lynelle will retire to Harrietville but the priest has already been sounded out by the Bishop of Wangaratta - a former pupil of Fr Ed’s - to undertake certain duties at Wangaratta.
Long serving priest’s warden at St Andrew’s By The Lake Church, Glenda Brooker, spoke well of the retiring 69-year-old priest whose effective date of retirement will be in November upon expiration of leave entitlements.
“Fr Ed was highly respected by parishioners, was popular and delivered very good services. He will be missed, and we wish him and Lynelle all the best.”
No replacement priest has been appointed to St Andrew’s at this stage. In the interim, services will be conducted by a locum.