CHRISTIANS are familiar with St Paul’s Letters – to people like the Romans, the Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians – a huge part of the New Testament, but what about the Letter to Terry?
We can read through the Letters of St Paul as many times as we like but we won’t find the one to “Terry”.
Even so, there’s a Terry in Mount Isa who’s discovered it and taken it to heart.
Terry Lees, a columnist with The Catholic Leader, has experienced such a dramatic turnaround in his own faith that he adopted the saint struck off a horse and converted on the road to Damascus as his mentor.
The difference with Terry is that he was born and raised a Catholic and there was nothing dramatic about his drift away from practising his faith.
His turning away was not so much a conscious decision but more a case of him being so busy in his late 30s as a successful business man – mainly in television and radio – and a devoted family man raising four children with his wife Pattie.
He was an active player in the Mount Isa community as well, earning a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service through the Mount Isa Rotary Rodeo and to mental health.
“I was heavily involved in Rotary, and I became the chairman of the Mount Isa Rotary Rodeo and I did that for 12 years,” he said.
“I helped build that from basically what was just a local rodeo to become the biggest in Australasia and one of the biggest in the world, and established a purpose-built rodeo grounds here in Mount Isa.
“I was very driven in so many ways …
“I still can’t for the life of me think of a reason why I stopped becoming active within my Church.
“I guess I was very strongly motivated and driven. It was probably that aspect of feeling pretty self-sufficient and everything like that.
“I don’t think I thought about it to any great extent; I probably just stopped going to church …”
His road back came with a life-changing incident in 2004.
“I just refer to having a loved one who came close to dying, rushed off to hospital, and I found myself, for the first time in years, bombarding Heaven with prayers and making promises and that If my loved one came through it, then I’d turn my life around,” Terry said.
“Then happily it did happen. Prayers were answered and our loved one was restored to us in time for Christmas…
“I started then to make tentative steps, I guess, through 2005 back towards doing things, talking to a priest, making inquiries about doing a retreat and things like that.”
He still hadn’t gone back to church but his usual early-morning routine of preparing for his day with reflection and journalling became a more spiritual time.
“I started to journal at a spiritual level and to rediscover faith within me without necessarily going back to church … and then that same year, though … towards the end of that year, the same thing happened again,” he said.
“We had another incident involving our loved one, who once again finished up in hospital and close to death, and again I bombarded Heaven, and again, God heard my prayers and our loved one was back for Christmas in 2005.
“And that was it for me; that was the turning point.
“I went back to church, to Mass, and started to get into it in a big, big way – turning to God, I guess, in a very real way.
“I always say the Good Shepherd came looking for me and found me … and brought me back and restored me to God as Father, and from there my journalling every morning became very much spiritual journalling, and I still do it today – have my morning quiet times where I read Scripture and reflection books that I like and work with, and then ultimately journal around whatever comes to me during the course of that morning.
“And the writing started to really come into play from the spiritual perspective.
“I’d always had the gift of communication, hence my media background, I guess.
“Things just started to turn, and I volunteered with Fr Mick (Lowcock) … We were getting a Murri Men’s Group started at Good Shepherd Parish.
“I went there (to Mass) because I really wanted to go, and so I found a new joy and a new love for the sacraments, especially Eucharist, and just for talking to God.
“I guess that was the big thing; I really started talking to God.
“I always say that my journalling is a two-way communication between me and God, and it’s often a love letter between the two of us.”
Terry became more heavily involved in parish life and went on to serve as executive director of the parish’s North West Queensland Indigenous Catholic Services and then director of the Western Ministry for Spirituality.
Even before his work with the Western Ministry, Terry had felt called to move beyond his journalling, and to start to write for others.
“I felt the call that I needed to do something more than being the executive director (with the North West Queensland Indigenous Catholic Services),” he said.
“Over a weekend, I’d done an exercise with Paul’s epistles – with all of his writings.
“I’d found myself feeling that Paul was speaking to me through his writings so what I did I decided to spend a weekend … I sat down and I’d cut and paste from Paul’s epistles onto my laptop.
“I’d cut and paste Scripture verses from his writings which I felt were speaking directly to me, and I finished up with the Letter to Terry –– Paul’s Letter to Terry.
“It went from being a weekend thing and it went over four days because I was so absorbed with it I took Monday and Tuesday off and made it a four-day thing.
“And I finished up after four days with this Letter to Terry, and one of his writings that came out of it was to ‘Fan into a flame the gift that you have …’ “And I started to look at the ‘gift that I have’, and (it was) communication, of course.
“It’s what’s sustained me over a lot of my life, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s a God-given gift’ and I just felt the need then that I had to do something and take some step.
“So after a bit of discerning and prayer and so on, the name of Lost and Found: Ministry of the Shepherd was given to me through inspiration from the Holy Spirit and so I decided to register that as a business name.”
Nothing much happened with that for quite some time because Terry and several others in the Mount Isa parish began training in spiritual direction over four years with Sr Carmel Street, who was running the Western Ministry for Spirituality.
Then when Sr Carmel retired from the role Terry was appointed as her successor and it became a full-time ministry for him so, he said, “anything that I was going to do with Lost and Found took a backseat”.
“I felt that I was evangelising anyway by doing the work within the Western Ministry,” he said.
Now retired from the Western Ministry, Terry is working as a chaplain at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School and devoting more time to writing, evangelising, and Lost and Found: Ministry of the Good Shepherd.
Lost and Found is based around Terry’s writing and reflections and has its own website, designed by his grandson Brendan.
The website also features the Silver Linings: Spirituality in Life podcast series taken from a daily radio segment Terry presents on MOB FM in Mount Isa, and he still writes a fortnightly column, called Gold in the Dawning Sun, for The Catholic Leader.
Still inspired by St Paul, Terry finds his writing flows only when it’s based in prayer.
“When I first started writing fortnightly for (The Catholic Leader), I went back to my old self (from his business days) and I started to think, ‘Okay, I’m going to set a plan for this. I’m going to sit down and write what I’m going to do for the 26 articles I’m going to write for the year …’,” he said.
“… And I dutifully did a great goal-setting exercise for setting out 26 topics that I’d write about in that first 12 months.
“Column one went really well, went exactly to plan.
“Column two, I sat down in front of the computer all ready to go with the plan that I had set aside and I got a mental block.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy; I knew exactly what I was going to be doing …’
“But I just got a mental block, so I had to walk away from it and I had to sit and pray.
“And I said, ‘What’s happening here?’
“Ultimately an idea came and I went back to the laptop and I started to develop with the idea that I felt was suddenly strong inside me and I started to write what was there, … and it wasn’t anything to do with what I’d planned.
“The same thing happened again with the third one so I got my plan and I ripped it up, and I said, ‘Okay, you’re just having a laugh at me now, so that’s the end of my plan. What do you want me to do?’ Even now, that’s how I write.
“I pray every time before I write, and I write whatever is strongest in me at the time, very much guided by the Holy Spirit.”