Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Nearly There

Last Sunday the crozier, ring and pectoral cross I am going to use were blessed and laid on the altar of our Cathedral, waiting for Saturday. And I too, have been trying to lay myself on the altar: a living sacrifice

The last few days have been a time of reflection. Rather than go off on retreat, I decided to stay at home in order that Clemency could have some part in my preparation, so I had a sort of a retreat in situ. Apart from yesterday when the phone and doorbell didn't stop ringing, it's worked out pretty well. I managed to fit some lengthy meditations in around the daily offices and every day I went to the beach and did a walking meditation. I also read large chunks of two very good books: Anthony De Mello's Walking on Water and Stephen Cottrell's Hit The Ground Kneeling. The latter is a very wise take on leadership and maybe should be required reading for ordinands. But it is the late Father De Mello who has spoken to me most profoundly. Walking On Water is another of those posthumously published collections of De Mello's retreat addresses. Each piece has the unpolished style of an informal address transcribed from a tape recording, which gives them a certain charm and a great deal of directness. Together they make a single, persuasive, surprising case for the inner life. He has a wonderful ability to produce a metaphors or stories which make complex theological concepts accessible; for example in talking of the intricate question of transcendence and immanence he says, " In the East we say 'God created the world. God dances in the world.' Can you think of dance without seeing the dancer? Are they a single thing? No. They're two, and God is in the creation like the voice of a singer in a song."

So, in the times when I am not working at silence, I have allowed his words to rattle around in my head and lead me a little closer to the truth.

A couple of weeks ago, the Oamaru sculptor Hugh Prebble gave me the pastoral staff he had carved out of a long piece of kauri. It is an extraordinary object, quite unlike any other crozier I have ever seen. It is complex and intricate and, in a way, imposing. Everything carved on it is there for a purpose. From the base, there is a flow, up from a foundation in scripture, through the water of baptism, into the fire of the holy spirit and into the curve which symbolises the episcopal ministry. The centre of the staff is a three stranded cord, which speaks of the Trinity and a large Celtic Trinitarian knot is wound around the curve, and seems to be organically fused with it. All over the staff there are little surprises to find: symbols and icons which speak of the Gospel and of this part of the world. To further emphasise the unique character of our diocese, the carving draws on Maori and Celtic styles.

Today my sister Valerie arrived, with the cope and mitre she has made for me. The cope is made from light coloured silk and the hood has been constructed in rich colours by Margie- Jean Malcolm to a design by Audrey Bascand. The design is similar to that of the St. John's parish banner and is based on the first chapter of John's Gospel. Val has tailored the cope to fit me and she has done an extraordinary job.

So all the bits and pieces are gathered. The preparations are nearly complete. And I am ready.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


This is a first for this blog: an advertisement. For a play in the Wellington Fringe Festival. I'm doing this because a) my daughter helped produce it and is in it and b) the other documentary theatre piece she was involved in was so darned good I would hate you to miss out on seeing this one if you possibly can avoid it.

How awkward was your first kiss? When was the last time you experienced a death? Have you ever had to tell someone for the first time that you were gay?

They say everyone has a story to tell – and we’re telling them.

Bare Hunt Collective brings you back/words, a new piece of documentary theatre.

Five of Wellington’s freshest acting talent have gone out into the community to interview a range of Wellington individuals – everyone from an eight year old girl, to an elderly couple, to a young gay man.

Their stories have been recorded on film, and will be acted out on stage – word for word. Every movement of the person, every voice quirk, every shifty sideways glance, will be acted out. Honest words, from real people.

And if you thought it was hard enough to act out the lives and stories of real people, we’ll have their voices in our ears. Using iPods while on stage, we’ll be reminded exactly how they told the story.

back/words is a unique form of theatre, and is a performance that shouldn’t be missed. Check out the fantastic new show at BATS Theatre 17th-21st February 8pm as part of the Fringe Festival, thanks to Creative NZ.

Book at BATS on 802 4175 or email

Ticket Prices: Full: $16, Concession: $13, Fringe Addict card: $12

Cat Wright, Chris Dawson, Jackie Shaw, Scott Ransom, Victoria Abbott

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Road Ahead

I finish as Vicar of St. John's Roslyn this Thursday, so today was my last Sunday. I was awake at 4:30 am, so had no bother being on time for the 8:00 am Eucharist. I wasn't very pleased with the way my sermon went at the early service: it seemed more like something for starting the next chapter rather than finishing this one; so between the services I swapped it for something else. Just before 10 I gathered with the choir for the last time and said my vestry prayer, then, also for the last time walked down the aisle as Vicar of St. John's. Or as Vicar of anywhere as a matter of fact. It's been 11 quick watch us as we zip past so darned fast you won't see us unless you're very sharp years here in Roslyn. But it's been 28 years since I first walked down an aisle as the Vicar of somewhere else. Half my life, more or less.

Today we had two visitors, so I knew who the other 162 people were although that didn't stop me having a couple of mental blocks regarding names when they knelt at the altar rail . For the last time I looked down at those sacred spaces made by two upstretched palms. Kneeling at the rail were people whose weddings I presided at and others beside whom I have walked in bereavement and illness. There were people who have told me things they have told no-one else alive. I knelt to bless children I have baptised. There were many of all ages whom I have watched grow - physically, intellectually, spiritually - in spectacular ways. There were people I admire. 164 of them.

At the end of the service I sat with Clemency while the choir sang to us, and then we followed the parish banner from out from our church. There was morning tea, then speeches and a lunch. People spoke with great eloquence and sincerity while Clemency and I sat and looked back at a great sea of smiling, encouraging, but pensive faces. The parish gave me a spectacular and astonishingly carved kauri crozier and a simple silver episcopal ring. We were given a stunning work from our parishioner, the renowned printmaker Audrey Bascand and a graceful and strong Oamaru stone carving by Craig McLanachan. Alan Firth wrote me a poem in the style of JRR Tolkien in which he compared me to Gandalf. I told Clemency that red beads weren't a great idea today as they brought out the colour of her eyes. I was glad I wasn't wearing any.

Then, after the hugs and kisses and handshakes, we carried our gifts and our cards and a little book in which people had written kind things back into this gracious house, which has sheltered us for the last 11 years; and the tiredness swept over me and washed me away. The first step on the road ahead means leaving the road behind. The way ahead is as yet unknown but its not daunting. As time goes on, my sense of what may lie ahead keeps on growing: it all promises to be quite exciting. I have no doubt at all that I am going where I am supposed to be, but today was a time to savour the past, and gratefully and sadly acknowledge what we are having to forsake in order to take the path that winds ever on and on.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Yesterday morning I went to the 7:00 am Eucharist in St. Mary's New Plymouth. With all that old stone re-radiating the February sunshine the church felt warm . The military hatchments are still there, and I knew 8 or so of the dozen people gathered to worship in the soon to be cathedral, so, even after an absence of more than a decade, it all seemed very familiar. Appearances can be deceptive.: it wasn't actually very familiar at all. In the time I have been away the Taranaki Bishopric has undergone a change; use whatever nifty theological word you like: resurrection, redemption, revival, they all seem to fit. It's not the place it used to be and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

When I left it was the bottom bit of the Diocese of Waikato, newly cobbled together from the leftovers of two dioceses, with not many parishes, not many clergy and not much money. There was a lot of history, some great church buildings and some even greater people, but what with rural depopulation, and declining church membership and one thing and another, it was hard to see how the newly elected first Bishop of Taranaki, Phillip Richardson, was going to be able to do much. But, as I've said, appearances can be deceptive. Ten years down the track the place is humming along very nicely indeed, and two and a half weeks out from my own ordination it was encouraging - inspiring, even - to be there.

At the heart of all that is happening in Taranaki is the Bishop's Action Foundation. This is an organisation which acts as a sort of a Nanny McPhee to the voluntary sector in the region, setting things to rights and helping folks get things done in some almost magical ways. It works not by dashing in and taking over, and absolutely not by lecturing folk or telling them what will be good for them, but by making connections, drawing things and people and money together, and by gently expanding peoples ideas of what is possible. The Taranaki, like everywhere else, has all the usual problems which afflict humankind. And like everywhere else, there are lots of good people who come up with ingenious schemes to overcome those problems. And, also like everywhere else, these solutions often fail, not because they are bad ideas, but because the people who think them up are not expert in all of the skills required to turn good ideas into helpful reality. Enter, stage left, the Bishop's Action Foundation. They have ways of making you succeed: they can help with finding the right funding agencies; they can tell you the names of the people with just the skills you need to make and market your great idea and give you their cellphone number. They might even phone up and tell them you are on your way round. They can do the research which will tell you whether your cunning scheme really will work, and when it has been going for a while, do an evaluation to find out whether they were right or not. The result is a multiplication of the energies of the province's voluntary sector, and lots and lots of stuff gets done.

Now of course, much of the stuff getting done by the BAF is not specifically "religious", but there is plenty of explicitly spiritual stuff going on. In a couple of weeks St. Mary's Church will be become the Cathedral, and this signifies a development of the other stream of Gospel energy flowing through the Anglican Church in the Taranaki: worship. I think it is important, though, that developing the service part of the equation came first, because as people get helped, the diocese has the satisfaction of living in the example of Jesus, and because there is something whole and helpful and Gospel centred at it's heart, it is united and invigorated. This is what inspires me.

Much as part of me would like to have a crack at it, I don't think we in Dunedin Diocese could just copy the Bishop's Action Foundation. Rather, we need to be thinking about the general principle of finding a Gospel centred core around which to build our own life; a core which derives from our own unique environment and draws on the skills of our own mix of people. From the Taranaki, I will take the lesson of expanding my preconceptions of who, exactly, constitutes our skill base. I will take some other, more practical lessons, such as an excellent model for reorganising rural ministry. But mostly I will carry away the knowledge that small size, aging demographics, lack of money and geographic isolation are NOT what defines the Church of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who does that. And the Holy Spirit seems to....well.... blow wherever the Holy Spirit pleases.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Looking Ahead

On Thursday I had a novel experience - at least, new to me, anyway: a Diocesan Council meeting that I actually enjoyed. Partly, it was because the meeting was very well chaired by our dean, Trevor James. We got through the agenda precisely on time, made crisp and recognisable decisions, and nobody felt harried or rushed. Partly it was because there was a great deal of goodwill around the table, amd people seemed, genuinely, to want to listen to each other. Mostly, for me, though it was the fact that we looked forward, and made some significant choices about the road we might take together as a diocese. This wasn't a regular meeting of the council, but was rather, a sort of brainstorming session and the recommendations will need to be presented to a proper meeting of the council at the end of the coming week; but it was encouraging. Exciting, even, to see that there is a way ahead and to catch a glimpse of what it might be.

Thursday, 4 February 2010


One of the things I have enjoyed most about this blog has been the comments left by readers. Sometimes these comments have led onto some very stimulating -well to me, but maybe I am too easily excited - conversations. Over the past few months though, the blog comments have been increasingly swamped by spam , which are machine generated rubbish in English, Korean and Chinese advertising electronic tat, penis enlargement, pornography and get rich quick schemes. These get screened out by the moderation process, but it's tedious to have to do it, and means that comments have to wait a while before appearing, so now I am trying out word verification: you know, typing in some nonsense word to get your comment published. Let me know what you think of it.

In the meantime, would you like to buy this handy electronic gizmo for increasing the size of your dangly bits, thus allowing you to make gazillions of dollars from starring in videos for raincoat wearing audiences?