Friday, 26 March 2010

Encounter, Call and Struggle

The week began with a retreat. The clergy from Dunedin city gathered with me at the Holy Cross retreat centre in Mosgiel from Monday until Wednesday. It was a way of helping all of us reconfigure our relationship, and also for me to emphasise the place of spirituality in our future life together. All the people present had at some stage encountered God; they wouldn't be there otherwise. All of them had felt and struggled with a sense of call and it is those elements - encounter, call and struggle - which meld to form the basis of all effective ministry. I hoped Dunedin's clergy would re find and deepen those elements in their lives; that they would forget about programs and objectives and tasks and recognise that they themselves in all their vulnerability were the Diocese's great asset; that what people most wanted from them was their own sense of God. I think all of my objectives for the retreat were met and something else happened besides: at the end of the three days I think we had all grown in our liking for and trust of one another, So I came home on Wednesday evening pleased but unrested, feeling still daunted by the task ahead. I knew that in the coming week I had five separate sermons or addresses to deliver and no space left in my schedule to prepare them.

On Thursday morning I had supervision. Paul, my supervisor lives at Portobello at the far end of the harbour. There is a twisting half hour drive along the waterfront to his place, so there is a sense of journey before we even begin. The lovely house he shares with his wife Valerie is old, unpredictable and filled with intriguing pieces of this, that and the other thing. There is a conservatory with a grapevine growing inside and a large espresso machine installed on the table. We made coffee and began the winding trek through the house and up the stairs to Paul's consulting room. On the way we passed Valerie, emailing her grandson. He is five and apprehensive about swimming at school because he has to wear dorky goggles. Valerie was sending him a picture of herself wearing a wide happy hey don't I look great smile and the dorkiest swimming goggles you could ever find. It was a beautiful picture and certainly made me want to rush out and don a pair of unflattering specs, and somehow it set the tone for what followed. I had in my mind a litany of the endless tasks ahead and the exhaustion that ensued from just thinking about them. But Paul wasn't playing that game. He is trained in appreciative enquiry and began by asking me about the retreat, and what I had brought to it, and why it had worked so well. He coaxed me into admitting that what people wanted from me was not programs and objectives and tasks but my own sense of God. That what I had to re find and live with was my sense of encounter, call and struggle and that when I found that, the rest of the stuff would all just fall into place in its own sweet time.

In the last few minutes he also introduced me to the poet David Whyte.

I went home with a sense of reassurance and calm, stopped worrying about what lay ahead, downloaded a David Whyte audiobook onto my iPhone and drove to Cromwell, where I was due to speak at a Theological Nest. I had somehow constructed the idea that a theological nest was a dozen elderly people sitting in a circle in a dingy room somewhere, waiting for me to lead them in a chummy discussion. So I was a bit nonplussed to find that a Theological Nest was in fact 65 very smart, very expectant, very lively folk gathered around a delicious pot luck dinner in the Cromwell church hall, expecting that I would address them for a half hour. It was fine. I forgot the program and spoke for myself. I spoke, as requested, of where I saw God at work in the world. I think I managed to convey something of my own sense of God; I felt calm and unstressed and energised by being there. Paul would have been proud of me.

I left at 9 pm and drove home with small insects and raindrops hitting the windscreen in about equal measure. The car was comfortable and stable and fast and with my iPhone plugged into the stereo, I travelled through the sweet darkness listening to David Whyte. He used his own and others' poetry to speak of midlife, and of the need to get in touch with our sense of encounter, call and struggle.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing,
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and
the sweet confinement of your
aloneness to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

- David Whyte

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Home Again

Here we are home again, and Hawaii is fading away into the background as I come to terms with exactly how much needs to be done in the Diocese and how little time there is to do it. Hawaii is a strange place, sitting between two worlds like nowhere else I've ever seen. It is very American, with freeways and Hershey bars and Macy's and light switches that work upside down and those odd, shallow, flat toilet pans which give you more information than you ever needed or wanted to know. It is also very Pacific with reefs and coconut palms and earth ovens and pois and a language whose relationship to Maori is obvious and intriguing. Of course we only saw a bit of it: Oahu, at one end of which sits the city of Honolulu. Honolulu is like Disneyland without the rides: a city built on vacations and therefore on escape and fantasy. At the other end of Oahu is a series of small towns with plain architecture and tiny, tired shopping centres and steep, stark, buttressed mountains and gorgeous, golden sand beaches. People move slowly in Hawaii: cars half heartedly aspire to the speed limit and people on the sidewalks saunter about their business, which seems to consist largely of shopping and eating and sipping and wearing loud shirts. There are churches everywhere and there are military vehicles everywhere. Bright little birds dot the sky as do fighter jets. It is all paradox. Which is why, despite myself, I find myself drawn to this tiny Pacific state and wanting, one day, to return There is, after all, a great power in paradox for change and renewal. Perhaps this, as much s the weather and the beaches is what makes Hawaii such a magnet for those seeking re-creation.

Arriving home I find myself faced with the problems which I always knew were present, but which I now KNOW are present. The inspiring service of ordination is now a few weeks in the past, the guests have gone home and the holiday is over. Now there are some huge tasks ahead, and the resources to do them are...well... not huge. I can see that I could become overwhelmed by the enormity of what needs to be done and wear myself to a frazzle trying to get stuff to happen.I don't think that would help anyone. There is paradox here also, between what we are called to as a diocese and where we are now. Of course, while we can, on some intellectual level, see its power, paradox is uncomfortable and there is a voice deep inside somewhere telling us to avoid it; to decide and act and for goodness sake just do something.

It would not be helpful to obey that voice. Ssomething else is required: to sit with the paradoxes and live with them for a while. Just as the power of a story derives from the tensions between irreconcileable opposites, so there is a power which comes from these seemingly intractable dilemmas. Perhaps in this place of tension and opposition Jesus is present as he was in the raging storms on Galilee so long ago. If we are floundering about trying to batten down hatches and strain at oars and prepare for the next storm which we just know will be happening along at any moment now, we will miss him quietly and calmly sleeping in our midst and perhaps miss the new thing he is trying to lead us into.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Back/Words again

Catherine's play was judged to be Pick of the Fringe, so it begins a week's run at Downstage Theatre tomorrow night.

It really is a compelling piece of theatre, and if you are at a loose end in Wellington (or environs....say Taupo to Kaikoura) during the next week you won't regret going

Monday, 15 March 2010


Yesterday I acquired a daughter in law. This was a wedding that had been in preparation for a very long time by people who are details people. Basically, it was perfect.The venue was a large stretch of lawn in a secluded bay. The Weather was sunny, if mildly breezy. The picture postcard Hawaiian sunset appeared on cue, and there was even a tiny shower to provide a rainbow. Of course, table settings, menu, clothes and all that stuff were stunning. I'm sorry I can't tell you what Charmayne wore except that it was white and she looked like everyones idea of what the perfect bride should look like and my daughters went into raptures over her Jimmy Choo shoes. Nick wore a cravat which he managed to tie with help from Youtube. It was a rich, full, wonderful day and there were some highlights:
  • My first ever ride in a stretch limo; memorable not so much for the interior decor (chrome and spangles galore and a bar along one entire side) as for the skill of the driver in executing a u-turn on a busy two lane road
  • Watching the photographers at work. These guys were a step up from anything I have ever seen in New Zealand, and seeing them photograph the rings before the event was worth about a term in Photography 101.
  • Meeting Nick's and Charm's friends. If it's true that you can tell a lot about a person from the company they keep, then we and the Woos have very good cause to relax about our children.
  • Seeing my son make his vows. He was only two feet from me, but I could scarcely hear him. He was calm and smiling and focussed. He looked into Charmayne's eyes and with utter confidence and purpose whispered only to her.
It is a great blessing for me that I have now presided at the weddings of two of my children and both events were wonderful. Nick's and Charm's wedding was quite different from Brid's and Scotts, but there is one way in which they were very similar: I knew yesterday, as deeply as I know anything that these two people loved each other and that both had chosen well. So, today the marquee is packed away and the guests are in transit for London and Sydney and Auckland and Dunedin, and the real work of building a marriage begins: work that will empower and strengthen both as they become the people God intends them to be.

Sunday, 14 March 2010


This morning my family had a large and leisurely breakfast sitting on the lanai of our apartment. The sea lapped at the wall within spitting distance, the waves broke on the reef about 100 metres away and beyond them the spouts of a large pod of whales shot periodically up into the morning sunshine. We ate eggs and bacon, or at least some of us did, and fruit and porridge and muffins and coffee, just the six of us and Clemency's two sisters. Later in the day our family increases: the boundaries break to enlarge and enfold themselves again around the beautiful young woman who has chosen to spend the rest of her life with my son Nick. This is one more of those life changing events which have happened in our family on about a monthly basis for the last couple of years.

We arrived here last Monday. We picked up a big black vehicle of the type the Americans call a minivan, although there is nothing vanlike or mini about it, and drove out of Honolulu to Hau'ulu, about 40 minutes north on the windward coast. Here we have a three bedroom apartment above an artist's studio, everything fresh and neat and comfortable and spacious. Over the course of the last week I and my son in law Scott have taken turns to drive the big black Dodge completely around the island of Oahu and more times than I can remember into Honolulu. We have been to the memorial at Pearl Harbour and to a good number of palm fringed beaches. We have been to a luau where Nick performed a hula solo in front of about 500 people. Some of us have snorkelled amongst the turtles in the open ocean. We went to one of the restaurants owned by Robert De Niro, Nobu in Waikiki, where I ate what is very possibly the best meal of my life. And yesterday all this activity found a focus when we stood on a lawn beside a beach and rehearsed the ceremony which will occur in just a few hours time.

This wedding has been a long time in the making: Nick and Charmayne have planned every detail meticulously. The clothing and food and music are all prepared. The form of service was long ago thought about and selected and committed to paper; but yesterday when the words were said aloud for the first time was a hearty stopping moment.

After the rehearsal we retired to a lovely restaurant set right on the beach for an institution as American as the minivan: a rehearsal dinner. We had another great meal, before Nick, Charmayne and the two fathers spoke. It was simple and sincere. Nick and Charms gave carefully selected gifts to the two people, both friends of many years standing, who will support them by acting as attendants. Then we retired home to sleep and prepare. Today the sky is cloudless and the wind has faded to nothingness. Catherine is singing scales to prepare for the song she will sing, and soon I will go over, one more time, the intricacies of a Hawaiian wedding license. We move about, ironing, blogging, cleaning, talking. We can mask the tide of emotion by laughter and jokes and activity, at least to some extent, but there is no escaping the seriousness of what we will all commit ourselves to today, or the joy with which we will do it.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

First Week

The week since last Saturday has been bizarrely busy, so it was a relief to fly off on Thursday to New Plymouth for a meeting of the house of bishops. Not that the trip was a rest cure. Well, not entirely:I stayed in a hotel, had breakfast in a restaurant and walked along the waterfront of that classy, stylish little city in the cold clear early morning sunshine. I didn't have a camera with me, but took the shots above on my iPhone. Most of the time, though, was spent talking to the other bishops about... well... bishop stuff. I was the new kid on the block so I tried to shut up and listen, honestly I did, but there were a few occasions when the temptation to wade in got the better of me. The discussions were thoughtful, and often quite frank, but, overall, it was a very friendly and supportive group. For me, it was a relief to be with people who could understand that shift in self perception that took place last Saturday, and which I have been struggling to describe to myself ever since.

On Friday afternoon I really did shut up and listen. We were visted by the Archbishop of York, John Semantu. I shut up because around him I felt my newness and lack of experience. Mostly though, I shut up because didn't want to miss a word he was saying. He was asked a series of questions and he addressed them: surprisingly, innovatively, originally,thoroughly. He spoke from his pastoral experience in Stepney, Birmingham and York and he spoke from a deep and well informed faith. And it was the faith bit which shone through as much as the deep and well informed bit. Here was a man who lived in the presence the Holy Spirit and whose life and ministry was informed by that relationship. Just to see that he could do that was perhaps the most encouraging and inspiring thing that has happened to me in a very encouraging and inspiring week.

On Friday night I attended a concert in St. Mary's New Plymouth on the night before it made the jump to hyperspace and became a cathedral. The items were all performed by young Taranaki people who had been assisted by Dame Malvina Major Foundation, and ended with three songs from the great diva herself. Dame Malvina was in superb voice and performed, as you might expect, with the highest level of polish, style and grace; but a choir called The Tenners from the Sacred Heart Girl's College stole the show. Yes really.

The realities of Air new Zealand scheduling meant that I couldn't stay to see the establishment of the cathedral (for my next trick, I take this perfectly ordinary parish church....) I am sorry about that, as it was an historic event, important not just for the Anglican Church in Taranaki, but for the whole region, and of seminal importance for bicultural relations across the whole country. Instead, it was off to the airport at 6:00 am for a burble across the country in one of those skinny little propellor driven planes and breakfast in Wellington, then home to spend the day wading through that in tray. So ends the first week.

Monday, 1 March 2010


Photo copyright Bram Evans 2010
Saturday began early. I was awake at 4 and up at 6 and off to the airport at 9 to pick up my daughter Catherine. A mix up (mine, naturally) over the flights meant that I had time to sit around drinking coffee before her plane from Wellington arrived, so I was able to meet a number of people who were arriving on other planes en route to the ordination later in the day: three Maori two Pakeha and one Polynesian bishops; one bishop-elect; a General Secretary and a mission board CEO; and a couple of very dear friends of many years standing. I managed a couple of deep and meaningful conversations amongst the hongis and handshakes and then was able to offer a taxi service back into Dunedin. After a detour to meet a contingent from Te Hahi Mihinare gathering in St. Marks Green island, I got home at about 11:00 am, just in time to change for the big event. For the first time I put on a purple shirt and the new suit which the helpful guy from Bob Shepherd Menswear had only last week helped me choose. I gathered up my crisp and crinkly new rochet, and drove on my own to the cathedral just after mid day. Already there were clergy in the crypt changing into albs and red stoles. I struggled with the unaccustomed buttons on the sleeves of the rochet, chatted to the folk around me, then went outside into the cathedral car park to wait.

People gathered. The sun shone down in that bright, but not hot Dunedin way. My family arrived and looked uncertainly at the gathering crowd in white and red before we formed up behind the banners and the crosses, and moved out, down Stuart Street, past the tourists with their digi-cams and up the vast flight of steps from The Octagon into St. Paul's. The procession in front of us seemed endless as we moved slowly up the steps. Then waiting at the door, for the first time I was daunted by it all. The nave was filled with standing people; I could see an ocean of backs and down the long central aisle, ranged behind the great altar, the assembled bishops of our province in a semi circle facing me. Then the spine tingling cry of a karanga: a sound that always brings tear to my eyes and we moved in, the vestry of St. Johns and my most beloved and me, slowly through all those people. Some of them had travelled from thousands of miles away and all of them were there for me. More than even my wedding day, or my ordinations to the diaconate or the priesthood, I was overwhelmed and daunted by the sense of being the centre of attention.

The service proceeded as slickly as the cathedral staff had planned. A mihi whakatau and a confession and prayers. I was presented to the archbishops and then the scripture was read. As is usual in St. Paul's, there was a Gospel procession, and as I turned to face the Gospel as it was carried down the aisle, for the first time I was able to see the faces of the congregation, and here was the first great spiritual experience of the day. Row after row after row of familiar faces were turned towards me. Row after row after row of people I knew and trusted and respected and loved. In an instant all sense of being daunted by the crowd dropped away, and it was replaced by a deep sense of joy at being amongst them.

Alan Firth preached. Alan is an extraordinary young man, and I had chosen him as preacher for two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly because I could absolutely guarantee that he would deliver a memorable, intelligent, well crafted, theologically sound sermon. He did. Secondly because Alan's mere presence in the pulpit is, as his many friends at St. John's Roslyn will tell you, living testimony to the fact that the Risen Christ is amongst us.

Then there was the ritual examination by the archbishops: a series of liturgical questions which even in their ordered formality seemed like a searchlight shining into me and through me. And then the second great spiritual event of the day. As the bishops gathered and as a hymn evoking the Holy Spirit was sung, I lay prostrate on the floor. I'm still not sure why I initially chose to do that, but as soon as I was in contact with the cold marble, I knew. I was aware of the singing and the sound of my soon to be episcopal brethren and sister; but all the cathedral seemed to vanish and I was alone with Him. Utterly, utterly alone. And searched. And judged. And known. And utterly, utterly accepted and loved. I knelt and hands were laid on me. I was presented with the badges and vestments of office. I was placed in the chair which is now, for the time being, mine. Speeches were made, and I spoke to my people. And then a third great experience. They stood and applauded and the goodwill and hope rose like golden fragrant incense and kept on rising.

Together we broke the bread and shared the wine. A huge hamper of gifts was placed on the altar: small and thoughtful love offerings from the parishes of our diocese. Then I said my first blessing on all those hopeful ones, and walked back down the long aisle and into the Octagon.

Of course we wouldn't be Anglicans if we didn't finish by celebrating the eighth sacrament: the cup of tea afterwards, and after more conversations than I could count and a final rush around the cathedral to gather up the bits and pieces of the day and bundle them into my car, I arrived home very late in the afternoon. My family had a meal of trout and salads. We sat around and opened the many gifts, exclaiming over their ingenuity and thoughtfulness. And in the middle of yet more D&M conversations I began to fall asleep, for longer and longer periods and in more and more noticeable ways.

On Sunday morning I travelled to the tiny Brockville Community Church for my first official engagement as Bishop of Dunedin. I know I shouldn't any longer be surprised by the workings of the Holy Spirit but I am. The Spirit had conspired to give me the most perfect beginning for this new ministry, as my sermon there might show you. And so it ended. My first 24 hours as bishop. One down, and many, many more to go. Thank you.