We drove south on Saturday to take part in the 125th anniversary of St. Saviour's Mataura. It's an easy drive down through Otago, across the Clutha at Balclutha, and then, at Clinton, taking the shortcut which wends through prosperous, green, well nurtured Southland farmland. After 40 km or so of gently rolling hills, relaxed bends, fat sheep and tight, evenly spaced hay bales there is a patch of broken roadway and the start of a collection of ragged houses. Mataura. It sits on a the banks of the river from which it draws its name: on one bank there is a massive freezing works, still functioning, and on the other, an even more massive paper mill, no longer functioning.
The paper mill used to function very well indeed, producing about 25,000 tons of paper a year, and employing around 250 people. Before its mothballing in 2000 it was the largest recycler of paper in the country, but rising costs, the problems of effluent disposal and, most significantly, competition from cheaper imported paper meant losses of around a million a year and inevitable closure. When the great machines ceased to turn, people moved on, shops closed down, services relocated and property prices plummeted. Now the once bustling Bridge St. is a row of tired looking shops, many of which are empty. There are some well kept houses but there are also many careworn and neglected ones. The magnet of very cheap housing has given rise to social problems of the type usually found in large cities. Nowadays we import our paper and export it again when it needs recycling. It's cheaper to do it that way, you see. But driving through Mataura, I couldn't help thinking that as a nation we haven't calculated the costs very well. Sure we pay a few cents less for a ream of photocopy paper, but the price we have paid is the loss of all that machinery and, more importantly, the people who know how to run it. For an immediate financial gain we have sold off our capacity for self reliance, flexibility and social responsibility. And we have jiggered a perfectly good little town.
And so, we arrived at St. Saviours, late in the afternoon to celebrate in the small church which has served the town in better days and worse. There was a small choir busily practising, the interior of the church was freshly renovated and just before the 5:00 pm starting time the pews filled with past and present members, there to sing evensong and gather round the celebratory dinner afterwards. I felt strangely at home. My first parish was Waihao Downs in South Canterbury and we lived at Morven, a town which had once been a major railway terminus for the loading of grain, but which was, when we arrived, a row of derelict shops, a couple of churches, and a rough scattering of very cheap houses. Our time there was full and rich, and so was this brief stop at Mataura. The service was warm and flowed well. The dinner was great. The company more so. The people who remain have deep roots into this community and a resilience which comes from adherence to values far deeper than globalisation.
There is a strength here which is the real hope of our diocese. And, when in a shorter time than many of us imagine, the global economy is seen to be merely a by product of the temporary phase in world economic history defined by an abundance of cheap oil, it will be the real hope of our nation.