Monday, 25 June 2012

Walking Meditation

It was a day off today and I went for a walk to St. Clair and back, along an almost deserted St. Kilda Beach under a clear blue mid winter sky. In all, I walked about 15 km. This was a step (sorry) in my preparation for the Camino Santiago, which Clemency and I will return to complete in September. The preparation wasn't just about getting fit enough to walk the remaining 400 km. It was also about getting ready for a shift in my prayer life.

My daily routine is Centering Prayer, which involves parking myself in a corner for periods, keeping still and not saying much. I use a special little wooden stool to sit on and wear an old woollen cloak because sit still for long enough and you will get a bit cold. I do, anyway. The Camino poses a few problems to the way I am accustomed to do things. I want to keep my pack well under 10 kg for one thing, and a stool, let alone a large woollen cloak will upset that a bit. For another, I will be sleeping most nights in alberges which are not the most conducive places in the world for meditation. Sure there are ancient quiet churches in every village, and cork trees under which I can sit, like Ferdinand, but my days will be full. I will be up at 6:00 and walking by 6:30 most days, and using the hours when I am not walking to wash clothes, eat, and ooh and ahhh inside those ancient quiet churches and outside them in the exquisite Spanish countryside.

So I will be changing my discipline somewhat, and practicing a form of walking meditation taught me the last time I was in Spain, and isn't that a wonderful line to throw into a conversation? Today I tried it along St. Kilda beach, and it worked pretty well. I know that meditating on an empty beach on a simply magnificent still clear winter's afternoon is one thing and meditating on an ever changing pathway filled at every turn with interesting people and wonderful places  will be quite another, but I think I can do it. I know it's not a great idea to mix types of meditation, but needs must, and the sort of walking Mindfullness I tried today is not too different from Centering Prayer, and anyway,  it'll only be for a month.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On The Road

Last week was an extraordinary one. It ended brilliantly, with an invigorating, inspiring, intelligent discussion with the Archdeaconry of Southland, before a slow trip up SHW1 with a ton of English fiberglass bouncing along behind me.

Then, on Sunday, it was icing on the cake, with the slightly anarchic bonhomie of Port Chalmers in the morning and St. Matthews in the evening. I attended the 5:30 service in St. Matt's hall where some of the people not often see in Anglican churches gather for a meal, prayer and a gospel message. I was a stranger and probably a little too well dressed, so I was warily avoided until some of the folk from Friday Light recognized me, and by speaking to me let the others know I was safe. Afterwards it was into the church for the ordination of David Booth to the diaconate. The service was somewhat different than the last ordination, the 2 hours of glorious pageantry when James Harding was priested in the Cathedral a few weeks ago, but no less moving and in its own way just as grand. David is a fine man with just the sort of analytical and practical mind we will need as we reshape our world in the next couple of years. I am intrigued and excited at the calibre of people - exemplified by James and David- God is calling into orders at the moment. To me it's a sign that something big lies ahead of us.

This week doesn't seem to have slowed down much. Tonight I am parked beside St. Andrews Cromwell, the first church in our diocese to have been inspected for earthquake worthiness and the first to be given the unsettling news about its condition. The lovely little schist chapel outside my window meets only 15-20 % of the building code when it needs to meet 67%. Bringing it up to scratch will be expensive, beyond the immediate resources of the small congregation, but this well kept, much loved little church is just too precious to easily let go of. Tonight I dined with Noelene, the church warden and was moved by the ingenuity and imagination the congregation is putting into thinking through their predicament. There is no need to make quick decisions on the direction for the future, and there are some interesting possibilities.

Tomorrow early I will pray in the church then drive to Wanaka for a meeting about the proposed community house mooted for the land beside St. Columba's. Then I will meet a few parishioners in that end of the parish before returning here to pick up the caravan and trundle home. Life is nothing if not interesting.


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Return to Taranaki

It's funny how these things work out. We had planned a diocesan field trip to Taranaki back in November sometime, but had changed the date a couple of times. Then when we finally got on the plane it was three days after I had written to my diocese telling them that things were looking a bit shaky. With the prospect of unavoidable change before us, the timing couldn't have been better.

Seven of us from the Diocese of Dunedin flew up on the Thursday before Queen's Birthday weekend, returning the following Tuesday. We were hosted with astonishing and humbling generosity by people within the bishopric. The local Ford dealer supplied very comfortable cars for us, and we visited several  parishes  and met most of the leaders of the Anglican church in that part of the world. People gave of their time and energy on what was supposed to be a holiday weekend and gave unstintingly of their hard won knowledge.

The purpose for going North was to see at first hand the pattern of regionalisation which has evolved in the Bishopric of Taranaki over the past few years. As we in Dunedin have just started this process, ,chatting with Bishop Phillip Richardson and with all of the Regional Deans and examining the processes which they have evolved has been informative, saving us perhaps many years of trial and error. But the trip was far more valuable than giving us a few tips on procedures.

I was in the Diocese of Waikato when Southern Taranaki was added to it, and the dual bishopric was mooted. I well remember the struggles to find enough funding, and know just how close to the wind the fledgling bishopric sailed. When Bishop Phillip was elected about 12 years ago he found himself leading about 30 parishes with scarcely any resources to back himself up. And now, a little over a decade later, the Bishopric is thriving, one of the most recognised and widely respected institutions in the province of Taranaki. This is largely because of the work of the Bishop's Action Foundation, about which I have written before. It was good for me to reacquaint myself with the work of the foundation, and for others from my Diocese who knew little of the BAF's work to witness it and catch something of the vision.

So I arrived, the leader of about 30 parishes and the possessor of not very many resources. What we saw was not so much a set of  projects to be copied, as an example of what can happen when people think laterally and are open to whatever the Holy Spirit puts before them. We all returned encouraged and inspired by what has been achieved in a comparatively brief time, without much money, in a part of the church so very much like our own. There are some immediate applications of Taranaki methods to be made as we shape our emerging regions. We will, later in the year, make use of the BAF's research expertise to investigate the feasibility of a similar organisation in Otago and Southland. But whether or not we are able to establish such a body, the great learning we all brought home was of what happens when the Body of Christ looks outward, past its own needs to the needs of the community in which we find ourselves.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

So Why a Caravan?

Caravan blessing in the carpark of Holy Trinity Invercargill. 3 deg C. Raining. Everyone is doing well to look so cheerful. Photo courtesy Keith Gover.

It's -2 outside and foggy and I'm ensconced in the driveway of Holy Trinity Gore. I've just had breakfast and checked my email but more importantly I have earlier spent 40 min inside the church in silent prayer. And now, with the heater humming beside me and the kettle singing on the gas hob, The idea that came through intuition and feeling - getting a caravan - is making the journey into my cerebellum.

I have had a wonderful few days. I've had god ( I meant to say "good" but my computer, in this instance knows better than I do) conversations with people in five parishes. I've sat in silence in three churches. I've slept In a car park and a driveway and been astonishingly warm and comfortable. Most importantly, I've been present, and been SEEN to be present.

This is a bigger caravan than I intended. I'd originally thought of a little tiny one like a sort of monk's cell on wheels but this is a big slab sided job of the type that annoys motoring enthusiasts from one end of Britain to the other. Analysis of cost and weight differences ( negligible) argued in favor of elbow room, but there is another serendipitous advantage: namely, that when this one is parked up outside the church everyone will know it is there. Everyone will know I am there.

My aim is to pray in every church in the diocese in the next year, and to converse with key people in each of those places. I might not necessarily stay beside each church, but I will stay beside many of them. I can be present in a community at short notice and without imposing on anybody. To maintain life and limb I will need access to a tap, with a 3 pin power plug a welcome but not necessary extra. I will need acess to the church and will email, txt, phone or semaphore ahead to arrange this. I will take my trash and other detritus with me and won't need feeding although I will welcome the opportunity to sit at table with people. On weekends and school holidays Clemency will be with me, and I will visit communities close to Dunedin during term time and on weekdays. When away I will do my morning meditation in the local church and anyone is welcome to join me, but I do it early and recognise that sitting still for long periods is not everyone's preferred channel to God. At other times of the day prayer will follow other patterns.

Especially now, I have a strong sense of call to be with the people of Dunedin Diocese; to listen and pastor and pray. If this last three days in Southland is any indication, the person who is going to gain the most from this is me.

Thursday, 14 June 2012


Yesterday I bought a caravan. Bishop Alan Pyatt used to have one, a moveable home base for he and Molly as they journeyed around the Diocese of Christchurch back in the 70s, doing the work of Christendom. Now at the end of Christendom, I have had, for as long as I have been bishop, the sneaking suspicion that I should have one too. I wanted to be able to be anywhere in my very rural Diocese to stay, and to talk, but mostly to listen. So yesterday was the day.

I have never had much to do with caravans; well apart from a heavy old trailer thing we used to own, with a floor that dropped down and suspension made from, and I am not making this up, used inner tubes. It was made of plywood and angle iron and weighed more than the Queen Mary, and yes that is an exaggeration but only a little one. So not knowing much, I googled and looked around. New Zealand caravans are old fashioned, heavy and expensive. Australian ones are funky, heavy and very expensive. Imported English ones are light, well designed and comparatively cheap, so English it was. I found a little business in Palmerston run by a wonderful English woman named Amanda and her Kiwi husband Geoff. Amanda's dad apparently spends his time scooting round the English countryside looking at caravans. When he finds a really good one he buys it, puts a few stamps on the side and posts it off to Palmerston. There are a lot of dodgy English caravans around - stolen, rebuilt insurance write offs, leaky, shabby, all that kind of thing but you won't find any of them in Amanda's showroom. Her stock is- all of it - immaculately presented, in great nick, legitimate, and very competitively priced. And she has a great customer service ethic and a fastidious attention to detail and knows A LOT about caravans. So I bought one, and yesterday towed it home.

It's bigger than I had originally intended, but it's very comfortable, is insulated and heated, has ablutions and cooking facilities and my middle sized car tows it easily. What with its great slab sides and the howling Southerly as I headed home over the Kilmog, I learned quite a bit about towing in a very short time.

I'm sitting in it now to write this and soon will sleep in it for the first of many times. I left home very early and was for once very glad that the forecast snow din't arrive as I navigated very familiar roads for what seemed like the first time. An hour ago I finished the third archdeaconry meeting in three days, this one as well attended as the other two. At the end of the meeting all present came outside while the Revd. Gillian Swift and a local Kaumatua blessed my Bailey Ranger 510/4L and then tramped the house ( a few at a time, obviously). And now I am alone at last. I want, over the next year, to visit every church in my Diocese, to stay beside some of them and pray in all of them. I will try to listen: to God and to the people of each district as the Spirit reveals the exciting news of what is to follow after the end of Christendom. I am really, really looking forward to it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A Continuing Journey

On Saturday it was cold (again) but that didn't stop 32 of us making the next leg of our diocesan pilgrimage. This time it was a shortish trip from Dunedin up the coast to the places where it all started for us. We went to Waikouaiti where, in 1858, Johnny Jones - whaler, entrepreneur and benefactor of just about every Christian denomination he could think of - built the oldest extant church in our diocese. St. Johns is an extraordinarily peaceful and beautiful old building, set in it's churchyard by the lagoon shaded by its elderly trees. It is one of our great treasures, as are the other places we visited on this compact Otago Coastline.

From Waikouaiti it was a ten minute backtrack to Karitane where we were welcomed onto the Puketeraki Marae, before walking up the hill to Hui te Rangiora church. The little wooden chapel is perhaps not as picturesque as St. John's but the view from the church porch is stunning. Below the church is the marae with its ingenious, modern interpretations of traditional Maori carving. Beyond is the Karitane peninsula with its history of bloodshed and shelter and redemption. It was on this coastline that the Gospel was first preached in our part of the world: not by Pakeha missionaries but by Maori ones. The first European clergy arrived here to find an already well established church.It was  here, a little later that Hoani Parata, first Maori priest in our diocese was born.

Professor John Broughton generously hosted us to lunch in the little colonial bungalow he has filled with paintings and interesting objects. Then as a piercing southerly competed for supremacy with a fiercely bright blue winter sky, some of us made the circumnavigation of the peninsula while others dozed in the company of Prof. Broughton's cheery artworks and books and fireplace.

We ended the day at St. Barnabas' Warrington. This third small wooden church of the afternoon is remarkable for a number of things. Its large wooded grounds for one thing. The grave of the first Bishop of Dunedin, Samuel Tarratt Nevill for another. But perhaps most remarkable is the stained glass. In the first world war a  window destined for an obviously large Brisbane church was refused handling by the patriotic Aussie watersiders because it was made in Germany. Unloaded in Dunedin instead, it found its way into St. Barnabas Church where it was fitted into a space several sizes too small for it. The result is breathtaking. In the dark little church the window takes up, almost entirely, the West wall. It is a simply lovely place and I'm glad some more of our people were privileged to see it.

Then we boarded the little bus for the journey home. I travelled the short distance back to the All Saints car park thinking about the righteously finicky watersiders and the happy results of their indignation; about Tamihana Te Rauparaha following his father down the coast, bring forgiveness and reconciliation in place of treachery and bloodshed; about Johnny Jones slaughtering the whales and using the proceeds to shape the communities of Otago and to bring blessing for generations after him.   It was a truly lovely day. It was all about redemption.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Ethics in the Presence of Christ

Chris Holmes is Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Otago, and I have been privileged to read his latest book, Ethics in the Presence of Christ.It is a short book (164 pages including index and footnotes) but packs quite a punch. I have found it challenging, informative and not a little stretching.

Before I proceed to tell you why it has been so C,I & nal S, let me get its one shortcoming out of the road. Chris is an academic. He has a quick mind, and thinks clearly and deeply. He is very, very well informed. These attributes, so welcome in his professional life and in conversation, do not always make for a writing style that flows easily; to read it requires attention, but  because its thesis is so profound, it is attention well worth giving.

The book begins with an introductory chapter setting out the pattern and acknowledging the major sourcesof what is to follow. The basis of the book is a powerfully and clearly stated Trinitarianism. The author argues against any form of exemplarism in ethics; that is, he decries the idea summed up in the little WWJD bracelets. Christian ethics is often some version of identifying the example set by Jesus "back then" and then of applying this example, given by the Jesus in the past, to the particular moral dilemma facing us in the present or immediate future.

A more authentically Biblical approach is to recognise the fundamental nature of the Trinity; namely that each of the three persons is always fully present whenever one of them is manifest. This means that when the Holy Spirit is active in the world, as he is continually, the Creator and the Redeemer are also  fully present. When this fundamental principle is recognised, ethics becomes a case of asking, not so much  "what would Jesus do" as "what IS Jesus doing?" Christian  Ethics thus becomes an exercise in discernment and listening rather than  an intellectual exercise in researching and applying the example of Jesus. Ethics is practiced in the presence of Christ.I found this approach  very C,I & nal S, indeed.

This fundamental principle is picked up in the main body of the book which is, in effect, a series of three Biblical exegeses, seeking to discern the presence of the Trinitarian God in three key passages from the Gospel of John.The nature of Christ's power is explored in an examination of the healing of an unnamed man in John 5:1-18, Christ's truth in John 18:1-19:42 and Christ's love in John 21. The author points out that this power, truth and love, historically displayed, is precisely the power truth and love present in the world in the and accessible to us now. To act ethically to is recognise and to co-operate with the eternally present Trinity.

The book ends with a statement on the role of scripture in conveying the presence of God; of being The Word of God.  The scripture presents to us a God who is working, continually  demonstrating God's power, truth and love. In hearing and abiding in God's word,  we build a reality for ourselves which is informed by these eternal qualities, and we are thus built in a world which is essentially ethical.

This book calls us back to the Trinitarian doctrines which lie at the heart of our faith. It outlines an approach to ethics which is at once demanding and refreshing. It is a challenging but very rewarding read, and I highly recommend it. 

Friday, 8 June 2012


Since I posted the letter below the reaction from my diocese has been calm, commited and even on occasion, enthusiastic. One of our more senior priests wrote to me, jubilant that at last someone had admitted that the emperor has no clothes. For my own part, I feel stangely energised. There is a huge task to be done and it is actually quite exciting.

Since writing, things have moved on apace, and the way ahead seems to be emerging slowly but remarkably clearly, like a photograph in a developing tray. we're a long way from flipping the picture into the fixing dish, but there are some distinct lines and lights and shadows and the picture looks pretty good at this stage.

Just this week several of us from the diocese made a long planned fact finding trip to the Bishopric of Taranaki. I will write in more detailo of that expedition later, but the timing and the things we observed in the North have been providential. On arriving home I was visited by Mike Hawke, with whom I have been friends since the 70s. Mike is never short of ideas and this time was no exception. He gave me one which was nothing short of inspired, and I will, again, speak of that at a later date. Watch this space. Our Archbishop, David Moxon, also a good friend and a much respected colleague, has been in touch and has some processes which look like they will be fruitful.

The only slight dampener has been that I left my camera, in its bag with all the knick knacks and doo dahs on the plane from New Plymouth to Wellington. Air New Zealand found it and immediately lost it again. With every day that passes, I'm getting less optimistic about seeing it again, but it's insured, and all I have to put up with is the absence of my addiction paraphernalia for a while. 

A Letter to my Diocese

The following is a letter I sent about two weeks ago:

To All Ministry Units and Clergy.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ;

I am writing to inform you of the grave situation in which our Diocese finds itself.

The Bad News
At our Diocesan Council meeting on Friday May 25 it was my sad duty to appraise the council of a fact which many of us have known for a while; namely that the Diocese of Dunedin in its present form is unsustainable.

For many years the Diocese has been in decline on any parameter that could be named: most significantly, attendances, numbers of families served and the real level of giving have all been steadily dropping over the years to the point where several of our parishes are on the very edge of ceasing to exist altogether. In recent years the worldwide economic downturn has meant a drop in the investment income which might otherwise have sustained us. The lack of parish income has been reflected in an increasing inability of many parishes to pay their share of the costs of running the Diocese. We have pared the diocesan budget back as hard as we dared, reduced our staffing levels and made cuts to service wherever we could but still we have not been able to balance the annual budget. Some have advised me to appeal to the parishes to increase their giving to the diocese, but I know that this is simply unrealistic. With no change in the overall pattern of decline, with the imminent prospect of massive increases in the cost of insurance and the inescapable task of earthquake strengthening, the pressure on parishes over the next year or two will be greater than ever. In fact, I expect that some of our parishes will cease to exist in the near future.

As far as the local activities of your parish are considered, there is no need for concern, but the diocesan structure we now have is so starved of resources that it cannot satisfactorily do what the parishes need of it. However, even in its pared back form we cannot afford to maintain it. The crisis we have all been long expecting is finally here. The Diocese, as it is presently constituted, is at the point of collapse.

The Good News
This is not a time for despair. We are called to be here; God has placed us in our present positions, you and me, for just such a time as this. Our present diocesan structure might not be sustainable, but for as long as we have Anglican churches South of the Waitaki River we will have a diocese of some sort.

Some of our congregations are very healthy indeed, and several are growing. We have recently begun to develop new ways of ministering on a regional basis and the early signs from these innovations are very promising. We have some extraordinarily talented people in our midst, including might I say, the staff of the Diocesan Office. We have some fine buildings and a long established and well respected public profile. We have the Holy Spirit present with us and we have not been abandoned by God.

The present crisis is not so much a threat as an opportunity. Our current Diocesan structures evolved in decades past to serve a church which is rapidly ceasing to exist. With the demise of our accustomed ways we are given the once in a lifetime chance to rebuild the Diocese of Dunedin in ways which will better suit it to serve the church which is emerging.

We in the South are used to coping with adversity and thinking laterally, and it will be no surprise to you that our Diocesan council responded to news of the crisis with courage and vision.

The Way Ahead
By using some of our reserves we can sustain things as they are for perhaps another two years, and the diocesan office will continue to provide its current level of service until we accomplish the task of restructuring. Rather than begin yet another review of the type that many of us have experienced in the past, the Diocesan Council have themselves accepted the responsibility of designing and implementing the way forward and have already begun the task. In imagining the way ahead, they know that there is nothing that should be taken for granted. We need, effectively, to redesign a diocese from the ground up and all Diocesan roles and positions, including mine, are open to re-evaluation. We need to accomplish this design and implement it within the space of two years. At a parish level, no positions are threatened and there is no threat to the continuance of parish life.

There are two immediate tasks for us to do together as a Diocese. One is for us to pray. I ask that in all our congregations we seek God’s wisdom and encouragement as we face the future. Very soon I will also invite you to gather with me in specific places and at specific times to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

The other task is to do what is required of us by law, namely, to arrange for the inspection of all our public buildings in order to determine what, if any, earthquake strengthening they will require. A process to enable us to do this is already quite well advanced in planning, and will be ready for presentation at our synod in September. Some parishes have already arranged for their own inspections, which is commendable, but we will have a Diocese wide scheme operating from early 2013 onwards. It is an unfortunate fact that however it is done, the inspection is going to be expensive.  The realities of our buildings will of course have a major impact on the way we reshape ourselves as a diocese.

My personal commitment is to use whatever gifts God has given me as we walk together through this critical time. I will do my best to listen, to pray and to be present with you whenever necessary. I know that a wilderness such as the one we have now entered is never an easy place to be, but as we look to the examples of scripture, we see that it is a necessary step before any major change. In fact, God is more present in the wilderness than in the mountaintop experiences, and we can confidently expect that this time of transition will prove to be one of the spiritual highlights of our Diocese’s long history.

With every blessing,
Saturday 26 May 2012.