Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Life and Death

St. Mary's Merivale youth group on a trip to Broken River, 1981. I am standing at left. Beside me is Catherine Fuller. Kneeling, in red striped jacket is Mark McIlroy, later to be her husband.

Catherine McIlroy died on Monday. She was 49. When I was first ordained she was a member of the youth group that I ran at St. Mary's Merivale in Christchurch. Well, helped run. Selwyn and Penny Paynter (Penny has the Canterbury colours in the photo above. Selwyn is cuddling up behind her) were a seriously cool couple just a little younger than me and they were the main attraction. I did the Bible studies and drove the kids who wouldn't fit in Selwyn's Capri and kept things sweet with the vestry if something got broken; which wasn't often because they were spectacularly great kids; and none so spectacularly great as Catherine.

She was smallish, with dark serious eyes. She played the flute and helped out with music at youth services. She was intelligent and very sensible and self contained and just a little shy, which didn't seem to stop her being at the heart of pretty much everything that was going on. I can't remember a time at youth group when she and Mark weren't an item. Mark was somewhat more impetuous and certainly a lot more extroverted but they balanced each other and together were pretty much the centre of the group.  They were one of those couples who are so comfortably harmonious with each other that one glance is enough to know that this relationship is right. The way they moved, the way they talked, the opinions and interests they held just seemed to fit. I can't remember exactly when they got married, but I do remember the service, which I shared with Michael Brown, the then Vicar of St. Mary's, and I remember the reception with many of the youth group present. Mark has lived all his adult life with her, and  she was, truly, his other half.

I left St. Mary's in 1982 but over the years Mark and Catherine would pop up occasionally, appearing on our doorstep after long intervals looking pretty much as they did in 1981; a little more lined, perhaps, and lately a little more gray, but only a little. They had  built a good life together. They had two children who are now both doing very well indeed at University. With a combination of Mark's superb interpersonal skills and Catherine's savvy, over the years they had built up a business which allowed them a measure of comfort and some exciting possibilities for the future.

Last Friday Mark celebrated his 50th birthday at a restaurant with a few good friends. Catherine was feeling a little ill, but not ill enough to stay home. By the end of the evening she was feeling a lot worse and continued to deteriorate during the weekend. On Monday she died of influenza.

After I learned of her death I went for a long walk on St. Kilda's beach, to pray for Mark and his children, but also to face my own sense of shock. The services with guitar and flute and the games of shipwreck and the studies with gestetner sheets all seem so very, very recent; but of course they are a lifetime ago: Catherine's lifetime. In this tiny span of time a lovely woman has come from the brink of womanhood to maturity, formed a home, raised children and made her contribution to her society. Now she is suddenly gone. It is all so fragile and temporary and brief.

Her funeral is on Friday in Wellington Cathedral, and Michael Brown will lead it. I am sorry I can't be there but I know Michael will do the best possible job that these circumstances allow. So I commit her to Jesus, who loved her and who loves her still.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the soul of  your  faithful servant Catherine rest in peace. Amen.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

On The Road Again

I had a day or two at home, and am writing this from Te Anau. I drove down this morning under a cloudless mid winter sky with the caravan bucking and swaying in a fairly brisk Nor'Wester. By Lumsden the clouds had started to gather, and by Te Anau the rain had set in. I've seen a few people and had dinner with the vestry and a chat about how things are going and what it will all mean for the Fiordland parish. Tomorrow I'm heading for Tuatapere and possibly points further South, then home on Thursday.

It's easy to be here, and the opportunity for unrushed talking is invaluable. I'm parked in a fairly prominent and public place, so I'm functioning as as sort of living billboard for the Anglican Church at work in the community; and because I am so visible, I have been able to use the caravan as interview space very successfully today.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Two Cheers for General Synod!

Several years ago I was elected as a clerical member of General Synod. I attended one session, then at our next Diocesan Synod made sure somebody else was nominated. At the time I was mystified at how a meeting of the Church's brightest and best could be so excruciatingly dull, and astounded at how little any of what was discussed had to do with my life and work as a parish priest. Perhaps I have matured; perhaps the church has changed; perhaps both; but on any account I found this General Synod to be vital and engaging.... for the most part.

For me, the highlights were these:
  • The discussion on marriage. This was the only opportunity to raise the matter of sexuality which is the elephant in the room of  many of our other discussions, for example the Anglican Covenant.On both sides of the issue people made informed contributions in a respectful and honest way. Some of the contributions were deeply, deeply moving, particularly those from two synod members (one on the "conservative" side of the debate, one from the "liberal" but both of whom had a very orthodox theology ) who were parents of gay children.
  • The discussion on asset sharing. I have mentioned this before, and there has been a bit of a discussion in the comments to one of my posts, so I won't bore you with repetition.
  • The presentation from our youth commission and the very intelligent , innovative and eminently workable process they have arrived at for the development of youth ministry.
  • The powerful opening worship, and particularly, the evidence it gave to the robust state of youth work in the Diocese of Polynesia.
  • The presentation from the Centre for Women's Studies and the astonishing amount of stuff they have managed to do on a minuscule budget.
  • The great progress made in reforming St. John's College.
However there were aspects of General Synod which recalled the stuff I tried so hard to avoid in years gone by:
  • The fact that we spent hours and hours on comparatively minor matters, such as reading through reports which everyone had already read before arrival, and consequently....
  • ... the severely curtailed debate on the most important matters before us, including the sexuality debate, the asset sharing discussions and...
  • ...the resounding silence which followed the descriptions, in IDC,  by Bishop Victoria Matthews and myself of the challenges facing our respective dioceses.
There were times in other words, when we were right on track as together we tried to forge the church that will emerge during the course of the 21st Century, but there were times when we were hopelessly bogged by our accustomed ways of doing things. At this General Synod we fare welled some of the elders of our church, and I couldn't help but notice the age range of many of us left. Given that General Synod meets only every two years, there is a vast majority of members who will be there for two, or at most three more synods. But waiting in the wings is a small but encouragingly talented phalanx of younger people. When those of my generation or older all fall off the perch together there will be some who are able to take our place. More than able, in fact.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Some Photos from Fiji

The Last Day

The last day of our General synod was marked by two related debates, and one historic decision.

The first, painful debate concerned Te Aute College. Te Aute is a boy's Anglican boarding school and it is in serious trouble. A series of unfortunate investment decisions, falling rolls, troubles with staff and governance have all contributed to an ongoing crisis. At our last General Synod in 2010 in Gisborne we granted assistance to the school which has now run to almost 3 million dollars. The school has made heroic efforts to change: there is now a board of governors of some of the most notable people in Maoridom. Huge energy has gone into the myriad and complex issues which  discourage so many Maori parents from sending their sons there. Plans are in place for upgrading some of the infrastructure and the board is optimistic that Te Aute can regain much of its former glory, but it will run at a loss for some time yet and Professor Whatarangi Winiata asked us to underwrite a solid portion of that loss. The immediate cost would be another million or so, with further commitments for at least five years and probably longer.

The matter was discussed in tikanga and it wasn't long before we all realised we had arrived at an impasse. The difficulty was in the tension between a particularly Maori and a particularly Pakeha approach to the problem. For Maori, Te Aute is not just another school. It is the place where some of the most notable figures of recent Maori history have been nurtured. The history and mana of Te Aute form an irreplaceable part in modern Maori self understanding. For Pakeha, the figures simply didn't stack up. There are many excellent state boarding schools in the North Island offering first rate education in Te Reo Maori. All are associated with large secondary schools and are based in centres which offer a range of sporting, social and cultural opportunities for students, and it is increasingly to these that Maori parents are looking. Given the continuing decline in church based Maori boarding schools across all denominations, the ongoing fiscal problems of Te Aute, and the other not yet resolved issues at the school, the board's projected roll increases and fiscal surpluses seemed wildly optimistic. It seemed to me, and I think to others, that the greater goal of excellent Anglican Maori education could be fatally compromised by the ongoing needs of Te Aute. We Pakeha said "no." Polynesia and Tikanga Maori said "yes".  It was a painful and difficult moment, which in a way provided the basis for our next decision.

Prof. Winiata also moved a motion asking that we set up a body to look at the issue of tiro rangatiratanga with regard to the assets of the St. John's College trust board. This is not a grab for half of the church's assets as has been luridly and crudely reported in some sections of the media, but something far more subtle and profound. The debate on Te Aute had been,in reality,the church as one body making a decision on funding for one of its constituent organisations. What it felt like, to both Maori and Pakeha, was Maori coming cap in hand to beg money from Pakeha who, for reasons not fully explained, and in seeming contradiction to a stated enthusiasm for Te Tiriti o Waitangi, chose to withhold it. Neither of us liked that, not even a little bit, so suddenly the idea of tino rangatiratanga started to make sense. Now, like most Pakeha, I do not fully grasp the subtlety of tino rangatiratanga but this is what I think it means: what is being asked for is not ownership; after all, we all already own the asset. What is being asked for is the ability to make decisions regarding spending and investment of the half of the assets in a way which is particularly Maori. In dollar terms this will make very little difference indeed to the way in which the money is actually spent, and may in all likelihood result in a smaller number of dollars going to Tikanga Maori. But what it would allow is for Maori decisions to be made in a Maori way on the issues which impact them most. The motion was passed with enthusiasm and a sense that we had passed a significant milestone on the journey we embarked on with the passing of our new constitution in 1992.

We finished with a dinner under the stars and with final conversations and the sound of Fijian music. I was privileged to propose a motion, passed with a standing ovation, thanking Tony Fitchett for 30 years of service as a member of General Synod. Tony is stepping down now to spend more time with Bronwyn and the 8 acres they live on near Dunedin.  I doubt there is anybody in the country with a more thorough knowledge of the church's processes than Tony. On our Diocesan Synod, at General Synod and latterly on the ACC, he has saved us all countless hours of confusion by gently but firmly untangling the knots in which we are prone to tie ourselves. His deep commitment on matters of justice and equality, his decency and his intelligence are rare assets and he will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Another Day in General Synod

Traditionally, the host of General Synod takes all the members out to dinner, and last night was the night the Diocese of Polynesia did this for us. We piled into buses and journeyed about 20 minutes to the coast and then boarded a large boat, of the same type that takes people to Stewart Island, only bigger. There were two decks, well three if you count the bathrooms, and tables with comfy chairs. There was a meal of the usual Fijian proportions and a band. There was a smiling and gracious crew. There was excellent company and all this was enjoyed as we tootled slowly around the bay above which the expected Pacific sunset appeared on cue before fading into a warm still night. Dancing and me are not the best of mates but I will if I am forced to and last night I was, in the nicest possible way of course. Actually it was quite fun, but please don't tell anyone I said that. We were back in our buses soon after nine and were bounced back along the Nadi roads in time for a respectable bedtime.

Today it was back to business. The Greeks made a useful distinction, when talking about time, between Kairos and Chronos. Chronos is measured time, the sort in which all days are of equal length, and each hour is filled with 60 identical minutes. Kairos is felt time, that time in which some moments are larger and longer than others and in which some days zip by and others are of interminable length. And today was just such a day. Interminably long, I mean. We spent long bits of today going through Bills. The Anglican church uses democratic processes very similar to those used in parliamentary democracies because when the first parliament was being invented in medieval England, it borrowed its processes from the only example available to it, the English church. So we do the whole bit with standing committees and statutes and resolutions and bills which have to go through three readings. At its best the system gives a robust way of forming good laws. At its worst it is pedantic, repetitive, slow and unbearably prolix. Today was not a good day.

We had bright moments. A lovely lady from Suva talked about the Mission to Seafarers, and we streamlined the governance of that organisation. The indefatigable Ali Ballantyne presented a report on the Anglican schools office and the often astonishing work being done amongst the 19,000 young people attending our schools in new Zealand and the Pacific. We had some very important stuff to consider from the Anglican Insurance Board the potentially revolutionary impact of which seems to be only slowly dawning on some parts of our church. The presentation, from Don Baskerville was well structured and polished, but was rushed because we had spent hours that in my felt Kairos were days talking about collects.

Now, I don't want to disparage collects. They are the little set prayers which gather the congregations intentions together at various points in the service, such as before the scriptures are read, and some of them are quite beautiful. There is a whole set of them in our prayer book, and some, who take an interest in this kind of thing had noticed some theological shortcomings in the collection ( sorry ). Fair enough. So to change them, bills were needed. Again, fair enough. So we started. The trouble is, I think, that the people who tend to notice theological shortcomings in collects tend to be those who notice grammatical and procedural shortcomings in bills. I tend to notice neither, so for me long minutes turned into long hours as points were made whose significance I failed entirely to either grasp or care about. And we have not (groan) finished yet. I am sure that in some way that will be revealed at the end of time when the hearts of all people are laid bare, today's work will be seen to have contributed mightily to the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, but at the moment I can't see it.

We also dealt with another bill, setting regulations for the Social Justice Commission and set about making changes to bits of it on the fly, with people suggesting corrections and quoting various of our regulations with which the bill, in some specific circumstances to be imagined in the future might possibly come into conflict. Lots of i dotting and t crossing went on and lots of commas and bits of sentences were shifted thither and yon. It was great fun for some of us.

There is, in fact, a specific problem that all this revising was intended to solve. But the problem is not caused by shortcomings in our regulations, so I'm darned if I can understand how fiddling with the regulations is going to fix it.

Lunch was good. The weather continues fine. There are some really nice people here to chat to. I go home the day after tomorrow. There is the memory of last night's cruise. Things aren't all bad.

Wednesday Morning

The seats we sit in from 8.30 am until 9pm are good for about 45 minutes. After that they encourage getting up and moving about. Thankfully, every hour an a half there is tea and fruit and cake and a chance to stand around, but what with the constant air conditioning and the oversupply of calories I have needed to be disciplined. So it's up at six and a long walk before shower, breakfast and silence, which hasn't left much time for blogging.

In the couple of days since I was last here a lot has happened. Apart from all the usual stuff, the memorable debates have been:

The Tikanga Toru Youth Commission made their presentation, which was remarkable for containing, for the first time I can remember in an address from a national church youth body, a practicable plan for increasing the profile and presence of young people in the church. The strategy is aimed at those who actually hold gate keeping positions in churches - eg me - and is based around mentoring and permission giving presented under the headings of 3 t shirt sized slogans - Make The First Move; Every Moment is the Right Moment; Because it Matters - the plan struck me for its obviousness ( the mark of all truly great ideas ). I will post a link to the website when I have a sophisticated enough connection.

The report on St Johns College was presented with great thoroughness by Bishop Kito Pikaahu and discussed separately by each Tikanga. No decision has been reached yet on the future shape of the college. St Johns is the one place in our church where all the diverse streams meet in real community, but the diversity which is the college's greatest gift also provides a source of tension and misunderstanding. How do we maintain all that is good about the Meadowbank campus while ensuring the integrity of Maori, Pakeha and Pasifika perspectives? My own hope is that we won't rush into a decision and allow another couple of years for the present commissioner to complete the excellent work she has begun.

Glyn Cardy's motion requesting an examination of the theology and practice of marriage was presented and passed. This provided the first opportunity for the discussion on human sexuality which we have all been anticipating and dreading. This was therefore the chance for the airing of opposing views on the place of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people in the church. On the "liberal" side, the opening address by Glyn was superb, as was that from Tim Mora on the "conservative" side. Some of the speakers spoke most movingly of their personal experience, including Bishop Api Qilio, whose son is gay. Reconciling his love for his son with the teachings of his church has lead Bishop Api to becoming chair of an organization for Gay and Lesbian Fijians. The motion was passed by a a large majority because regardless of people's stand on the issue of the place of GLBT in the church, there is widespread agreement on the need to reevaluate the issue of marriage. The sexuality issue has, incidentally, been of great interest to the Fijian media, and also to the police who have been regularly, though discreetly present at several of our sessions.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Eucharist in the Sun

I am not sure how many people were at the Eucharist yesterday morning, but there were several hundred people in their teens and early twenties seated in the aisles and ranged around the back and sides of the congregation. We bishops sat on a pedestal at the front in our layers of red and white 17th century clothing while the Fijian sun beat down on us. The rest of the people, apart from the young people at the sides and back that is, were shaded under the several peaks of a marquee. About half an hour into the service a merciful breeze sprang up and I could see the thunderheads gathering in the sky behind us. I waited for the rain but apart from a few very unenthusiastic and half hearted grumbles of thunder it failed entirely to show. Bishop Gabriel Sharma told me later that he had prayed that the rain would stay off until after 1 pm, and it seems that, as in pretty much everything else in the planning and conduct of the service, The Lord was listening to him. It was one of the most powerful and moving services of worship I have ever attended.

The music, led by the Suva Cathedral choir, a music group and a brass band, was very polished and very energetic. The sermon preached by Sepi Haliapiapi was intelligent, well ordered, entertaining and challenging. Sepi has many of her father's gifts of leadership and organization and is fast acquiring a measure of his mana. She is very much a watch this space kind of young woman. The Eucharist was, on the face of it, a quite conventional New Zealand Prayer Book service, albeit one moving with the relaxed sense of order of Tikanga Pasifika and awash with that particularly haunting timbre of Pacific Island singing. What made it so special was that three times in the service that great throng of young people stood, filling the aisles and completely encircling the congregation, seeming to baptism us with their hope and energy and commitment. After the sermon they sang a song about light; about God's creation of light and of us responding to Jesus' call to be light to the world. During the Lord's prayer they performed an astonishingly- given the size of the group- well coordinated piece of liturgical dance. Then at they end they rose to pledge themselves to mission, in response to the call of their archbishop.

We finished, naturally, with a gargantuan morning tea; or more accurately, morning coconut. The various youth groups then performed items of amazing energy and inventiveness before farewelling us. We walked to our buses through the crowd who then walked with us and waved us off. If a 700 voice choir singing Isa lei to you can't bring on goosebumps and a lump in your throat, then nothing can.

Everything had to be anticlimax after that. The archbishops did a tag team routine reading their charge. We accepted reports, including that of the social justice commission. At the last General Synod in 2010 the report of that commission had been refused adoption, and the commissioner had pulled out all stops to make sure the experience wasn't repeated. The report was very slickly produced and supported by examples of the resources the commission has gleaned from various sources during the past year. There were also several speeches in support, including one from Tiki Raumati who spoke with all the verve and style he has developed over several decades as one of the most compelling orators in our church. So, the General Synod began and will occupy my days and nights until late on Thursday.

Sunday, 8 July 2012


The last two days have been spent in The Inter Diocesan Conference, a meeting of the seven Pakeha dioceses, teasing out our common ground before we meet with the Maori and Pasifika parts of our church in the General Synod. We have been meeting in a large windowless room with the air conditioning turned up way too high, so it's been a bit like meeting in a gymnasium in Dunedin, except that I think in Dunedin I would have been warmer.

Yesterday morning we had a bit of a break from discussions to be welcomed by our hosts, the Diocese of Polynesia. We made a short bus trip through Nadi to St. Christopher's Church and were seated under a giant marquee and it wasn't a bit like meeting in a gymnasium in Dunedin, or anything else in Dunedin for that matter. We were formally welcomed in the Fijian way, with great dignity and energy, but with a very important difference. Usually, at such an important gathering, elders would have performed the welcoming ceremonies, but Archbishop Winston Halapua is utterly committed to the essential priorities of furthering the ministry of women and of encouraging young people. So, yesterday the ceremonial actors were very young indeed. Kava and a roast pig were offered and received. Speeches were made in Fijian and Graciously returned in Maori and English. Fine mats were gifted. A morning tea of byzantine size and intricacy was served and then we were entertained for an hour or so by more of the young people of the diocese. From Fiji, Tonga and Samoa they took turns to sing and dance for us. It was energetic, joyous, funny, sensual, spiritual, bawdy, reverent, graceful. I found myself at times moved deeply, almost to the point of tears and I'm still not sure why. Perhaps it was the presence of so many young people- hundreds of them - which I am so unused to in an Anglican context. Perhaps it was so many of them smiling shyly but exhibiting a complete ease with themselves and a pride in who they were in their respective cultures. Perhaps it was a sense that I was looking at a shift in the centre of gravity of our church. Some young Fijian Indians danced to techno pop in a style that was pure Bollywood. Samoans and Tongans and Fijians danced with hands and bodies to the complex rhythms of drums and to inventively used brass instruments. In every case they sang and danced to the glory of God, but the idiom was of the emerging nations, not of the missionary past. The self confidence and energy of the young Pasifika Anglicans yesterday was loud testimony to the fact that the Anglican church is predominantly now a church of the emerging nations.

A bus ride later and we were back shivering in the conference room, talking through the matters which concern us older grayer people. There was some preliminary discussion of those motions regarding relationships which the news media seem so interested in, and which it will probably be wise to leave undebated until the Gender Commission has done its work. There is one of those motions which I hope is not left lying around on the table however. Glyn Cardy, the Vicar of St. Matthews in the City, the Auckland church of billboard fame, is proposing an investigation into the theology and meaning of marriage. Glyn intends this, I know, as a preliminary exercise in getting the church to think through the possibility of blessings for people in same gender relationships, but I think it is of far wider importance than that. I suspect the church has lost its way on the issue of marriage, and we need to take stock. I for one would be pretty keen to follow up on Glyn's suggestion and hope we can give his sensible motion the air time it needs.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Last week was busy. A week ago I was in Wellington for the ordination of Justin Duckworth as bishop of Wellington, an event which is beautifully covered on the Taonga website and about which I can't say more than the obvious: it was moving and humbling to be present with over 1200 people in Wellington Cathedral at an event which is a significant marker of a massive shift in our church's self understanding.

I arrived home from Wellington about 8pm and at 5 the next morning drove to Arrowtown and Queenstown for Wakatipu parish's patronal festival. It was -7 at Arrowtown but the roads were free of Ice and the celebrations were, as usual, gracious and friendly and stylish. Wakatipu parish has more than its fair share of talented and imaginative people so the services and dinner went without a hitch- except of course for the fire alarm caused by the sprinkler system in the hall freezing up and blowing a plug, but noone seemed at all fazed by that.

For the few days following, I started to put down on paper, though not in a form that might yet be legible to anyone but me, what our diocese might look like in two years time after we have radically rearranged it. I have come up with two possibilities and realise that there may be more yet. These will need to be properly costed before they can be sensibly discussed, and this will be done well before our Diocesan Synod meets in September. I also read my way through the three inch pile of paper that will be discussed at General Synod in the next week.

I am now in Fiji, in a hotel near Nadi airport. The General Synod meets here from tomorrow onward, and some of the matters to be discussed will be contentious, particularly those related to sexuality and marriage. There is also a potentially tricky discussion to be had on the allocation of money from the St. John's College Trust. I am not sure how any of it will pan out over the next week, but I'll try and check in here from time to time. The wifi at this hotel doesn't reach as far as my room, and I can't transfer pictures from my camera to my iPad, but I'll do my best. We live in interesting times. The church we are all so familiar with is in the middle of one of the greatest changes in its history, perhaps the greatest change since Constantine. But right now it's time to put on a purple shirt and go and drink some kava.