Monday, 24 June 2013

Filling in the Gaps

I had a day off today and went for a drive in the country, North past Waikouaiti and Palmerston and then Westward through the Pigroot to Naseby and St. Bathan's. I took my camera in case I happened on something picturesque, which was likely, given the amount of snow that has fallen on my diocese over the last week. Taking a camera out into the countryside is a wonderful excuse. A bit like the way having grandchildren is a great reason to buy and read all those lovely books that you are far too sophisticated for, having a camera and a bag of lenses gives a sense of purpose to an otherwise aimless jaunt through the hills for the sheer joy of seeing all that snow. I love snow. When I was younger and my legs stronger and my wallet fatter I liked to ski on it. Now I just like to see it; the whiteness of it, the sensuous rounded humpiness of it; the softness of it as it falls and gathers; the vast quiet power of it as it smooths the angles and artificiality of the landscape. Perhaps it's some glimmer of a Northern race memory, but the combination of ink blue sky and sparkling whiteness is tonic food for my soul.But having said all that, there is another reality for many in my diocese. The snow is a blanket three feet deep over the grass and represents unsought for hardship and the loss of stock and therefore income. It will leave behind it a legacy of mud and death and financial difficulty. I also wanted to feel and know something of that paradox - the power and destructiveness of all that soft beauty

The back road to Naseby was graded but had a fair covering of crumbly ice on top of the gravel so I went slower than intended. The road into St. Bathan's was worse and the little old mining town in the middle of nowhere had a blanket well over a metre deep. The only other traffic was a grader and large farm vehicles towing trailers of feed to the sheep, shivering khaki brown against the whiteness. At St Bathans I waded through powder up to my knees and took the photos. My few hundred metres of walking made me puff and sweat under my several layers of wool; I was grateful for the waterproof qualities of my new walking boots and conscious of what it must be like to work in these conditions for 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day. Then, I drove slowly home through Middlemarch. For most of the way in the early afternoon with the sun blazing down, the temperature varied about 3 degrees either side of zero. The grass won't be showing through for a while yet.

 Now I agree, this post has been a post about nothing really. It has been my own snowstorm, a blanket covering the realities of my life since I last wrote on here. Since the Marriage Hui, there have been so many things I might have reported on, but I haven't because.... there have been so many things. Most importantly, I have been to Sydney to see my son Nick and his beautiful family and see his daughter Naomi baptised. I have been on retreat with the Diocesan Manager, Graeme Sykes and my Vicar General, Erik Kyte and firmed up the implementing of our strategic plan. I have spent a bit of time on Skype talking to Bridget and Noah. I've read a couple of books, one of which I intend to review. Since last posting on here I have been to several of our church communities, attended meetings and services, spoken to many people, bought a new car and driven about 5,000 km in it. I'm sorry not to have told you about all this stuff. The bit about the strategic plan will follow in due course, once the Diocesan Council have had a look at it. It's been a busy few weeks, but in the next little while I will try not to be away so long. Summer is coming.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Marriage Hui

There is a call in the Church for leadership. It is echoed everywhere, that we are failing for want of strong, firm, decisive leadership. Amongst all the clamour for leadership though, there is very seldom any sound of a question being asked: "what do we mean by leadership?" Judging by the way the request for leadership is usually addressed to me, it seems to mean, "why doesn't someone around here, ie you Kelvin, kick a few butts and get those bozos over there to do what I want them to do?" A suggestion that the others might conceivably have a valid point of view is, of course, wishy washy accommodationism (or cowardly reactionism, depending ) and the idea that I might put the boot on the the other foot and kick the butt of the questioner, outright apostasy.

So, on May 25 we met at St. John's Roslyn to discuss marriage. The catalyst for the gathering had, of course been the issue of the ordination of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people and the related issue of the marriage of people in same gender relationships. The request for our hui had come from Synod 2012, and was made well before the recent law allowing for such marriages was passed by parliament. At synod a motion requesting us to sanction the ordination of people in same gender relationships had led to a ragged, divisive discussion during the course of which it was realised by everyone that the issue was complex and that requesting people to vote yes or no to a proposition was simply unhelpful. For me, the wider  issue of marriage had been niggling me for years. It is obvious that the ways in which people meet, commit themselves and begin a life together had undergone a radical revolution in the last couple of decades and what did the concept of Christian marriage mean in that changed social milieu?

Of course, in the lead up to the hui I was subject to a lot of advice, most of it from people at one end of the spectrum of debate or other asking that the church in general and I in particular exercise a bit of leadership on the matter. My own aim was a not quite so clear cut, but I suspect it was one shared by many of those present. I recognise that all those in our diocese who have strong views on matters of sexuality, gender and marriage are quite genuinely seeking the best. They have thought, discussed and prayed. They have read the relevant scriptural passages, often in exhaustive detail.. Further, they are all seeking to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the good of humankind. And yet they are often coming from very different places and reaching wildly different and mutually exclusive conclusions.

And these conclusions really are irreconcilable. So, we could duke it out and see if one side could persuade the other to either change or do the decent thing, admit their heresy and leave. Or we could try and find a way in which we might recognise each other as sisters and brothers in Christ despite our differing opinions. This latter position is the one I want to arrive at. I believe it is possible to do this, because it is in effect what we have been doing for ten years or more in the Diocese of Dunedin. As Jim White pointed out in the last Hermeneutics hui in Auckland, pacifists and soldiers exist side by side in the same church without demur, despite the issue of pacifism being perhaps closer to the heart of the Gospel than is the issue of sexuality.

In the end, the day went well. Sue Burns from St. John's College facilitated the process with the gentle firmness and clear grasp of group dynamics which were the reasons I had asked her to do it. Gillian Townsley led us in a study which was not so much a Bible study as a reminder of hermeneutical principles and an application of scripture to various real life scenarios of moral ambiguity. Group discussion was engaged, vigorous and intelligent. I was impressed by the respectfulness with which we spoke to one another.

At the end of the day no-ones opinions were much changed. But the great triumph was that we stayed together, we talked and we began to feel our way towards that sense of God's presence which enables us to be the body of Christ. We have a long way to go, but I am very optimistic.