Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Retiring

A beautiful morning on El Camino Santiago
Today I wrote to Archbishop Phillip and informed him of my intention to resign as Bishop of Dunedin on Easter Monday, April 17 2017. I also informed our Diocesan Registrar and the Diocesan Council. I am giving this amount of notice because we need to make some very important decisions as a diocese.  In my opinion (and actually, in this matter my opinion isn't the one that counts, but still...) the diocese should not be subject to a long interregnum and to make an appointment as soon after my departure as possible we would need to set processes in motion in the not too distant future. Further, some very careful thought needs to be given as to how we will pay for episcopal ministry in the future and maybe some hard choices and some innovations may need to be made.

Clemency and I drove to Invercargill and back on Sunday for Evening Church in All Saints Gladstone. The church was pleasantly full and the service was pleasantly informal. As we drove down in the wind and drove home in the rain we had a good five hours or so to talk about our future. Although we intend to continue to live in Dunedin, we will make ourselves scarce as soon after Easter Monday 2017 as possible. Perhaps we will walk the Camino again, and then perhaps take a parish away from the diocese for a few months. Perhaps in New Zealand , but we both rather fancy a little stint somewhere overseas and we rather warm to the idea of a summer in Scotland. I'll send off a few letters.

After that, who knows? My participation in the diocese will depend entirely on the new bishop. And there's a few other things I imagine filling my time with:
  • Offer spiritual direction to whoever wants it
  • Take retreats
  • Teach Centering Prayer
  • Fill in in the occasional parish somewhere
  • Walk Te Araroa
  • Cycle the various Central Otago bike tracks
  • Fix the house
  • Restore something with an engine and wheels
  • Greatly extend the size of our vegetable garden
  • Spend lots and lots of time with our grandchildren
  • Read
  • Write
  • Take photos
  • And, despite the list above, Be rather then Do

Monday, 16 May 2016

Floating

My daughter Catherine gave me a late birthday present today: a sensory deprivation session at FloatFix. It's not something I would have chosen myself, but she knows I practice meditation, and she is prone to thinking outside the square... WAY outside the square... so the little gift voucher arrived a month or so ago, and today I used it.

The idea is to float, in the dark, wearing earplugs, in a tank of water that is saturated with epsom salts and heated to body temperature. In that environment you are almost weightless and, without any sensory input, able to relax in a way not possible anywhere else. And after a week of General Synod, well, this morning relaxing seemed a pretty good idea.

FloatFix is at the very bottom of Hanover St., nearly next door to Anglican Family Care. I arrived on time at 9.30, and was pleased to see that it all looked modern and clean and well laid out. A helpful bloke showed me to a  smallish room in which there was a shower and a sci-fi looking pod like the one Ripley sleeps in in Alien or the one Neo wakes up in in The Matrix. He showed me how it all worked, and the switch for turning on the funky looking red or blue or purple lights, gave me earplugs and towels and a little advice on how it would all work, and left me to it. I showered and got into the tub,  pulled the lid shut and turned out the light.

Birdsong played on a speaker somewhere for about ten minutes and then it was all silent and dark and warm. Time passed. The birdsong started again. I got out and showered as the pod busily cleaned and filtered itself ready for the next floatee.

I can't quite describe what happened in there. I meditate daily and am familiar with a wide range of things that occasionally happen to people when they are very still and very quiet. Meditation techniques aim to do two things: 1.  get the body aligned so that all the inner bits and pieces - physical and psychological and spiritual (which are all really aspects of the same thing) - can work unhindered by the stuff which normally impedes them: and 2. put the body in a position which will reduce pressure points and enable it to keep comfortably still for as long as possible. When everything goes well there is a place your reach where you are not asleep and not in any sort of trance, but where you just are. And in that place time just sort of disappears. You can be still for 20 or 30 or 40 minutes, but at the end it seems like it was about 5, even though you were conscious and thinking all the time.

I tried my centering prayer methods in the water, but soon gave up. My breathing in the warm moist air was all I could hear and the only sensory experience I was aware of. My body was warm and held and still. I was able to completely relax all muscles in a way which is rarely possible. My mind wandered a bit but not much. When the 45 minutes of silence was over it seemed like it had been quite short, so it seems I had been, indeed, meditating after all. 

So would I do it again? Well, probably. I know that the place of inner stillness can be reached more cheaply on the prayer stool in my study, but it took me probably a year or so of practice to get there.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Pulling Together

Every morning at General Synod, at about sunrise, I went for a walk, with my camera, along the beautiful Napier foreshore. 

Our church, the Anglican Church, is peculiarly English, and that is a good thing, even for someone like me born as far from England as it's possible to get.

England, when the Reformation came knocking at the door, had a long history of accommodating difference and combining constituent parts into a greater whole. England itself was an amalgam of many smaller kingdoms, cobbled together for pragmatism's sake. And consider, also,  the English language: that hotchpotch of Norman French, and Viking, and Germanic, and Latin, and goodness knows what else, that has been brewed together over the years, and been stirred and sifted by Cranmer and Shakespeare, to result in one of the world's great treasures, the official language of 60 different nations and the unofficial Lingua Franca of the world.

So there are no surprises then that the English, faced with the debilitating conflict of competing religious ideologies, should follow the path of practical accommodation. During a long process which began in the reign of Henry VIII, but was accomplished mostly by his brilliant daughter, Elizabeth I, England produced a variant of Christianity which could claim to be both Catholic and Protestant, both  reformed and episcopal. This very English combining of diverse factions into one more or less coherent whole was done primarily for practical and political reasons, of course, but it also, providentially, embodied deep spiritual truth.

Jesus of Nazareth  is the best picture any of us are ever going to get, this side of the grave anyway, of God. That is, he shows us what is the nature of reality. He shows us how the universe is made. He shows this in those few little snippets of his teaching that remain to us, but mostly in the life and actions of which we have, considering their antiquity, pretty decent records. And what we see there is a man who ignores, even at peril of his own life, contemporary divisions of gender and race and social strata and religious purity. He lived out a radical acceptance of all people. He lived, died, rose and ascended to reconcile ALL people to God, and he has committed to us this message of reconciliation. It is the drawing of all people to God in Jesus Christ that I would consider "first order."

So, acceptance of difference is at the heart of Anglicanism. In fact, it IS Anglicanism. The happy accident of English pragmatism has delivered us a church in which a wide diversity of people can find safety and acceptance, and therefore one which, partially at least, expresses a central tenet of the Gospel: the radical equality, the complete forgiveness, the total acceptance of all people. This is why I became, and why I remain an Anglican.

So we are now faced with a paradox. One part of our church sees a limit to that inclusiveness and would feel the need to depart if their limit is breached. So for the rest of us, to follow our instincts towards inclusion - the very heart of Anglicanism and, in fact, the Gospel -would see some others of us feel excluded to the point of departure.

During General synod I found myself, several times, muttering into my morning coffee: let them go. It would mean yet one more division in the body of Christ. According to figures from The Centre For Study of Global Christianity at Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary there were 1600 Christian denominations in the year 1900, 34,000 in the year 2000 and an estimated 43,000 now. We Christians do have an escalating penchant for ignoring the example of Jesus and marching off in a snit when others don't live up to the high expectations we have of them. So what would be  the impact of yet one more new denomination? It would compete for customers in an already crowded part of Evangelical Protestantism. Without a central ethos of inclusion its version of Anglicanism would be sadly depleted. But  with the absence of the ones who, as I understand it, have been anticipating departure for some time now, so would ours. It's a problem and one which we have only limited time to address.

The aim of the A Way Forward report had been to give us a mechanism in which all could live with integrity. It's an ideal I haven't given up on.

Friday, 13 May 2016

2 More Years

An autumn leaf, the evidence of the death whereby the grapevine lives and bears fruit

There are 31,102 verses in the Bible, or at least in the Protestant version of it which the conservative section of our church recognises. Of these, there are 12 verses which refer to homosexuality and 6 which explicitly condemn homosexual practice. The best scholars in the Christian world have pointed out the ambiguity of even these scraps of scripture, but this does not prevent their becoming the basis of an antipathy to contemporary same gender sexuality which I was repeatedly told, during General Synod, was "First Order". I'm not sure what "First Order" means exactly, but I was told that this is a "Salvation Matter". So, presumably, holding a proper view on homosexuality is right up there in importance with belief in the doctrines I would consider foundational for the Christian faith: namely the Holy Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection. In any event, antipathy to homosexuality has already led one of our congregations to defect and several others to threaten to do so. It has led to the formation of groups such as Confessing Anglicans and to at least two new, separate Anglican denominations in the USA. It has been the reason for splits in our world wide communion and for conferences drawing jet setting conservatives from all over the planet.

Of the 31,102 verses in the Bible there are more than 2,000 which refer to money. Of these, several hundred denounce economic exploitation. Jesus is not recorded as ever mentioning homosexuality, not once, not ever, although his views on money are repeated often, and follow the pattern, found in the whole body of  scripture, of siding with the poor and denouncing economic oppression. Despite the overwhelming weight of scriptural witness, economic justice is, apparently, not a "First Order" doctrine. No one has left over it, and no one is threatening to. There have been no pre synod conferences with hundreds of people meeting to pray and strategise about our church's approach to money, in the way that there was over our church's approach to same gender blessings.

Our General synod, from which I am now in the process of travelling home, spent about 3 days of its week long agenda discussing sexuality. What conservatives were being asked for was that they allow, those of us that wished, to perform church blessings for same gender people who had been previously married in a civil ceremony. Performing such blessings would, in some small way, help LGBTI Anglicans who were in faithful committed relationships to have their relationship recognised and celebrated by the church they serve and love. Further, it would allow those LGBTI people who are ordained, and there are a number of them, to have a way of affirming a relationship as rightly ordered, for the purpose of issuing a bishop's license for ministry. The conservatives were not being asked to participate in such blessings. They were not being asked, even, to personally approve of them. But nevertheless the mere fact of their recognised existence somewhere in our church was so offensive that they said they would have no choice but to leave.

The Maori and Polynesian parts of our church, despite their general theological conservatism, were convinced of the need to move ahead on this issue. They recognised that the call of Jesus to unity, which is strongly scriptural, trumps any call to split over matters of sexuality, and despite the misgivings of some of their number, they unanimously and strongly opted for approving the recommendations of the A Way Ahead report; that is, the sanctioning of blessings of  same sex marriages. We Pakeha were deeply divided and we were told, ominously, that up to 4,000 people were on the brink of leaving. Their departure would have been difficult for all the church, but especially for a diocese as small as ours or as traumatised as Christchurch, so in the end we agreed to give it a couple more years, and have another shot at it in 2018.

This whole debate has affected me deeply, but not, obviously, as much as those for whom this represents yet another instance of our church telling them that they are unacceptable. Once more our church makes an ass of itself over this matter. Once more we present ourselves as sex obsessed and small minded. I will write again in a few days when I have got my thoughts a little clearer, but now I apologise, unreservedly, to my LGBTI brothers and sisters for what my church has done, and for my own behaviour. I could have done more. I could have spoken louder. I could have stood stronger.

So, the LGBTI members of our church will suffer real world, measurable hardship, in order that these 4,000 people can maintain their sense of theological equilibrium. Brother sister, let me serve you. Let me be as Christ to you. Who is suffering here, that others may live? Who is being Christ to whom?There is first order stuff being shown alright but it's not in the place where those, for whom the phrase trips so lightly off their lips, is looking.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Stacey

On Wednesdays we have a Eucharist in the office. Anybody who wants to come is welcome to join us, but mostly it is just Ginny, Debbie, Alec and me. Today I was a minute or two early. I sat at the low round table,where the wine and the bread had been placed amongst the pamphlets and educational brochures, and flicked idly through the prayer book I had taken at random from the box. I realised that this was one of my own - or to be honest, one of Clemency's - that had somehow got mixed into the office stock. It looked like it had hardly ever been used, but tucked into the funeral service was a little sheaf of papers: my notes from a funeral I had conducted in Hamilton in 1994.

22 years ago a baby had died. She was only 18 days old. There was an outline of the eulogy I delivered, and the name of the hymn we sang. There was a sheet taken from a letter pad on which I had made notes during my conversation with her family. And there was another sheet, written in an unfamiliar woman's hand:  some notes the young mother had carefully, agonisingly, tearfully prepared for me before she met with me. It spelled out how the little girl had been diagnosed with a heart abnormality just two weeks before her birth. It expressed a mother's deep gratitude for the kindness and skill of the staff at Waikato Public Hospital and at Starship Children's Hospital. It spoke of how much she had learned and what joy she had gained from her daughter's tiny life.

I looked at the names of baby, and father, and mother. After 22 years I could not remember their faces but today they were all very real to me. I wondered why I, newly appointed as Ministry Educator in the Waikato Diocese, had been asked to take this funeral. I thought about what had happened to this family in the decades since. I suppose, at the time, I maintained a certain distance because it had been my job to be a non anxious presence, and to carry this couple and their friends and relatives through a harrowing transition, and that distancing has contributed to my loss of recall. But they will not have forgotten me. In this horrible and profound time I was admitted into the heart of their family and was trusted to walk with them through this grief which must have shaped and changed them forever. I hope I was of use to them.

I looked at those little pieces of paper and the tears came, finally, after all these years. This is the part of my vocation - this raw and real dealing with people in the most formative and powerful moments of their lives - which I cherish the most. The synods, and committees, and the endless conferences with their sheets of coloured A4, and the budgets, and reports, and the pointless arguments about the minutiae of doctrine or liturgy, I would happily give away tomorrow; but this participation in humanity and in spirit is what I am called to, and this is what I hope to do until I die.

So, Stacey Marie, darling girl. Today I remembered you, as did one or two of the people I worked with. I gave thanks for your brief sojourn amongst us, and for the joy you brought. I prayed for you and for your Mum and Dad, who no doubt grieve you still.