When we first saw the St. John's Vicarage it was 4 degrees celsius outside the house and 4.5 degrees inside. We went home to the green, wet, warm Waikato with a memory of a large dark scruffy house with gray walls and a bizarrely patterned carpet. The opportunity to live at 373 Highgate wasn't high on the list of motivations for becoming the Vicar of Roslyn, but after 11 years of living here, we are very loathe to leave.
The house was built in 1925 and its first occupant described it as "well designed and well built, providing what is desirable without showiness or unnecessary luxury." It has 5 bedrooms, 4 living rooms and a couple of sunrooms. All the walls, interior and exterior are double brick and sit on immense concrete foundations, so that both stories and the basement all have the same floorplan. You can feel the solidity of the place as soon as you walk over the threshold. Doors and stairs are of thick, simply fashioned cedar which hasn't warped or cracked in the 80 years it has been sitting here. Ours is the 7th family to have lived here and our predecessors have all been good, prayerful people and somewhow that has soaked into the substance of the house. Modern houses, newly made of chipboard and aluminium are habitated appliances, often with no more soul than a toaster. This place feels somehow alive. It holds you; enfolds and guards and keeps you.
For a while now, I have thought that it was not a good use of parish resources to have the two of us living in such a large building, and I had been toying with the idea of developing a spirituality or teaching centre from the vicarage. When I tested response to these ideas by casually dropping them into conversation, they were greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm by parishioners and frosty indignation by family. After all, his house is not an institution, it's a place to live: the site of sleepovers and Christmas dinners and conversations. It is a place where there is always a quiet corner to read. It is a place which swallows up guests - even whole families full of them at a time - and allows plenty of space still for privacy. In short, it is home.
And now we are going and we are not quite sure where. There is a pleasant bishop's house in Mosgiel and there is our own smallish house in Anderson's Bay and sometime in the next month or so we will move into one of them. I guess once the requisite number of conversations and dinners and prayers have happened either one could feel like home, but not yet. One of the insights of Anglicanism is that spirituality is deepened when it has a geographic location. The spirituality of this parish finds a focus in the acre or so of land on the corner of Wright St. and Highgate and in the buildings set amongst the beeches which grow on it. In other words, the heart is where the home is. Our home is here, but soon it will be a more amorphous place: the stretch of the South Island between the Waitaki River and Stewart island. It will, of course, be a wrench but it will also be an opening of horizons: a stretching out of tent pegs. The new journey opens before us and we are almost ready to make it.