Today began with a synod opening service. Somehow I hadn't quite cottoned on to the fact that us bishops were expected to attend in drag, so I left my frock back at the hotel room. Lenore, the wife of Bishop Kito Pikaahu kindly ferried me back and forth between Holy Trinity and my hotel in a rather nice Ford SUV, and I managed to find a place in line and walk into the church on time, in a dignified fashion and decked out in the approved manner. Blake Ramage, the very young vicar of Holy Trinity led the service with panache and the right sort of charisma, but it was another young man who set up my day.
The preacher was the Rev Don Tamihere and he preached on a Maori proverb, Kaua e mate wheke, me mate ururoa (Don’t die like an octopus;Die like a hammerhead shark). The proverb means, approximately: don't give up. Take faith. Keep on going even if the odds look hopeless. It was one of the best sermons I have heard in a long while, and there is a good account of it here. It was well constructed. Coherent. Thought provoking. Funny. True. But for me the best bit was the way it was delivered. Don looked at his audience and connected with them. Beyond the words spoken he communicated his own faith and his own engagement with scripture. He did it far better than I could have managed myself. Just knowing that there is a man of his age who can handle the responsibility of preaching with such assurance and skill is encouraging.
The day started well and so it continued. There are several areas of dysfunction in our church's national life that we have been putting enormous effort, intelligence and ingenuity into ignoring for decades now. Not so much an elephant in the parlour as a whole herd complete with matriarchs, calves, rogue bulls and an elaborate camp following of poachers and game wardens. Today in discussion, some of them were named and identified with refreshing candour and the honesty which is the only precursor to real change; so, for the second time in the day I surprised by joy. Earlier, during the opening eucharist, the Gospel read in the church had been the story in John 5 of Jesus healing the man at the pool of Beth-zatha. In that story Jesus begins his healing by asking the one question without which healing is impossible: "Do you want to be healed?" This is the question we in the Anglican Church must hear and answer. Do we want to be healed? Or are we so happy in the comfort of our dysfunction that we will, albeit in slow motion, die like an octopus? To answer it, of course we must admit our need of healing.
We had a long day. Many people spoke about serious issues dear to them, and by the time we finished about an hour ago, I was seriously tired. On my way out of the debating chamber, joy ambushed me a third time. Bishop John Gray, my tikanga partner in episcopal leadership, discreetly sidled up to me and slipped me a small blue box. "A present", he said, "from Te Pihopatanga o Te Waipounamu." Inside was a simple, strong, beautiful pectoral cross made from pounamu. My flabber was well and truly gasted. I returned to my room encouraged and humbled. I laid the cross on my bed and looked at it. It seemed to sum up the hope of the day: the church is alive and well and although the graphs only look good if you hold them upside down, what we're not going to do is roll over and pretend that the end is inevitable. Do you want to be healed? You bet your kathedra we do. And we will struggle against whatever hinders that healing, thrashing about in the boat like an ururoa if we have to.
PS I realise that some of you will be unfamiliar with some of the terms I have used, so here is a glossary:
pounamu: Greenstone or jade
Te Waipounamu: The Greenstone Waters. The south Island
tikanga: culture, a set of customs, a world view, an paradigm
kathedra: the large well padded thing a bishop sits on