The Living Church

It was cloudy and cool when we left Dunedin just before 8 am yesterday and nothing much had changed, weather wise, when we finished the service in Roxburgh about 5 hours later. Not that it mattered. The little church of St James had been full and buzzing with life, a testament to the new energy and purpose accruing to the parish since Petra Barber joined the team a few months ago. Then after the usual parish lunch we headed for Wanaka and a mile out of town the climate changed: not just the weather, the climate. Get over the first hill out of Roxburgh and you are into that clear, strong Central Otago light with the tussock and the schist and the inky blue skies and the lazy summer heat.

We arrived in Wanaka with plenty of time to spare, checked with Denis Bartley, the vicar, on arrangements for the confirmation that was to follow at 5 pm and went to St. Columba's. It was dry and hot in the church, certainly not the weather for a cope and mitre but why drag all that drag all this way and not wear it? 5 pm rolled around, there was another full church, a serious young girl prepared to profess her faith before her friends and family, and a lovely moment or two in the service. After the confirmation Denis invited anybody who wanted to reaffirm their profession of faith in Christ to come up to the altar rail. And one by one, almost the entire congregation came up, to kneel and receive the laying on of hands. There, with the golden sunlight sifting into the old church and the warm air around us, the sense of peace and contentment and conviction was almost palpable. And in the middle of it I blessed a small greenstone taonga for Beth Griffith, our one time diocesan youth and children's worker, and gave it to her as she returns to renew her life in Canada. Moving? Yes. We drove home early, missing the pot luck dinner; but the parish, or at least a key member of it, Ngaire Bartley, had prepared a little picnic hamper which we ate sitting on a park bench overlooking Lake Dunstan as the sun sank into the mountains behind Cromwell. E te whanau we are the body of Christ! I knew that for certain last night.

And then early this morning I drove to Christchurch to attend the memorial service for my former Bishop, Maurice Goodall. The Cathedral in the heart of the shaken but not stirred Garden City is a lively place. It is full of energy and movement and people. In the Dean's vestry where the bishops gathered it was full of wit and laughter and good humor as well. The cathedral was almost full- 800 or so people, I'd guess- sombre but calm and grateful for the life of this good man. I remember him coming to see me when I was Vicar of Waihao. His mission at day was to convince me to become the chaplain of Christ's College. He arrived at our place and immediately took to bed and slept for 20 of the 30 minutes he had allowed himself for the task, so tired was he from the effort he was putting into pastoring his diocese. I found that experience quite moving: that he was prepared to be vulnerable and to be ministered to by the most junior of his clergy. He didn't succeed in that day's mission but he did succeed in his bigger one, of shifting Christchurch away from a very traditional style of ministry into a more contemporary one which, ultimately, allowed for the bustle and liveliness evident in his cathedral today.

It is easy sometimes to be tempted into despair and cynicism about the church. But not today.

I finished my day around 5 pm and GPSed my way to the motel Debbie had booked for me. I could have driven home, I suppose, but I've about had my fill of driving for today. Besides, I really want to see the Ron Mueck exhibition in the Christchurch Art Gallery, so tomorrow I'll have a day off, look at the sculptures and drive home in a leisurely fashion with my camera on the passengers seat, grateful for the life and energy of the Church of Christ.

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NIE said…
Two very rich days indeed. Please take it easy on the way home. Hope the mountains,rivers, sea and skies lure you into lots of photo stops.. Even a walk along the little beach at Moeraki?
Blessings for tomorrow.