We have an uncanny power in our diocese. Wherever and whenever we hold our annual synod, it snows. And now, we have discovered, wherever and whenever we hold a leg of our pilgrimage, the weather is perfect. I am still investigating the obvious marketing opportunities this presents us, but until the deals with farmers, wedding planners, ski fields and umbrella manufacturers are finalised we put these powers to our own use. Such as this last weekend, when a few of us journeyed on pilgrimage from Milton to Lawrence, retracing the steps of those who in their quest for riches left such an imprint on the geography, architecture, culture and spirituality of New Zealand. There weren't a lot of us this time, as one of the Queen's grandsons had, apparently, chosen that Friday to get married and there were a couple of important sporting fixtures that needed monitoring. But thirteen of us sat down to dinner in St. John's Milton and seventeen of us took a little yellow bus up the road the next day.
This was a trip through territory I am very familiar with; I travel through it at least once a week, usually more, but to be driven, and have it described by those who live there was a revelation. As we traversed the back streets of Milton, I couldn't help noticing how often our guide used the phrase "this used to be". It was once a service centre for miners, and a place of employment for millers and sawyers and weavers and all the vast array of supporters they needed. Now it hosts a prison and a lot of shops looking for a new life, and it is therefore typical of many small towns in our diocese, and, indeed throughout rural New Zealand. It is served by a vicar whose energy, ability and indefatigable good humour have cemented her an essential place in the social structure and affections of the town. Vivienne seems to be near the centre of pretty much everything that is going on in the district, as far as social services and community development are concerned. She is also a deep well of information about the local area, and it was a privilige to listen to her describe it to us.
Lawrence is pretty. The countryside around it is varied, and covered with the flora bought by the hordes who swarmed there in the 1860s in search of gold. Because they found so much of it, many of the houses and other buildings are ornately and expensively built. Being just the right distance from Dunedin, it is a natural place to stop en route to Wanaka or Queenstown, and thus there are a number of very good cafes. It is picturesque enough to attract people with an eye for beauty and a few shops are stocked with the wares of local artists and artisans. I was surprised however, when walking around town, to see how many houses and shops are for sale, some of them very attractive indeed. Lawrence seems to be poised on the cusp of something: waiting for that one new thing which will allow it to become once again, a centre of economic activity once again. Our Anglican church in Lawrence is small. Beautifully built. Steeped in history. Full of potential. Like the town. Like our diocese. Waiting to be called to new life once more.
About a kilometre out of town is Gabriel's Gully. It was here in 1860 that Gabriel Reid is credited with finding the lode which began the Otago goldrush. More gold was taken from Otago than was taken from California whose gold rush preceded ours by a couple of years. The landscape still bears the marks of men and women from every corner of the globe who worked individually but increasingly in co-operation to perform the most astonishing feats of amateur engineering. Water was carried for over 40km in an ingenious system of channels to sluice away a hill and turn it into a valley and a small lake. Where their tents were pitched and where their shacks were built are the remnants of their gardens: blackberry, apple and pears for food; California pines for lumber; rowan as a mark of their ancient spirituality. It is all quiet now, sitting in the golden Central Otago light, turning dry and brown in the summer and freezing solid in the winter. It holds the whisper of those thousands long gone and it waits for the few now who can recognise and be entranced by its beauty.