Te Kotahitanga Forum

For most of this week I spent my nights in one of those  travel hotels in the industrial park near Auckland airport and my days on Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa Marae. The days were better. Of course this was in part becaue of the contrast in venues. On the one hand there was soulless straight edged built to a budget mediocrity and on the other the fluid graceful power of carvings, the delicate flowing of paint  and the striking, deceptively simple geometric counterpoints of woven flax, together  hinting the whakapapa of every tribe in New Zealand. As soon as I walked onto the marae, I was struck by the rich ruby red of the house, deeper, more bloody than the more customary ochre and particularly powerful when backed by a flannel gray Auckland winter sky. I didn't bring a camera, darn it, but  managed  a few shots with my iPhone. As we sat during the day I could fill in the (I hasten to assure you very rare) dull bits in the proceedings by admiring the extraordinary workmanship of the carvings all around me.

I was there for the Te Kotahitanga forum, a little talkfest in which the three strands of our church - Maori, Pakeha, Polynesia - came together to discuss the future of our most valuable shared asset, St. John's College. The decisions as to the shape and role of St. John's belong to Te Kotahitanga, the body where our three tikanga church meets, and this forum was an information and idea sharing meeting  with a wider membership than TK itself.

The conversation was facilited by people I have admired for a long time: The convener was Caroline Leys with whom I worked in a group setting up the Seed training programme for spiritual directors about 20 years ago. Caroline is a fairly commanding presence. She is as tall as I am, and has a way of fixing people with an unwavering gaze, smiling winningly and talking sense to them all at the same time. The keynote speaker was Roger Herft. Soon after I arrived in the Diocese of Waikato in 1986, Roger was elected,  at the age of 37 as our bishop. He was a great bishop then, and has gone on to be an even better one since, and is now Archbishop of Perth. He speaks with his Sri Lankan accent and a very still, engaging demeanour, and wins people with gentle, self deprecating humour, with the depth and utter common sense of what he says, but more importantly, by the sense you always get of a person with a risch and deep personal spirituality. It's easy to feel safe and comfortable when the leadership of a group is strong and knows what it is doing, and people at the forum felt safe and comfortable enough to relate with a great deal of grace.

In a few months TK will have made decisions which will affect the way St. Johns will develop over the years ahead and it would be inappropriate for me to preempt those decisions here, but I was impressed by the graciousness of the conversation this week past. Each of the strands of our church had prepared thoroughly and thoughfully. Each deliverred their position with integrity and with a genuine desire to safeguard not only their own particular needs, but also with respect to those of their partners.  Much of the time was spent in small group discussions, and we bishops were segregated off into a group all of our own, out of concern I think, that we might lower the tone of the dabate if we were spread around amongst the other groups. That was fine by me. The discussion in my group was intelligent and robust, and I have a very profound, and growing respect for the diverse group of people which the Holy Spirit has placed on to the bench of bishops in Aotearoa New Zealand. I must confess that at the end of the forum there were no great surprises: the things said and and the views aired were much as I expected them to be. What did surprise me though was the warmth, honesty, intelligence, respect and deep listening we accorded each other. This is what will enable us, more than any set of decisions could ever do, to live together with authenticity as the church in this place.


Sir H C Llenrad said…
Thanks for sharing your reflections. As a current member of the St Johns family I too continue to pray for wisdom and inspiration in the decisions made.