Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Edinburgh


A Scotland supporter obligingly takes a pic for some Wales fans beside the statue of Greyfriars Bobby a few hours before the Welsh walloped the Scots at Murrayfield.

What can I say about Edinburgh, other than that if I was ten years younger and/or a little less anchored where I am I would move there like a shot. The weather was not much while I was there and I know from past experience and present observation that the parking wardens are feral, but I simply love this majestic, gray, quirky, noble, self assured, cultured, elegant, ancient and trendy city. It is a little disconcerting that the street names are all the ones I know from back home and that they run off each other in quite a different order than I am used to. It is disconcerting also that despite the disparity in age and size there is something of the feel of Dunedin about Edinburgh. It is not just that we colonials have aped Edinburgh in trivial details of naming and aesthetics, but rather that somehow the values which inform this great city, also informed those who moved from Scotland to Otago all those years ago.

I was hosted during my stay by Bishop Brian Smith and his wife Lissa. On Saturday morning Brian gave me a brief tour, and his love of the city and his deep knowledge of it were conveyed with elegance, eloquence and understated humor. Every five minutes we stopped our stroll so he could point out some detail of architecture or geography or history that whetted my appetite for further exploration. I was taken to the city chambers and shown the Dunedin room, lined with rimu and hung with a couple of superb taiaha, a very old waka hoe and several paintings of my little city.

Later in the day Anne Pankhurst drove me to the Borders where I looked at some churches in rural towns who were coping pretty well with the problems faced by many of our our own congregations. On Sunday I preached in the large, late Victorian cathedral which was pleasingly full. I had conversations with a few of the urban Clergy and went to a quite innovative contemplative service in St. Peter's. Edinburgh Diocese is growing. There are a few charismatic/evangelical congregations doing very nicely indeed but the growth is not confined to them. There us vigor, innovation and modest but steady numerical growth in ordinary suburban congregations, in rural churches and in the inner city. I was not there long enough to make any sort of analysis of this, but there were a couple of impressions I took away with me. One was the quality of leadership exercised by the clergy I met. Another was the willingness, in some places at least, to experiment and to make some quite bold innovations. Yet another was the depth of theological understanding I encountered amongst the (admittedly small number of) clergy and lay leaders that I met. I guess that the positive and attractive culture of the Diocese had a lot to do with the gentle, encouraging but shrewd pastoring of Bishop Brian.

I left on Monday with regret. I would have liked to stay longer; much longer: I was aware that there were several parishes vacant in the diocese and that this is a diocese that would be interesting, challenging and enjoyable to be part of. Perhaps though, my reason for being there was not to reverse the century old pattern of migration, but to be shown yet one more area where we in the south might profitably ape our big sister in the North.
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Highlands

The journey from London to Inverness doesn't seem so far if you sleep most of the way, which I did. I had checked my bag into the left luggage place at Victoria, had lunch with Alastair Cutting, walked to the Tate Modern, saw the artworks, got lost walking back, found a tube station and thus my way again, had dinner, got my bag again and boarded the Caledonian Sleeper, so it had been tiring afternoon. I was glad to have a wee dram in the dining car before retiring to my rocking swaying little cell to sleep. At about 2 in the morning I awoke and peered out my window at a station with an unpronounceable Gaelic name and saw that there was about a foot of snow on the platform. At about 7 I got dressed, and raised my blind to watch the gray dawn rising on countryside that seemed at once familiar and utterly other.

At Inverness I was met by Bishop Mark Strange, who appeared, reassuringly large, talkative and casual, a minute or two after the train disgorged its passengers into the frosty morning air. He drove me to his home, and then with astonishing generosity, around a fair proportion of his diocese.

The Diocese of Moray Ross and Caithness is in many ways very like Dunedin. geographically it is about the same size and has a similar number of parishes. There are familiar issues of ministering to small and scattered communities and of finding models of ministry which make the best possible use of the limited numbers of stipendiary positions available. The diocese has developed collaborative ministry- mutual shared ministry to us- and is now considering the evolution of the model.

In some ways the landscape is reminiscent of home, but there are some very distinct differences. The hills have the same rolling contour, but there are not the steep sharp, high mountains that we in the South Island expect to be always in the background. The forests look unfamiliar, as do the birds and other fauna. The architecture is very different as are the apparent land use patterns, which draw attention to the biggest difference of all: the towns, the buildings, the stone fences, the abandoned or gentrified crofts, the vast deer pastures, the stone churches, the new forests all speak of the long and fraught history of the Highlands. This is a country whose past tensions still shape the society in which the Episcopal Church of Scotland still ministers.

As I was driven there was a strong sense of being at home. Some of my own ancestors came from here or hereabouts, and the values which shaped this culture have also shaped me. My ancestors, however, had been so anxious to leave that they never gave the Highlands a backward glance. There was no fiddling about with tartan or bagpipes or sporrans for my lot, they were keen instead to acquire a sense of security not vouchsafed by their fatherland and to build a new life in the antipodes. I am, in fact I'm not sure exactly where it was they left, but after a day learning a little of the history of this beautiful place, I could understand what it was they left.

The sky was blue. The lochs were mirror like and there was a dusting of snow on the higher peaks. The churches may be small but they seem to be energetic and innovative, and I finished the day convinced that we in Dunedin have much to learn from and much to share with this Anglican family from the other end of the globe. For instance, many in our diocese would be interested to learn that they run pretty much the same size operation out of an office in a small converted stables in the bishop's back yard with a paid staff of two.

That evening I was treated to a superb Highland meal cooked by Jane Strange for me, and for some other clergy of the diocese including David and Loma Balfour who have known me for years and Clemency for decades. I would have liked to have stayed longer. In the morning I caught the train for Edinburgh but hope that one day I might make the return journey.
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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Farewell Augustine



I'm not sure what I expected from this course, but whatever it was, it's not what I am taking away. I'm used to being on courses: we're very fond of them in the Anglican church, and for some years my job was to devise them, construct them and run them. This one followed the usual (sorry) course of events. We had a timetabled structure to the day, we ate we sat round in chairs, we took notes as various people winged in for the event, gave us their opinions and winged away again. For me the highlights of the content were Jane Williams, wife of the archbishop and, surprisingly, John Rees, an English Canon lawyer. The content was good, but as far as courses go, this was just another one. What made being here worth the cost of a round the world air ticket were those things that money can't buy.

One of these was the company I kept. I was with thirty other people who have recently been through an electoral synod. In other words, thirty other people with long and varied careers in the church and who, for better or worse, have been seen by their dioceses as worthy pinning places for hope and aspiration. About half of my fellow bishops were African, and the rest came from Canada, the USA, Australia, Ireland, The Pacific and India. Amongst them were some remarkable people. I have been in the Anglican church for decades now, and for me "the Anglican Communion" has never been quite real; it is a bunch of committees that other people go to; it is a plethora of wordy and unreadable statements on various things; it is an amorphous organisation like the British Commonwealth which I know is a jolly good thing, but I've never really figured out why. But here, with this diverse group of very human men and women struggling to advance the Kingdom against often overwhelming odds, it suddenly all made sense.

Another was the place. For a week I was part of the community life of a great Cathedral. With a million visitors a year, a paid staff of over 300 and a volunteer staff of twice that, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the world's most important holy places. Just through the wall from the place I sat for evensong was the spot where Thomas A' Becket was murdered. The shrine is no longer there, removed like so many other precious things by the reformers, but the tiles worn smooth by the knees of praying pilgrims remain. The stones tower skyward and are steeped in the prayers of millions of people, so that although there is evidence of conflict and death all around, this is a beneficent place. Several times a day I sat in the warm embrace of centuries of my ancestors to pray and think and be.

So my days filled out and the week passed and seemed months long. I thought, listened, prayed, walked in the picturesque little city, drank good English beer, joked and discussed and listened thought and prayed some more. I will go home a better bishop for being here, which was the whole point I suppose and is all too valuable. But even more valuable is the sense I carry of having been gifted with enormous process in my walk as a Christian and a man.

Pictures From Canterbury













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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

George and the Dragon.



A couple of you have asked me privately to tell you the legend of St. George and the dragon. OK. Can do. But I know several versions of the story and am at a bit of a loss as to which one to tell, so I will divide the story up into sections, and for each section put down both of the two major variants I know of, one variant being written in normal typeface, the other in italics. Then you can choose the bits you like and construct the legend that you like best.

1. Once upon a time there was city ruled by a king who had a beautiful daughter. Near the city lived a dragon ( or in some versions a crocodile, but we'll stick with a dragon. They look better on flags and coins and such)

2. The dragon was very wealthy
the dragon built it's nest beside the town's only water supply

3. One day the king got into debt. With no other sources of revenue the king borrowed the money he needed from the dragon, taking out a mortgage on his daughter as surety.
in order to stop the dragon eating folk when they went to fetch water, the townsfolk used to feed it goats. If there were no goats handy they would use the next best thing, ie a damsel. The unlucky damsel was chosen from the supply of available village virgins by casting lots

4. A year and a day after the loan was taken out, it fell due, both capital and accrued interest. And I suppose, GST. The dragon came to collect what was rightfully his but the king's financial acumen had not improved any in the intervening 12 months and he couldn't meet his commitment. So the dragon foreclosed on the princess.
one day, as luck would have it, the lot fell to the kings daughter and she was given to the dragon.

5. The dragon took the princess away and tied her to a tree, intending to eat her later.

6. "Eek! Eek! Eeeeek!" Squealed the princess! "who will save me?"

7. George appeared, slew the dragon and saved her.
George appeared, fought the dragon and subdued it. He tied the princess's girdle around the dragon's neck and led it back into the city.

8. The townsfolk were mightily impressed and became Christians on the spot.

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Bishop's Crook



On display in a glass case in the treasury of Canterbury Cathedral is a bishop's episcopal staff called The Canterbury Crozier. Made in mid Victorian times by William Burgess, it is an exquisite piece, worked in silver and ivory and encrusted with semi precious stones. The curve of the staff is carved to depict St. George fighting the dragon, with the dragon's intended princessly victim tied to the handle. The detail, in for example, St. George's armour and the ropes tying the princess Is astonishingly realistic. When this beautiful and valuable thing is not in a glass case being oohed and aahed over by tourists, it is used by the Bishop of Dover as he goes about his episcopal duties.

What interested me in it enough to ask the obliging cathedral verger to unlock the treasury and let me see it, is the fact that the first owner of this remarkable object was Henry Lascelles Jenner. In 1866 Jenner was selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury as the first Bishop of Dunedin and was duly consecrated as the same. He then spent a few years touring England raising funds to buy necessary stuff for his new see, such as, for example, a really nice crozier. While Jenner ticked all the boxes as far as the authorities in England were concerned, no one had thought to ask the people of Dunedin, and they were not so sure. Jenner was Anglo Catholic, and they were not. A period of negotiation and argument dragged on for about 5 years, at the end of which the Diocesan Synod formally rejected Jenner's claim to the kathedra, and Bishop Samuel Tarrant Neville was consecrated and installed instead.

In one of those nice little pieces of synchronicity, I found Bishop Neville's crozier just a week or two before I left for England, propped in the corner of the dean's office, looking a bit loose and dusty but nevertheless in not bad nick, all things considered, and certainly worth a trip to the cleaner's. Notwithstanding the fact that it is solid brass and weights almost as much as I do, I intend to use it. But looking at this gorgeous piece in the Canterbury treasury, I did for a moment think I might have preferred it instead. But only for a moment. The legend of St. George and the dragon is one of the silliest stories in the literary history of the church: it is, shall we say, blatantly Freudian and, although of course the symbolic links to the Gospel story are there, they do require some sophisticated ability in non literal thought to see them.

Looking at the Canterbury Crozier, I had two thoughts. Firstly, on the durability of culture. The independence of spirit and disregard for authority are characteristic of my city, my province and my diocese to this very day. Secondly, while it might be a fitting symbol in an English church ( patron saint and all that), I would be hard pressed to think of an object which could less symbolise my diocese than a piece of elephant ivory depicting a bloke fighting a dragon and a woman tied to a tree. It must have been tough on poor old Jenner but perhaps, if things had gone as originally planned, there would have been some very unhappy people in the fledgling Dunedin colony, including Henry Lascelles Jenner.


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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Canterbury



From my room in the Cathedral Lodge I look out at the immense bulk of the Cathedral itself. Surrounding it are the various buildings of the close which house the Cathedral school and in which live some of the 300 paid staff of this busy and ancient society. People have lived in intentional Christian community on this site continuously for 1,400 years. Surrounding the close is the town of Canterbury, bustling with students and a few, hardy, out of season tourists. All of it, Cathedral, Close and City wear the patina of age. Houses are crooked and streets are narrow. Ancient fortifications sit jammed against ancient places of worship and ancient dwelling places. There are half timbered houses and walls made of stone or flint and panes of runny distorted glass. And yet there is a strong sense, not of being in a museum, but in an energetic, vibrant modern town.

It is a bit incongruous for someone like me, used to the Historic places trust getting twitchy over minor changes to an 80 year old building, to see 500 year old ones housing pizza joints or tattoo shops or estate agents. This afternoon I went to a pub with David Rice and Ross Bay. From the dozens of cutesy ye olde English alehouses available, we chose, naturally, The Bishop's Finger. It is tiny, it glows suitably with the oak which lines it and which last photosynthesized around the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. It has little tables made from old barrels and a range of good English beers, and a row of pokie machines lined up against one of the walls. It is, like the rest of the town, a functioning, living place which participates in the 21st Century as much as the 16th.

And so, although abbey and it's priory are only metres away I am staying in a very modern, very comfortable room in a very modern, very well designed conference centre whose existence is a sign of the continuing life of this, one of the most significant holy places in the world. There is a pattern of life here, of daily worship, reflection and community life which I have been assimilated into and for which I feel a peculiar sense of ownership. Here is the central point of my tradition. I am very thankful to be here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

London









It was -1 degrees when I landed, but the sky was a clear bright blue, and with just as much to fear from nutters bearing gelignite as the yanks, the Brits processed us visitors with infinitely more grace, efficiency and friendliness. I had forgotten, until I was sitting on the tube, how much I love this place. There is a feel to it which is utterly other - there is no amount of imagining that could convince me I might be somewhere in New Zealand - but at the same time it is comfortable and familiar and deeply, deeply known. The tube zims speedily through the dark tunnels and I am surrounded by that variation in humanity which makes London so unpredictable and so appealing. There is an elderly East Indian woman with bags of groceries at her feet, reading the Financial Times. A group of tiny schoolgirls in panama hats gather Madeleine style around a Miss Clavell. An achingly beautiful girl sits distractedly in a hippie costume of kaftan and brightly woven headband. Young men receive texts and talk to each other in Turkish. An old guy in a leather jacket and jeans reminisces silently about the days when he rode a Matchless wiv a bird upon 'is bike; his clothes have remained the same since 1964 though he has changed within them as has the world around him. An assured young man talks loudly to three assured young woman and a slightly more diffident older one.

There is congestion on the Circle line and some sort of repairs being made to the District line. I look at the tube map on the wall and recalculate my way to Victoria. I feel like one of the cognoscente.

I buy an English sim card and Google Map my way to the little hotel I have booked. I have a shower and find a pub for my first real beer since I was last here and have something to eat. I had intended to visit the Tate Modern, but instead am content to wander the streets. Near my hotel are streets lined with Maseratis and Porsches, but also ones containing a market, and guys with dreadlocks and Rasta caps, and there are racks of the new Boris Bikes, and theatres and cafes and famous buildings at every turn. I wear 4 layers,three of them woolen, two fairly thick but I am only just warm enough. I pop into Westminster Cathedral. It looks a bit like a railway station but feels inexpressibly holy. I am moved deeply at the sight of the fragile little body of St. John Southworth who, in 1654 suffered the inhuman fate of being hung drawn and quartered for the crime of ministering to his people as a Catholic priest. Oh my Lord. The things we have done in your name! Forgive us.

I walk out into the gathering dusk at 4:00 and back to my tiny room to sleep. I'm glad, as I walk, of the scarf and gloves but gladder still to be here.


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Fear and loathing in LA

Long haul flights have a sameness about them. You sit, read, watch, toss, turn sleep, toss turn, stretch, queue, pee, toss, turn, eat, drink, read and watch some more, toss and turn. Every so often, after a long long interval, you disembark, sit in a viewless soulless joyless room for a while, reembark and continue as above. This every so often activity is 'the stopover', where all of the fuel, and some of the supplies, cargo and passengers get changed for fresh ones. Flight NZ2 had one in Los Angeles. Everywhere in the world, on stopovers, passengers are speedily ushered into an isolated part of the airport, left to their own devices, safely separate from all that is happening in the rest of the airport, and indeed the world, then speedily ushered onto the plane again. But no longer in the USA apparently. Since 9/11 the authorities have insisted on photographing us all and finger printing us all lest we do something dastardly, such as, I suppose, taking more than our fair share of the transit lounge instant coffee.

So we were taken into the joyless viewless etc as expected, but made to queue and were all given colored plastic tags. Then, after a while we were asked, by a young woman with a barely understandable Hispanic accent, to form ourselves into groups of ten and come forward for processing. Ten obliging souls did so, and after another very, very long while we were asked to form a second group. It was like that moment in a dull sermon where the preacher says 'point two', and you remember with horror that he confessed to having five points to make. Those of us still alert enough did the maths and groaned. Given the seating capacity of a 747 this process was going to take a little under 3 hours. Apparently, after 3 or 4 batches, this same thought occurred to the young woman with the accent, so as well as the batches of ten slowly making their way through the cameras at the far end of the room, we formed other groups who were led off like kids on a school trip to other parts of LAX terminal 2. I tagged along on one of these; up and down escalators and lifts, through corridors and passageways to another room much like the one we had left where we queued and were,at long last, scanned, digitized and stamped. Then in reverse, back to the original room we dutifully followed to where another young woman with another barely decipherable accent ticked us off on a good old fashioned paper list with a good old fashioned ball point pen, relieved us of our plastic tags and cajoled us to find the people that she had somehow misplaced. We were back on the plane about an hour and a half after getting off. I guess in truth it wasn't much longer than a stopover in a sane place, and it did give us something to do, but it didn't do a lot to reinforce the slogan emblazoned everywhere "Welcome to the USA!"

Los Angeles International airport is a big place. A jet lands from somewhere or other about every 90 seconds, so presumably this chaotic charade was being played out simultaneously in dozens of locations all over the airport. While it obviously keeps a number of people in gainful employment, I cannot imagine how it makes the USA one whit safer. Almost a decade after 9/11 the bombers still have the most powerful nation on earth running around like so many headless chickens, and leaving the impression in the minds of many thousands of brief visitors of an insecure nation governed by unnecessary fear and doubt.

So, my traveller's tip of the day? Unless you can absolutely not avoid it, take the other way.

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