Return to Taranaki

It's funny how these things work out. We had planned a diocesan field trip to Taranaki back in November sometime, but had changed the date a couple of times. Then when we finally got on the plane it was three days after I had written to my diocese telling them that things were looking a bit shaky. With the prospect of unavoidable change before us, the timing couldn't have been better.

Seven of us from the Diocese of Dunedin flew up on the Thursday before Queen's Birthday weekend, returning the following Tuesday. We were hosted with astonishing and humbling generosity by people within the bishopric. The local Ford dealer supplied very comfortable cars for us, and we visited several  parishes  and met most of the leaders of the Anglican church in that part of the world. People gave of their time and energy on what was supposed to be a holiday weekend and gave unstintingly of their hard won knowledge.

The purpose for going North was to see at first hand the pattern of regionalisation which has evolved in the Bishopric of Taranaki over the past few years. As we in Dunedin have just started this process, ,chatting with Bishop Phillip Richardson and with all of the Regional Deans and examining the processes which they have evolved has been informative, saving us perhaps many years of trial and error. But the trip was far more valuable than giving us a few tips on procedures.

I was in the Diocese of Waikato when Southern Taranaki was added to it, and the dual bishopric was mooted. I well remember the struggles to find enough funding, and know just how close to the wind the fledgling bishopric sailed. When Bishop Phillip was elected about 12 years ago he found himself leading about 30 parishes with scarcely any resources to back himself up. And now, a little over a decade later, the Bishopric is thriving, one of the most recognised and widely respected institutions in the province of Taranaki. This is largely because of the work of the Bishop's Action Foundation, about which I have written before. It was good for me to reacquaint myself with the work of the foundation, and for others from my Diocese who knew little of the BAF's work to witness it and catch something of the vision.

So I arrived, the leader of about 30 parishes and the possessor of not very many resources. What we saw was not so much a set of  projects to be copied, as an example of what can happen when people think laterally and are open to whatever the Holy Spirit puts before them. We all returned encouraged and inspired by what has been achieved in a comparatively brief time, without much money, in a part of the church so very much like our own. There are some immediate applications of Taranaki methods to be made as we shape our emerging regions. We will, later in the year, make use of the BAF's research expertise to investigate the feasibility of a similar organisation in Otago and Southland. But whether or not we are able to establish such a body, the great learning we all brought home was of what happens when the Body of Christ looks outward, past its own needs to the needs of the community in which we find ourselves.