Bishop's Charge to Synod 2012

Kia wehe ki te atua
te timatanga
a te matauranga
Mau nga rongo ki te whenua
Arohanui ki te tangata

Nga whanau o te Karaiti
Whakatau mai
Whakatau mai
Whakatau mai

Whakatau mai i raro i te aroha o te atua
Whakatau mai i raro i te marumaru o tenei whare
Whakatau mai I roto e te aroha o te tangata

Whakatau mai
Whakatau mai
Whakatau mai

The Year Past
Over the past year there is one social and personal malady to which I have never been prone: boredom. It has been a full and rich year, and one in which I have been often aware of the movement of the Holy Spirit in my own life and in the life of our Diocese. We have been witness to all that makes us human, sharing together may joys and sorrows. During this past year several key members of our diocese, past and present, have died. These include:

Canon Alan Blackburn who was ordained in 1938 and served as a priest in this diocese until 1975. At his death at 95 years of age he was New Zealand's longest surviving priest, having been ordained for 71 years;
Mrs Nancy Olssen of the Peninsula parish;
The Ven. Alexander Duffy who served various parishes in our diocese between 1955 and 1971;
The Rev'd. Helene Mann, ordained in 1986 and serving with her indomitable, gregarious and passionate spirit right up til the time of her death;
The Rev'd. Ray Wallace, who served with us from 1952- 1958;
The Rev'd. Harold Clark, vicar of Green Island 1977-1985;
Mr. John Leask, husband of the Rev'd. Airdrey Leask and an integral and much loved member of the Stewart Island parish;
Mr. Brian Thornton, husband of the Rev'd. Ann Thornton,
Rev'd. Elizabeth Swinney, a team priest in Winton from her ordination in 1995 and a much loved and respected kuia in Southland;
Mr. Stan Amsden, diocesan manager from 1984-1997, and a cathedral tour guide for the past 10 years;
Mr. Tom Dobson, a much loved parishioner of Green Island and frequent visitor to the diocesan office.

During this past year I have been grateful for the able, committed and faithful ministries of those who work with me in Peter Mann house. I would not be able to do my job without the support of my Personal Assistant Debbie Flintoff. Debbie's ability to solve problems and take initiatives and her very impressive interpersonal skills make for a very harmonious and mutually respectful working relationship for which I am daily grateful. On a weekly basis I am told how much people appreciate Mrs. Dominique Aitcheson. Her efficiency and appetite for hard work see a prodigious amount accomplished every day, and she too is endowed with a greater than usual level of good interpersonal skills. During this year our accountant Mr David Woods retired, and while I was sorry to lose his skills and his long experience of the particularities of running a diocese, I wish him well in his retirement. After a lengthy period of contracting out the diocesan accounts, Mrs. Ginny Kitchingman was recently employed as diocesan accountant and in the short time she has been with us, she is already making her mark with her skill and the pleasant manner in which she interacts with other staff and with parishes.

Co-operating with me in ministry I am proud to work with my Chaplain, the Rev’d. John Franklin. John’s work is not often seen by the diocese at large, as it consists often in personal encounters on a one to one basis, and in running events attended by small groups of people. But in his counselling and spiritual direction and in his promotion of spirituality throughout the diocese his work is very much an extension of my own, and I am grateful for it. The Rev’d Alec Clark and Mr. Benjamin Brock Smith have been innovative and conscientious in their promotion of Christian miistry through the diocese and further afield. We are fortunate to have with us people of such intelligence and skill. I have particularly appreciated Alec’s boundary workshops over the past year and Benjamin’s pioneering of a new mentoring programme on a national basis.

I am grateful for the wisdom and support of the Rev’d Helen Wilderspin who works with me in her capacity of Vicar General. Helen’s eye for detail and skills in organisation are a great benefit to me and to our diocese. She manages the duties of her role and the demands of an extensive parish with a great deal of energy and skill.

A few weeks ago I accepted with much regret the resignation of our Diocesan manager, Mrs. Bronwyn Miller. Few people realise the enormity of the task Bronwyn has had to manage. As the incomes of parishes has declined, so has the amount given to the Diocese, and thus the amount available for the manager to do what is asked of her. During Bronwyn's tenure, our office staff has been reduced dramatically, but the demands on the office remain constant. During this time of increased pressure, there has been the added burden of the insurance crisis faced late last year, and managed with great aplomb by Bronwyn. I will miss her forthright, no nonsense approach to problems and the personal friendship she has offered me. Between now and the time Bronwyn departs in March 2013, a small committee headed by Vin Maffey will meet to consider a replacement. This is an opportunity to reassess the tasks of the office and to redesign our entire administrative structure, and we will not waste it.

The Way Ahead
It would be tempting to stand here this evening and rehearse before you once again the shared problems with which we are all now so familiar. But I won't. We have talked about it already in other contexts and we are all familiar with all that faces us. We understand the complex social issues which have led to wholesale social changes in our rural areas. We have a grasp of the deep spiritual currents which have weakened the place of the Christian Gospel in the hearts and minds of many in the Western Hemisphere. We know about the global downturn and the costs to us all of the Christchurch earthquakes. We know what has caused the shake up in our diocesan life; what we don't know is quite what to do about it.

My own response has been to try and listen. Two months ago I acquired a caravan, and in the time since have spent 11 nights camping in it beside churches in our diocese. The difference I have experienced between having a home base in a parish, no matter how temporary, and being a guest in someone's home has been huge. It is not just that I have a temporary office, a private retreat and a place to see people. There is a deep unconscious reaction in people to my having an abode amongst them. I have spent brief times, in other words, living in the towns of Southland and Otago, talking to our people, walking their streets, shopping in their supermarkets and getting a feel for what it is like to be there. Most importantly, I have prayed in their churches. In 10, so far, of the 70 churches of our diocese I have risen before dawn to sit in the sanctuary and be still for a period before God. I intend to have prayed in the other 60 before we meet again in 2013. I do this so that I might "hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church" because I think that the way ahead for us is going to be found in that quiet place.

I am not alone in praying for our diocese at this time. I know I am one of a great cloud of witnesses which includes all of you here. Just two weeks ago we met across the diocese to seek God in a weekend of prayer. I was deeply moved at the enthusiasm and imagination with which people approached the task of intercession, and in the time since have been reading the insights garnered from every part of the diocese. Some of them are warmly encouraging. Some are deeply challenging. All of them help focus the light of Christ on our present situation.

There are two tasks we need to address as a diocese, and over the next couple of days, as a synod. Or rather, there are two aspects of the task of reforming the diocese: we need to reshape the diocese outwardly, as far as its structures and procedures are concerned, and we need to renew our inner, spiritual life; the life we share as the body of Christ. Most of the energy we have spent on these tasks over the past few months has been directed at the first of these, and while this is necessary, many have commented to me on the crucial importance, and indeed the priority of the second. The relationship of the two aspects of our common life together is intricate. 

While it is true that an authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ is our very reason for being, unless we are able to give shape to that relationship we will not be able to either live it or make it accessible to others.

In John 15 Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine to describe the life of the church. As any viticulturalist will tell you, to reach it's full potential a vine must have a frame of some sort to grow on. The changes I have proposed to the way we order our ministry units and clergy may be thought of as the frame. It is important to get the frame right, but we do so only as a preliminary step towards another task, that of growing, nurturing, shaping and harvesting the vine. The danger we share with many other churches is that we become overly concerned with the framework, minimizing or even forgetting altogether the purpose for which it exists. This is because the task of structural reform, while complex, is quite easy. Vine growing, that is, nurturing the inner life of the Spirit, is simple yet hard. We will have accomplished nothing if we merely revise our diocesan structures without seeking God for renewal of our inner life with at least as much rigour and energy and time as we put into the preservation of our buildings and systems.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about another metaphor of the relationship of our structures and our inner life. In 2009 Clemency and I visited Assisi. Amongst the places I had long wanted to visit was Rivotorto, the site of the first Franciscan Friary. After some difficulties in finding a permanent residence for himself, his brothers and the women who were beginning to answer his call to radical discipleship,  Francis gave Claire the church of San Damiano's as a home and moved the men a few km down the road to Rivotorto. There he built a rough shelter to act as a refectory and chapel while the brothers build hovels around it as sleeping quarters.  The shelter is still there, as we found after a pleasant walk of an hour or so across the plain from Assisi. It is small and has all the architectural charm and inviting comfort of a bus shelter or a beach changing shed. Made of river stones with a clay tile roof, it is just as Francis and his brothers left it more than 800 years ago, bearing witness to the austerity and purity of their life together.

 Around it has been structured a vast church, bearing witness to quite a different ecclesiology. The huge 19th Century mock gothic Basilica of St. Mary surrounds and towers over the friary. There is a large high altar and side chapels and statues and frescoes and paintings and an enormous gilded statue of the Blessed Virgin staring beatifically down from the roof.
It is all quite beautiful and uplifting. But inside, a great double row of pillars frames a wide nave, with astonishingly, one of the pillars going smack through the roof of Francis' little shelter.
I don't need to spell out the significance of this unconsciously ordered icon. But I invite you to think together of our church and of your own inner life. For you personally, and for the diocese:

What is the little old shelter?
What is the basilica built around it?
In what ways does the basilica protect the shelter and enlarge its life?
What is the pillar going through the roof? 

There is no escaping the difficult task of reordering our diocesan structures. If we are going to be what we claim to be there is no escaping the deeper and more difficult task of hearing again and being transformed at depth by that call which first drew us to Christ

No reira
tena koutou
tena koutou
kia ora hui hui mai
tatou katoa