Today was not atypical. I drove nearly 5 hours, 2.5each way for the sake of one conversation. I did fit one or two other small jobs in as well, but I wanted to talk to Penny Sinnamon about the future of the parish, Dunstan, in which she has been a local priest for a very long time. Dunstan encompasses a large swathe of Central Otago including the towns of Alexandra, Roxburgh and Omakau. It has several picturesque little churches, some of which are potential seismic risks and a declining population of Anglicans, although the population of not Anglicans seems to be doing just fine.

The day was hot. The schist and tussock baked under an inky blue sky in that clear dry light so typical of Central. It was a pleasant few hours dancing the Subaru through the Manuka Gorge and past the orchards and over the Clutha to Penny's place. We sat in her kitchen and sipped lemonade while she gave me an analysis of her region, sharpened by a lifetime's residence there. She talked of the social changes of decades and the interdenominational tensions with which the area was riven in generations past. She summed up the current economic and social trends and the reasons why we Anglicans have been a little flat footed in our response to them. She spoke of her own finely honed, open and well informed faith. It was a conversation well worth the drive.

It was still 29 degrees when I left at about 4.30 pm. Penny gave me directions for a quicker way home, one that I had not travelled before, through the Ida Valley to Ranfurly before joining the familiar road through the Pigroot. The Pigroot is so named because in the old days it was mile after mile of churned mud along which waggons were dragged to the goldfields. One notorious hill was named Dead Horse Pinch because of the number of horses which died of exhaustion struggling up its steep and sticky sides. Today it's a gently winding road  with ticket tempting straights between pleasant, gentle hill climbs. In the old days the journey to Dunedin could take days and might cost your horse and your load. Today its about 2 CDs long. And there's the difference. Living in Central Otago isn't such a struggle anymore: we have gained so much but at a cost of a loss of engagement with life of which we hardly even realise the lack.

We built a parish when horses died on the Pinch and we placed our churches so that people could reach them within an hour or two's ride. People went to them to make sense of the harsh Otago weather and the vagaries of war and depression and untimely accident. But it's easier now. For many, it's possible to pretend that life is safer and so the big questions slip further and further away from the ways we have traditionally formulated our answers. So we find ourselves with more buildings than we can profitably use and fewer answers than people can profitably comprehend. If our diocese is going to survive in this astonishing, huge landscape, we must change and we must change soon. How, I am only partly sure, but I'm glad that all over the place the Holy Spirit has set among us people of wisdom and depth and common sense. I was reminded today of my need listen to them more often.


NIE said…
I'm glad you at last have traversed the Ida Valley!
The final paragraphs are surely food for many thoughts about how to proceed.
"Central"as the locals call it, is certainly very special. I just looked at this link and wondered if there is any way they could add something about the spiritual heritage? This is a place where life does move more slowly for many - an ideal place for re-directing some thoughts, perhaps? (I'd recommend to all your overseas readerd the 'on-line book'link )
Katherine said…
Ah, our pleasant and comfortable lives ~
The closest I can get is camping. And I haven't been camping for too long.
I remember how much I appreciated coming home to a place that didn't flap in the wind, to a pantry full of food, and fridges that kept the butter solid and the milk fresh, and taps that spouted instant water and a shower that you didn't have to trek to.

Have you read 'Beyond the Skippers Road' by Terri Macnicol?