photo (c) Phil Clark 2014In Oamaru our diocese has a couple of strong congregations, but the rural churches making up the rest of the North Eastern corner of our patch are small. Over the past few weeks they have come together to plan this morning's regional event and the result of the hard work involved was readily apparent today. What an event they put on!
We met at St. John's Waikouaiti, the first church built in the Diocese of Dunedin. A large gazebo had been erected and fitted out with a sound system and the necessities for a Eucharist. Around the tent were a couple of hundred chairs and behind it was the lagoon: a beautiful still and stilling backdrop. We arrived in time to walk the 1 km or so from the main road to the church accompanied by about a dozen people. In the parish hall coffee and tea and the customary well filled tables were waiting. People arrived and chatted and moved slowly over to the gazebo. The service was due to start at 11:00 but the old double decker London bus bringing folk from Oamaru didn't arrive until slightly after that, so we delayed til 11:30 to let them have some refreshments first. It simply didn't matter that we were a bit late. The preparation had been made well, everybody knew that when the time was right it would all happen flawlessly and there was a security in that which allowed us all to relax and just enjoy being there.
The theme was Victorian, in keeping with the commemorative aspects of the Hikoi. Many people dressed up in appropriate 19th Century garb, which is apparently easy enough to do if you live in Oamaru, but many of the women had made their own very authentic looking outfits. There were top hats and mutton-chop whiskers and bustles and bonnets everywhere you looked.
The Eucharist was formally relaxed. We sang, prayed, opened the scriptures and broke bread together. The congregation was fairly large, which was in itself an encouraging and invigorating novelty for the many from very small churches.We ended the day, of course, with lunch.
Behind the parish hall a whole pig and a whole sheep had been barbecued and there was an array of salads and bread and other foodstuffs in case we ran short of pork or mutton; we didn't. We had prizes for the best costumes and gifts for the children. The bus rumbled back to Oamaru about 1:30 pm and I took my leave soon afterwards. Each of the regional events has been very different, and each has been memorable. he small churches of Coastal Otago worked together and today achieved a remarkable result. I was proud and encouraged to be part of it.