Our church will gather tomorrow at the Waitangi Treaty house and be welcomed to the Bay of Islands by the Tangata Whenua. We will be from three tikanga: Pasifika, Maori and Pakeha and we will all meet on Sunday for prayer and then on Monday to discuss our common business. Before that happens though, we Pakeha have been meeting to sort out the stuff that pertains only to us.

There is a story told about a native American chief in the 18th Century who was prodigiously talented at languages. In the space of a year he became proficient in English, Spanish, French and Italian. He was taken to England  and at a dinner at Oxford University he was asked, "so tell us chief, what is the grammar of your own language?" He thought deeply for a few moments and then said, "my language does not have any grammar." Just as our own grammar is invisible to us and the grammar of other languages blatantly obvious, so is our own culture invisible to us while that of others is plainly apparent.This is why, before the constitution of our church was revised in 1992 so that it more accurately reflected the partnership between the three parts of our church, us Pakeha used to pretty much run things. Everything was done according to our tikanga - that is, our customs and usages -with some inclusion of Maori or Pasifika elements from time to time, and we Pakeha didn't actually notice what we were doing.

And when our church reorganised itself we Pakeha suddenly found ourselves lumped together as a group based on a culture that we had to struggle to identify to ourselves. The new constitution required that we, like the other tikanga, meet together regularly on our own, and the instruments for doing this were to be Common Life Conferences and the Inter Diocesan Council. Common Life Conferences meet around particular topics on a more or less regular basis. They are a sort of committee I suppose; or at least, I think so- I have never actually been to one. The Inter Diocesan Conference (IDC) has become the way in which the 7 Pakeha Dioceses meet. Early in the piece it was recognised that if we made the members of the IDC the same people as go to General Synod, and we met at the same time as General Synod we could save ourselves a whole lot of money. So IDC became a sort of adjunct of General Synod and, although in fact nobody quite knew what it was supposed to do, by default it became a sort of governance body. I was once elected onto General Synod, and thus onto IDC but attending once was enough for me, and I made darned sure that next time elections came around I wasn't nominated. Now of course, I don't have the luxury of non attendance.

So we met today under the legacy of all that uncertainty. We began well enough. Sarah Stevens, one of the Ministry Enablers from this part of the world conducted an assured and well crafted Eucharist. Ian Render, the other Enabler preached superbly. He talked about buildings and mission, a topic I am wrestling with myself as we contemplate the closure of several of the churches in Otago and Southland. Ian was illuminating, well researched, inspired and inspiring.  Most of the rest of today was spent on trying to sort ourselves out. We listened as the dioceses gave brief reports and we bishops gave mini state of the nation addresses about the challenges and strengths of our regions. We met in small groups to discuss the themes of these addresses and all of that was fairly energised and positive. We, all of us, feel the call to a deeper level of community and to a renewed practice of discipleship. Then in the afternoon we sort of lost our way.

After lunch we spent a long time revamping the rules under which IDC meets. There was a report which not many people had read, and there were motions and revisions and amendments and we were making a good deal of it up as we went along, and I doubt if more than half of us there knew what on earth was going on for a good deal of it. It dragged on until dinner time and the one positive thing that happened out of it all was a hastily convened bishop's meeting where, at the instigation of Justin Duckworth and Victoria Matthews we resolved to do things better and sketched out a plan for doing so.

We, from the Diocese of Dunedin, met afterwards for dinner. We had a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir and the food was good. We ended the day in community: talking over matters of faith around a shared meal. See, we can do church pretty well; at least we can when we're not actually trying to.