Monday, 24 February 2014

Well Done, Waikato/Taranaki

Photo (c) Anglican Taonga
This weekend past marked, for me, the ending of a task that I was privileged to perform. During last year, after David Moxon's departure from the Diocese of Waikato/Taranaki I held the role of Archbishop's Commissary to the Diocese. Although Waikato/Taranaki has a remaining bishop, Phillip Richardson, I was the reference point for those matters where it was deemed inappropriate to involve Phillip and I was charged with overseeing the process of selecting a replacement for David.

There were many trips back and forth to Hamilton, and phone calls at least weekly. In August I chaired the electoral college. Looking back with six months worth of hindsight, what strikes me about the process is predominantly how seriously and carefully the people of the Diocese took it, and how prayerful they were in their decision making. It is public knowledge that there were a large number of candidates and that some of them came from within the diocese. This is a situation that is potentially fraught, but the process was handled graciously by the synod members. For my own part I was enormously grateful to be advised by Waikato/Taranaki's superb registrar, Denise Ferguson, equally excellent chancellor, Chris Harding and a well chosen arrangements committee.

So, last Saturday I sat sweltering in Hamilton's St. Peter's Cathedral. An oscillating fan behind me delivered a refreshing burst of air every half minute or so: it was still lukewarm but at least it was moving. As the haunting tones of a karanga faded into the stonework, Helen-Anne and her family entered. I was immediately struck by two things: surprise at how young and small she looked, and a deep sense that the people of Taranaki/Waikato were inspired by the Holy Spirit when they chose her.

I have known Helen-Anne since she arrived to teach at St. John's College in Auckland. She is a person who grows on you, and by that I do NOT mean that she gives an unfavourable first impression; quite the contrary, in fact. I mean that the longer I know her the more I like her and the more I am impressed by her intelligence and her pastoral skills. The service moved steadily on through two and a half hours, the way these things do, and then we all tumbled out of the petite St. Peters onto the hillside beyond its doors. Helen-Anne moved amongst the crowd, smiling, talking, greeting, shaking hands. Several people spoke to me of pastoral encounters they had with her in the interregnum period between her election and her ordination. One of these encounters was a very significant and highly charged bereavement which she had handled with just the right mix of strength, tact and compassion. Gentle and self effacing she may be, but she draws on deep wells of spiritual strength and she knows what she is doing.

Following the service Clemency and I were amongst those hosted  by Helen-Anne and her husband Myles at the newly acquired episcopal residence in North Hamilton. There was a houseful of people, mostly family and close friends of the Hartleys and one or two others, such as myself, who had travelled to be present at the ordination. I doubt that I would have had the energy, after such a demanding day, to host a large dinner party with as much finesse as did Myles and Helen-Anne. We drove back to our hotel through the warm Hamilton darkness pleased that our beloved old Diocese can justifiably look to the immediate future with a great deal of hope and confidence.


On Sunday morning Clemency and I flew home early, catching the Air New Zealand ATR72 flight to Wellington at 7:40 am. About 20 minutes out of Wellington. there was a cockpit announcement that there was a"slight problem up front" and we were diverting to Palmerston North. I thought that the fact that we weren't going on to Wellington even though we were so close might indicate that the problem wasn't all that slight, but didn't say this to Clemency. The cabin crew quickly but quite calmly scooted through the plane with a big black plastic sack relieving people of their tea and coffee and belted themselves into their little fold out chairs.

We banked sharply over Palmerston North with the plane leaping about a bit in a moderately strong wind and the pilot plonked it onto the runway. Then came a cockpit announcement I'd never heard on a plane before, "Cabin Crew to your stations". One of the stewards told us to get up quickly and calmly and follow her off the plane and for us to stand upwind of it. The little swing down door opened faster than I've ever seen before, and like a row of goslings behind Mother Goose, we followed the steward out to stand in a little huddle on the tarmac, well away from the plane. It was only then I noticed our entourage: a group of vehicles with flashing lights. There were big yellow fire trucks and the red ones from the Fire Brigade. There were police cars. After a few minutes we were led off the tarmac and into the terminal. Some of the other passengers talked about smelling smoke, faintly at first but increasingly strongly as the flight progressed.

We were put on a flight to Christchurch, another ATR, around midday. Clemency quite inexplicably gave withering looks to my light hearted banter about fires, explosions and wings falling off and ignored me completely when I asked her if she had heard that noise - that metallic ripping sound? We got home a bit later than usual but we did get home. The news reports were muted. Air New Zealand said there had been an unusual odour which caused a diversion to one of its flights. I guess it was a pretty minor incident, but it did leave me with an even greater respect for Air New Zealand. The crew were superb in making their decisions, and in emptying a full plane in what could have been, for all they knew at the time, a very dangerous situation indeed, at speed and with not one hint of panic or anxiety.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Pilgrims and Tourists

We're thinking of going back to Spain and walking the Camino Santiago again. This time we'll take the Northern Route, through Bilbao, so it will be a different path but some people nevertheless seem a little nonplussed at the idea. "I thought you had already done that," they say. "Why don't you go to South America instead? Or Latvia?"

It's hard to explain the addictive pull of the Path of Miracles to people who haven't themselves set off  on a crisp Spanish morning wearing a scallop shell on their back. But it's not about the scenery, beautiful though it is, and it's certainly not about adding a list of been-to places to my collection of useless possessions. A pilgrim is not a tourist. When I travel as a tourist, I travel under my own terms. I arrive and stay briefly in some strange place, sleep in places that the local people would never use, eat food which is either exactly what I might eat at home, or a garish parody of local cuisine, visit structures and museums and monuments seldom frequented by locals, and travel about the place by modes of transport they would never deign to use. There is one ritual practiced universally by all tourists: standing in front of the pretty and/or famous bits taking bad photos of each other, and I have my own collection of these snaps. For all this I pay at tourist rates: ie far in excess of what local people might pay if they did something similar. Most significantly, as a tourist I travel something like a diver in a bathysphere, taking my own little insulating bubble of culture with me and viewing the "foreign" landscape (usually) at speed and (usually) through glass.

Pilgrimage is undertaken not to see the sights or to broaden one's experience. It is conducted at 6 kph and with full tactile engagement with the earth and the elements. The scenery and the local cuisine may indeed be wonderful but that's not the point. When the shell is tied to my pack and I step out onto the senda there is a profound change. I no longer travel under my own terms and in token of that, a new name is given: Peregrino. On The Way my own name fades into insignificance as do all the markers of status I might have accumulated over the years. Age, gender, occupation, income, possessions, religion, nationality, race, education, employment history, sexuality and all those myriad things we use to categorise and stratify each other simply disappear. On the track I am one person amongst several hundred others walking towards the great goal, all of us equal, none of us privileged. I form strong bonds across the barriers which might, in my ordinary life, have prevented them. The bonds of community form quickly and just as quickly are let drop.

Early in the walk I learn to surrender whatever possessions are not absolutely necessary. I learn not to think too far ahead or back, and as the rhythm of days settles, learn to live almost totally in Now. Most of all, I learn to surrender the nonsensical fantasy of my own self sufficiency. I survive on the Camino because of the goodness and generosity of others in building up, over centuries of selfless giving, the infrastructure on which it all depends. Pilgrimage is a spiritual practice because it is an exercise in dying to self. That is, it is not about relinquishing stuff to make God impressed with me, but rather, it is about releasing those things upon which I imagine I depend. In letting go the mirages (security, affection and esteem, power and control)  with which I am ordinarily so enthralled, I see them for what they are and see also where my true identity lies.

It is not for nothing that people call the Camino Santiago The Path of Miracles. As I walk it I am blessed. I am Gobsmacked by God -Godsmacked - on an almost daily basis in matters both small and not so small. I am reduced, but in that reduction something strange happens: several times people would ask me, sometimes with great passion, Rece por mi cuando llegues Santiago - Pray for me when you reach Santiago. There was a sense that the blessing goes both ways. The pilgrim is blessed by walking and blesses in return.

And all of this is a long way around to saying why in three weeks time I will walk and cycle through my diocese. I'm not going to see the sights -after all there aren't many of them I haven't seen already. Although my badge will be a tokotoko staff rather than a shell, I am going to walk as a pilgrimage;  to bless with prayer which is the act of walking and to be blessed by the roads of Otago and Southland which, as much as those of Northern Spain, are also holy ground.

Camino, by David Whyte

This poem captures it perfectly


The way forward, the way between things,
the way already walked before you,
the path disappearing and re-appearing even
as the ground gave way beneath you,
the grief apparent only in the moment
of forgetting, then the river, the mountain,
the lifting song of the Sky Lark inviting
you over the rain filled pass when your legs
had given up, and after,
it would be dusk and the half-lit villages
in evening light; other people's homes
glimpsed through lighted windows
and inside, other people's lives; your own home
you had left crowding your memory
as you looked to see a child playing
or a mother moving from one side of
a room to another, your eyes wet
with the keen cold wind of Navarre.

But your loss brought you here to walk
under one name and one name only,
and to find the guise under which all loss can live;
remember you were given that name every day
along the way, remember you were greeted as such,
and you needed no other name, other people
seemed to know you even before you gave up
being a shadow on the road and came into the light,
even before you sat down with them,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears from your eyes;
pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.

Monday, 17 February 2014

3 To Get Ready...

Next time, maybe? The recently deconsecrated church at Miller's Flat
Today I took my bike to Lawrence and rode the Clutha Gold Trail, a recently opened bike track which runs about 73km from Lawrence to Roxburgh, where it joins the Roxburgh Gorge Trail, which in turn links with the Central Otago Rail Trail. This is all part of a good idea by our Government to build a network of cycleways extending from one end of the country to the other; an idea whose implementation is way behind schedule, but which might nevertheless be the most positive thing for which John Key's government is remembered.

I drive the road beside the Clutha Gold Trail very frequently and had watched it being built. So today was the fulfilment of a plan formed when I first saw the guys at work putting together all those little bridges: to spend a day off doing an out and back ride from Lawrence. I planned to go to Beaumont which I thought might take an hour and a half, but I was surprised how easy it was and how quickly  the kilometres passed. The track is wide, firm and mostly flat. There are one or two small climbs and about a kilometre spent in the dark going through the old railway tunnel at Big Hill (I was pleased I had forgotten to remove my bike's headlight before leaving home). Beaumont was a little over 20 km from my starting point, so I rode up the Millennium Track towards Millers Flat for another 5 km, so that the return journey would cover 50 km, which I finished in a little under 3 hours. The scenery is magnificent and apart from a small shower of rain and a puncture just as I got back to my car, it was a beautiful, re-creational day.  I was sorry to have to turn around and I'm, wondering if, on some future Monday,  I'm game for the 100km round trip from Lawrence to Miller's Flat and back.

Although I have ridden further than this on one or two occasions over the past couple of weeks, I've always stopped somewhere for coffee; this is the longest I have gone without a break. I now know my backside will be OK for 3 hours in the saddle and I'm reasonably confident my fitness level is sufficient for the coming Hikoi. On Saturday Clemency and I walked about 23 km over the Peninsula, past Larnach's Castle and back home through MacAndrew Bay, also without a break. So, despite a few stiff joints on Sunday, I'm not too worried about my ability to do the walking.

I'm hopeful that the others in the core team will also have raised their fitness level sufficiently. There are also a thousand other preparations to be made, and Benjamin Brock Smith is working pretty much full time on those at the moment. We still need billets in Southland and Otago and there are one or two details of the route which still need finalising. There are bookings to be made and some necessary bits of kit to be acquired, most notably a camper van to act as a support vehicle. Some of the regional events are almost completely planned and others are, at the moment, more conceptual.  But it is all falling into place and with a month left to the beginning date, I am looking forward to an event which I know will have a profound effect on our Diocese and who knows? perhaps further afield.