Omakau

We had a late start so there was time to watch Attitude. This wonderful program runs on Sunday morning at a time when no one much will be watching it. I don't get to see it very often but it never fails to deliver.  Production values are superb and the interviewing and scripting is amongst the best you will see on New Zealand Television. And the stories! So moving! Today's was about a very high achieving young man with Down's Syndrome and his astonishingly whole and wise parents.

TVNZ buries this on Sunday mornings and at prime time programs endless cooking contests or dating shows or people fixing houses . Go figure.
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We left at 11 am to drive to Omakau: there via the Pig Root, home via the Ida Valley and Middlemarch. We stopped for a picnic lunch somewhere by a river under a deep blue sky and that still warm clear light which is the signature of Central Otago. We made it to St. Mary's church in plenty of time for the service at 2 pm.

This was the last one for this little wooden church. Originally it had been St. Peter's Church in Queenstown but in the early years of the 20thC it was dragged to Omakau by bullock cart and received a change of name. Sometime in the next few weeks it will become somebody's holiday house. The congregation will meet in the local school. It will be cheaper, easier to heat and repair, and far more comfortable for those that remain. We celebrated Eucharist and I read the deed of deconsecration. It's the fourth time I have done this, and it won't be the last.

All over Southland and Otago small rural congregations are dwindling and finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the infrastructure they have inherited from their parents and grandparents. There is the shift in spiritual values and adherence which is common to all Western countries, but in the countryside there are other forces as well. Unnoticed by the vast bulk of fellow Kiwis, who are by and large urban, Rural New Zealand has undergone a radical shift in the past two decades or so which has seen decline or even extinction of most of the organisations and institutions - including the churches - which facilitated rural society. Changes in land use have led to wholesale shifts in land ownership and tenure. The centralising of banks and government services and retail has gutted small country towns.

So the churches close; ours and those of other denominations. I think it is possible that within a decade there will be no church buildings of any description left functioning in vast swathes of Southern New Zealand.

I preached about Abram, leaving Haran and heading for the land of Canaan. I talked about the crofters being driven from their homes by the rapacious lairds, losing the lifestyle they had inherited from countless generations of their ancestors, and moving en masse to Canada and Australia and New Zealand. I talked about the bitterness of ending and where it has led in each of these cases: to new beginnings and unimaginable blessing. A recurrent pattern of the Bible is one that seems to be woven into the very fabric of the Universe: death and resurrection, ending and beginning. The building is gone but not the church. What also remains is the insatiable spiritual curiosity and hunger of those amongst whom the church lives, and the propensity of people to stumble into spiritual experience whether there is a little wooden church in their town or not.   

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