E te Atua to matou Kai-hanga
Ka tiaho te maramatanga me te ora, I au kupu korero,
Ka timata au mahi, ka mau te tika me te aroha;
Meatia kia u tonu ki a matou
Tou aroha I roto I tenei huihunga.
Whakakii a matou whakaaro a matou mahi katoa,
E tou Wairua Tapu
Welcome, welcome thrice welcome as we gather here in the South of our Diocese to celebrate our common life and plan together for our future. As we begin our time together, I am conscious of those of our number who have died over the past year:
Leonard Austin, Jocelyn Broughton, John Sutton. Eternal rest, grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them May they rest in peace and rise again in glory. Amen.
I am very aware that this will be my last time to be standing here as your bishop, and who knows? Perhaps my last time ever to be present in this synod.
This past year has proven to be a significant one for the diocese. Late last year Mr. Graeme Sykes ended his role as diocesan manager, and at approximately the same time, Mrs Emma Neas ended her role as communications officer. We did not fill these positions, and instead reorganised our office so that tasks previously performed by five people were done by three. Mrs. Debbie Flintoff took on the role of Diocesan Registrar, which involved assuming the lion’s share of the manager’s tasks as well as retaining almost all of her former duties as Bishop’s PA. Mrs. Dominique Aitcheson continued as senior accounts officer and Mrs Ginny Kitchingman as Diocesan Accountant, with both taking up extra tasks. Our office functions because of the selfless commitment of our staff and their long years of experience, but this last year has not been an easy one for Ginny, Dominique or Debbie, who have coped admirably and shown immense good will and humour in very trying circumstances.
I am grateful for the support and encouragement given me this year by our Vicar General, Alec Clark. Alec has a difficult time ahead, leading the diocese through one of the most important transitions in its history and I ask for your support for him in the months ahead.
At the end of last year Mr. Benjamin Brock Smith left his position on the ministry education staff to move to Auckland where he is studying at St. John's College. This has meant a reorganisation of our educational structure. I have taken some of Alec’s tasks and in this past year the expenses of the episcopate have, accordingly, been partially met by our grant from the St. John’s College Trust Board. Without this measure, and without the reduction in office staff we would not have survived as a diocese, and our future is far from certain. This synod must make some hard decisions, particularly in relationship to the diocese and how it is financed. We are at the point we have spoken of for years, when radical change is necessary, and the changes need to be made now. The changes required go beyond mere reform or even revival. We need to be thinking of building a whole new church, here in the South of Aotearoa.
A few weeks ago we remembered the builders of the Church of Aotearoa, and the epistle set for that remembrance was 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, which reads:
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.”
Many years ago, when I was 21, that foundation was laid for me. On the evening of August 5, 1973, I went with my girlfriend, Clemency, and my best mate, Alden, the Assembly of God Church in Lower Hutt. For the previous year I had been engaged in an intensive period of spiritual exploration, and as part of that I was attending, for the first time, the church which Clemency had lately found to be so helpful. Ten minutes into the service I deeply regretted going. I seemed to be surrounded, wall to wall, with nut jobs and I was subject to the worst sermon I have ever heard in my life. It was about how classical music is of the Devil and if you listen to it you are going to Hell. At the end of the service an invitation was issued for those who wished to commit their lives to Jesus Christ to come forward. To my very great surprise and horror, both Clemency and Alden went forward, leaving me alone in the pew. I thought the entire world had gone mad, and resolved to return home to Christchurch as quickly as possible. I moved to the end of the pew, but, for reasons I am still not clear about, instead of turning left for the door and the inter-island ferry, I turned right and went to the front of the church. I was ushered into a back room and a glittery eyed young man asked me if I wanted to commit my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I wasn’t entirely sure who or what the Lord Jesus Christ was, but I nodded, whereupon he led me through the sinner’s prayer, and asked me to sign a small card, which I still carry in my Bible.
My Great Decision For
By the grace of God, I have
this day accepted Jesus Christ
as my personal Saviour, and
I thank Him that He has
forgiven me my sins, and granted
me Eternal Life.
"Him that comets to me I will in no wise cast out”
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power
to become the sons of God, even to them that believe
on his name”
And in that moment my life changed. Over the next few weeks I experienced in myself healing, restoration and forgiveness. I found a new purpose and a new direction. I found myself part of a new community. I began the work which has been central to my life ever since, of understanding what happened to me on that night, and understanding the one who so patiently and lovingly called me to himself. I now realise that the event of that night wasn’t the adoption of some theological understanding or other, or my incorporation into a particular church. It was rather my first (though not my last) experience of dying to self; of relinquishing all my previous guesses about what the world is and what it means, and accepting in their place the life offered in Jesus. That is, a life characterised by the pattern of death and resurrection.
On the foundation of that initial encounter with Jesus Christ I began to walk the path which, over the intervening 43 years, has led me to here and now, to the pulpit of Holy Trinity Church and to this synod. In brief, here are the waypoints of that journey:
For the rest of 1973 I became a member of the New Life Centre in Christchurch, and was baptised. At a meeting called Group 70 in St. Mary’s Addington, I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. In 1974, St Jude’s Lyall Bay I was confirmed by Bishop Edward Norman and became an Anglican. In 1975 I became a youth worker in Holy Trinity Avonside, and in 1976 married Clemency, and then attended St. John’s College in Auckland where I picked up an Otago B.D. And won prizes for my abilities in Greek and public speaking. In 1979 I became a curate in St Mary’s Merivale and then, 3 years later was made the Vicar of the Parochial District of Waihao Downs in South Canterbury. In 1985 I became minister in St. Francis Co-operating Parish in Hamilton. Later, I had a brief stint as Vicar of All Saints Sumner and then was made Bishop’s Chaplain for Ministry in the Diocese of Waikato. In late 1998 I moved to Dunedin to live in the lovely old vicarage in Highgate and 7 years ago you elected me Bishop. Somewhere along the way I became the father of three extraordinary children and the grandfather of four even more extraordinary ones. I acquired a Doctor of Ministry degree and various bits of paper testifying to my abilities in subjects of varying significance. I accumulated several walls of books. Somewhere else along the way I stopped referring to myself as a Charismatic and started calling myself a Contemplative. So was all of this “successful?” The only test is the one Paul gives in 1 Corininthians 3: The work of each builder will become visible for the day will disclose it.
A few years ago Clemency and I were in Hamilton for the weekend so, for nostalgia’s sake we went back to St. Francis’s, the church where we had been most “successful”. In six years there, we had both worked full time in the parish, and had seen the fruit of our labours. The congregation had more than trebled, going from about 70 people at the main service to about 250. The Sunday school had increased from a membership of about a dozen to a membership of over 120 and weekly attendance of around 80. We ran an annual school holiday programme with average attendance of 200 children a day. Clemency’s weekly Bible study, Bibles and Bubs, held in the vicarage, was attended by an average of a dozen or so young mothers, each with at least one toddler in tow, and two family camps a year aimed, and usually successfully managed, to graft their husbands into the worshipping life of St. Francis. Leaving St. Francis is one of my great regrets in ministry, but a couple of decades later we returned, to find that almost everything we had built was gone. A bit like seeing an old and loved friend after many years apart we saw the contrast between what constituted a large and thriving church in 1988 and its 2008 equivalent. There were a few familiar faces, aged as I suppose ours were, and the beautiful new building I had helped to develop was now, 30 years on, showing its age. Our vicarage had long since been sold, and the garden Clemency had planted was paved over. We had a sober conversation on the plane and the way home. The work of each builder will become visible for the day will disclose it.
So had we wasted our time? No.
Would we do it all over again? You bet your life we would.
The real lasting work wasn’t the building or the garden. It wasn’t even the congregation or the Life in the Spirit seminars or Christmas Countdown or the other programmes. It is seen in the people, and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Over the years, on occasion, there are those who hesitatingly approach me at some social event, shake my hand and say, “You won’t remember me, but there was a sermon you preached once, that made all the difference to me,” or, “I still remember the time you visited when my mother died.” The worth of ministry is measured not so much in statistics, or buildings or successful programmes, but in the extent to which we bring people to the foundation, to Jesus Christ and allow Jesus to begin the building work in them. The life of St. Francis parish and my own spiritual path, if they are truly marked by the presence of Jesus, MUST display that pattern of his life, that is, of death and resurrection.
So to this last phase of my stipended ministry. Over the past 7 years our diocese has continued the process of decline, with the patterns following the same trends they have displayed over the episcopacies of the last four bishops. During this synod we will have to make some important decisions about how we shape our future, because every one of our parishes is financially stretched, and the diocese itself cannot manage the tasks already required of it, let alone those new tasks which are waiting just over the horizon. As the number of churches which cannot manage their own affairs rises, and as the requirements on us for accounting and auditing become ever more stringent, our resources of money and personnel are being stretched more and more tightly. “The work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it.” Paul's metaphor is profound, and it should be noted that there are some fires which burn so hot that as well as the straw and wood being burned up, even the precious stones will crack and crumble to nothingness, and even the gold and silver will melt. I believe the church in all the West is now feeling the heat of just such a fire. I repeat something I said above:
We are at the point we have spoken of for years, when radical change is necessary, and the changes need to be made now. The changes required go beyond mere reform or even revival. We need to be thinking of building a whole new church, here in the South of Aotearoa
To be in such a situation can seem daunting and discouraging, unless we remember one thing; and that is, that no matter how fiercely the blaze is burning, the foundation remains solid and undamaged. Jesus is still there, and it is our job as a diocese; each of us individually, and as a group, to rediscover that foundation, Jesus Christ our Lord. If we can know that we are grounded there, there can be no failure, and the building will take care of itself. If we claim to follow the resurrected one, why would we ever be surprised that we are led to this place of death? It is the only path to the life which must surely follow.
+Kelvin Dunedin. 16 September 2016