From the Vicar

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Well that was a fun interlude! From Level 1 to lockdown and back out again in a few short days. I hope I’m not the only one who couldn’t really remember what Level 3 was all about. I mean, I knew it meant sticking to our bubbles, and I had a vague feeling I was supposed to go and buy an excessive amount of toilet paper, but beyond that the specifics of the rules were lost in the mists of last year. If nothing else it was a reminder of the importance of maintaining good habits even when we are in Level 1, including simple things like: signing in with the Covid app (or having our name and number recorded), washing our hands regularly and, as always, being careful if we are unwell.

Of course one consequence of our brief bounce up to Level 3 was having to miss our annual combined Ash Wednesday service with our Catholic and Methodist brothers and sisters. I am aware that Ash Wednesday and Lent itself can seem out of place in the modern age. A number of denominations will not mark either and the whole thing about penitence and ashes probably strikes many as almost medieval.

But, despite some appearances, Lent is not about the age of oil lamps and horse carts. It is about the Great Three Days of Easter, specifically the darkness and passion of Good Friday and the light and joy of Easter Day. It is both in anticipation of and in response to these holy days that we embark on our Lenten journey. It is in anticipation of and in response to Christ’s great sacrifice that we observe a season of self-examination and repentance: so that we might know the assurance of forgiveness found in him. It is in anticipation of and in response to the eternal joy of the resurrection that we dedicate ourselves to spiritual disciplines: so that we might grow in faith and devotion to our risen Lord.

Lent is our chance to contemplate and reflect on these things and to come again to our God who is overflowing with grace. For me, the impulse of Lent is captured in the final verse of Come Thou Fount:

O to grace how great a debtor

daily I’m constrained to be.

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,

bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

prone to leave the God I love:

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,

seal it for thy courts above.


Sunday, 14 February 2021

There is a train station in Japan with no entrance or exit. Seiryu Miharashi has no ramp, no stairs, no gate - nothing. The only way to get on to the station is by disembarking from a train, and the only way to leave is by boarding another. This is not the result of some bureaucratic foul-up. The station (whose name means Clear Stream Viewing Platform) was intentionally designed as a place to help travellers pause, slow down and admire the beauty of nature. Being completely isolated you have no choice but to wait until the next train comes along - no matter how hurried you might be feeling.

Hurry and busyness are very much features of the modern age but, as we saw in last Sunday’s gospel reading (from Mark 1), God will still bid us to stop, pause and wait awhile with him. At the start of his ministry, with crowds flocking to him, Jesus still made sure to take himself away to a quiet place to pray and spend time alone with his heavenly Abba. In doing so Jesus revealed that prayer is not peripheral nor is it an optional extra: rather it is the very lifeblood of faith. The theologian George A Buttrick expresses it like this, “Prayer is more than a lighted candle. It is the contagion of health. It is the pulse of Life.”

Setting aside time to pray is about so much more than making sure we take a break or practice mindfulness. It is about our relationship with the living God. Our relationship with God is built on our communication with God: it’s built on prayer. And like any relationship sometimes it requires effort on our part, sometimes we have to be intentional about talking with God. This week we enter into Lent, a season of preparation before Easter. Typically we approach Lent by choosing to give something up but we can also choose to take something up as a Lenten discipline. Would you like to see your relationship with God grow? Then perhaps this Lent you might want to start the practice of setting aside extra time each day for you and God.


Sunday, 7 February 2021

As is often the case it appears that summer has saved the best for February - just after most Kiwis have returned to school or the office! But at least it means we are usually guaranteed good weather for Waitangi Day. Waitangi celebrations, both the festive and the occasionally contentious, tend to be marked by glorious blue skies and sparkling waters. It is only one of the reasons why I am proud of our national day.

Waitangi Day is in many ways an odd commemoration, for it both celebrates (as a national symbol of unity and understanding between cultures) while at the same time confronting us with the ongoing need to work for reconciliation and justice. For us in the Anglican Church there is a particular reason to pay heed to both parts of Waitangi’s message. As former our Archbishop Sir David Moxon has written:

Because of its crucial role at the time of the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, Te Hahi Mihinare ki Aotearoa ki Niu Tireni, Ki Nga Moutere o te Moana Nui a Kiwa, is implicitly involved in the on-going story of Treaty justice and Treaty partnership. Members of this Church translated, preached and facilitated chiefly signatures in 1840. The Church’s own Bible literacy programme provides some of the linguistic background to the concepts of the Treaty document itself, particularly as The Reverend Henry Williams presented them in the Maori version.

He makes a point often forgotten, the language of Te Tiriti O Waitangi drew on biblical and gospel concepts. This was not solely due to the role of Henry Williams but also because it was the translation of the New Testament into Te Reo Maori that had spearheaded the development of a written Maori language. Some years ago, the late Maori Queen Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu spoke of the two taonga that came together - the Good News and the Maori language. She told of the Maori who travelled all across the country to bring copies of the first Te Reo Bibles back to their people and also the Pakeha who initiated its translation and printing. Thinking of them both she asked, “I wonder how we can show our appreciation to our two sets of ancestors.”

Living up to the Gospel, to the Kingdom values of peace, justice and reconciliation will always be demanding. But I count it an extraordinary privilege that here in Aotearoa New Zealand we have the opportunity to do just that.

Waitangi Day

As we celebrate Waitangi Day not many would appreciate the role which Christians had in the signing of the Treaty. By this I do not just refer to the part played in discussions by missionaries such as Henry Williams, but also the reason why a treaty was sought in the first place. Arguably the impetus behind the Treaty had a Gospel source - as was pointed out by former High Court Judge Sir Eddie Durie at the 175th celebrations in 2015, who said:

The first point that I would make is that the Treaty reflects the Christian message about respecting the integrity of all people. The context for so saying that was the recognition, by Christian people, of the need for the protection of indigenous peoples, worldwide.

Sir Eddie went on to explain how it was Evangelicals in the House of Commons who had reported on the harmful impact of colonisation in Africa and Asia and sought to introduce a policy to try to prevent the same happening in New Zealand.

We know that later years failed to live up to the hope and responsibility of Waitangi but the Treaty has remained, like a polestar, to show us where we wished to head. If today we still need reconciliation and understanding, well that is Gospel work too. As the late Archbishop Brown Turei said at the 2015 anniversary, we need to renew our faith, our servanthood, our hope, and our love if we are to fulfil the greater promise of Waitangi. Let us then share the prayer which Archbishop Brown offered that day:

Creator God,

By your hand we were fashioned together at Waitangi,

like a double-hulled canoe, launched towards a hope-filled future;

cast together in the same vessel, traversing turbulent waters;

Our backs bowed in effort, our journey continues,

one paddle-stroke after another;

Help us to strive together in unity,

that we might fulfill the oaths we have made to each other;

That justice may roll like a river,

and righteousness like an everlasting stream;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

The One Who Guides our Waka of Faith.

Amen.


Sunday, 31 January 2021

A couple of years ago a curate in the Diocese of Liverpool decided to write a book called A Field Guide to the English Clergy. In the book he recounted tales of some of the more eccentric English parsons - and boy did he have a lot of material to work with. Some of his subjects might be thought influential, such as a former Rector of Cadeby who used to drive a steam engine he called Pixie around a railway track in his garden and who apparently was the inspiration for the Fat Controller in Thomas the Tank Engine. Among others were the useless - such as the Rev Sab Baring-Gould who at a children’s party asked a young girl who her parents were, to which she tearfully replied “you are Daddy!” (in fairness he did have 15 children to keep track of) - and the useful, while a chaplain in the navy the diminutive Rev Launcelot Fleming (later a Bishop of Norfolk) used to be wrapped in cloth and pulled through the ship’s guns to clear out the barrels.

It does make modern iterations of roller-blading or YouTube dancing clergy seem rather boring and staid. But it’s a reminder, if we needed one, that the Church is made up of people, as ordinary (or occasionally eccentric) as you might find in a local cafe. In the Bible the original Greek word used for church, ekklesia, meant “a gathering of people.” Meanwhile the only church building which the New Testament talks about is a building made of people (Eph 2:22). Jesus is the cornerstone and each of us are the “living stones” with which God makes his holy temple. Put another way, God uses us - all of us - to build his Church and so to be Christ’s Body in this world.

We saw the importance of this in last week’s Gospel reading from the 1st chapter of Mark where Jesus begins his ministry to proclaim the nearness of the Kingdom of God and immediately calls the first disciples. As one author puts it, “Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God is near and then calls the disciples and says to them, now you follow me and make it near to others.”

I mention all of this because, after all the disruptions of lockdowns last year, I think it is important to remember how essential we all are - how essential you all are - to the life and ministry of our Church. Our worship, our fellowship, our prayer life, our ministry and our mission only happen when we all gather and play our part. As we move into February I look forward to embarking on a new year of ministry with you all.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

At the risk of being out of time (since we are now three weeks into January already) may I wish you all a very Happy New Year! What a blessing it is to have been able to celebrate the new year and enjoy summer with few restrictions. There is something to be said for being an island nation!

This is often the time of year when plans are made, when governments, managers and yes even vicars sometimes like to set out what they hope to achieve over the next 12 months. Of course, as 2020 taught us, all our plans and intentions can very quickly be overwhelmed by events. But as I have been looking at the year ahead I was reminded of the hymn “God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year”.

There is something both profound and deeply reassuring in knowing that the purposes of God are ceaseless in their activity, no matter the circumstance or the season. Unlike us, God is not rattled or confounded by events. As Psalm 33 says, “the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” What are those purposes? They are that which Jesus begins to proclaim in this week’s Gospel reading from Mark: the Good News of the coming of the Kingdom of God. For it is in God’s Kingdom that the peace, reconciliation, justice and love which He intends for all of creation will be found.

As members of Christ’s body we of course have our own part to play in these purposes, for it is through the Church that God has chosen to make His Kingdom known. But we must always remember that this is first and foremost the work of God – and there is no point our trying without him. As the last verse of the hymn says:

All our efforts are nothing worth

unless God bless the deed;

vain our hopes for the harvest tide

till he brings to life the seed.

Yet ever nearer draws the time,

the time that shall surely be,

when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God

as the waters cover the sea.


Sunday, 20th December 2020

As our very unusual year draws to a close, it’s good to be able to look forward to a straight-forward Christmas and summer holidays. We must of course continue to be sensible and not forget our Level 1 responsibilities but with (hopefully) no lockdowns in the offing, it feels nice to be having something “normal”. In this we can count ourselves lucky; looking around the world there are many places where a “normal” Christmas will have to wait until next year. Yet, I wonder, can Christmas ever really be normal? There might be a sense of normality in our favourite Christmas traditions, in our gatherings or in things like having hot ham or watching the Queen’s message (or whatever it is you like to do). But Christmas itself? There’s nothing normal about it.

When something is so familiar, as the birth of Jesus in a manger will be to us, we can forget just how truly incredible it is: at Christmas God comes to us. At a point in human history, God enters in. Not as a vision, or an avatar or a metaphor but as one of us. Of course God has always been present in the world, but at Christmas he becomes a part of it. He chooses to enter into its dimensions, its physicality, its chronology and life. Christmas is both a divine action and a human event. A child is born, and human history will never be the same.

Do we ever fully understand what it means that, in Jesus, God came to be among us? Almost certainly not. But we can begin by recognising that, by coming to us in Jesus, God has crossed the divide between humanity and the divine. We can know God because he came to be with us at the first Christmas, and because through Jesus he will come to be with us again if we are willing to ask.

Behold” said the angel, “I bring you good news of great joy for all people!”. For Emmanuel has come to us.


Previous Posts

Sunday, 6th December 2020

According to the Church of England guide to Advent the season “falls at the darkest time of the year, and the natural symbols of darkness and light are powerfully at work throughout Advent and Christmas.” Writing this with the late-afternoon sun baking my study I confess I don’t immediately connect with the depiction of a sparse and wintery time of reflection. Even were the mercury not rising, there is too much colour around us in blue skies and bluer waters and all the vibrant brightness of a New Zealand summer.

But though we might miss out on the atmosphere of cold, austere mid-winter nights we need not miss out on the heart of Advent. In this season of expectation we are encouraged to prepare; not for Christmas, but for the coming (adventus) of Jesus to be with the world at the first Christmas and for his final advent at the end of time. For this reason our readings point not only to the birth of Jesus but also towards the final judgment. Here the Church of England guide offers something of greater relevance for sunburnt Kiwis, noting that it is by way of these Advent readings and liturgies that the Church “challenges the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgment.”

Who wants to talk about judgment just as we are preparing for holidays and celebrations? Almost no one I would expect. But Advent reminds us that, just as Christ came that first Christmas, so he will return. The good news - and it is literally Good News - is that because Jesus came to us at Christmas, because of the Son of God in a manger, we need not fear the last judgment. Instead the question which Advent asks us is are we people of expectation, people who live in the truth of that final day? Are our lives marked by the knowledge of the coming of Jesus?


Sunday, 22nd Nov 2020

On the night of my induction into the Parish I mentioned that my earliest memory of Christ Church was going to a service there as a child while on holiday with my family. For me the service was notable because I was wearing my first tie, a red one. Admittedly it was one of those ties on an elastic-band but I felt very important with it on (can you see why I became a lawyer). With a bach at Algies Bay we were often visitors at services taken by Pare Nathan at Christ Church (for Easter we would sometimes go to St Leonard’s where my father would take the service). Part of my memories include going down to the Sunday School rooms with other kids.

I mentioned this then, and again now, because I think it is good to remind ourselves that children and families have long been a part of our parish life and church community – including much more recently than when I was a child! In this we are very much a classic Anglican Parish. The DNA, so to speak, of Anglican parishes is of local churches that minister to all generations. It is who we are.

Over the last couple of years Vestry has been looking at our Parish and priorities and where we want to be investing. This led to the very significant decision in about September last year that we as a Parish should commit to the rebuilding of a ministry to children and families. This is no small undertaking, nor is it a short-term thing. Since then (as much as Covid will allow) we have been working to lay groundwork for developing this area of ministry.

Next week we take a significant step when our newly hired Children & Families Ministry Leader joins us. Hayley Clarke grew up at St John’s Anglican Church in Kerikeri and will be moving to Warkworth in early December. She comes to us after a career in HR development but with a passion for working with kids and sharing the love of God. I look forward to introducing Hayley to the Parish and know that you will all make her very welcome.

But, as Hayley joins us, we should remember that growing our ministry to children and their families will take a lot more than simply hiring someone and wishing them all the best. Like most everything else that we do, it will be something that is a work of the whole Church. Next year we will start exploring different ways that we can each be involved in or support this area of ministry but for now can I ask that we all pray for Hayley as she comes on board and for our Parish that God will draw new families to worship among us.


Sunday, 15th Nov 2020

If you are someone who is constantly flooded with emails you might want to take a leaf from the late H. L. Mencken. An American journalist, Mencken often wrote contentious commentary pieces that would result in mail bags of letters coming his way. To these, usually argumentative, correspondents he would send the same reply: “Dear Sir or Madam, You may be right. Sincerely yours, H. L. Mencken.” Of course these days phones and computer programs are happy to suggest replies for us so we don’t even need to think of a response, just click a button and off it goes.

I sometimes worry that I adopt a similar approach to prayer; praying rushed, hurried pleas while I race to do something else. For if prayer is foundational to my relationship with God, if it is through prayer that I can know God’s love and peace, it deserves much more than the equivalent of a quick “Ok” text.

That is undoubtedly true but it is also true that the pressure to make our prayers sufficiently “religious” or “spiritual” can equally be a barrier to discovering the rich fullness of prayer. In his book Say It To God the Benedictine monk Luigi Gioia reminds us that, as part of our personal relationship with God, prayer should be entirely free and exquisitely personal. He suggests four directions as useful to growing a life of prayer:

  • Keep it simple: As we often see in the Psalms, a sentence, a cry, even just a word are enough if it expresses what you are going through.

  • Keep it short: Pray only as long as you need to, in time you will find yourself drawn to pray longer out of desire (not obligation).

  • Keep it frequent: The bells of a monastery will ring each hour to remind the monks at work to say a prayer, even if just a whispered thanks to God. Make a habit of stealing ten seconds each hour to do the same.

  • Keep it real: The most important reminder of all: there is nothing we cannot say or bring to God in prayer, so say it all to Him.

In a couple of weeks we will enter Advent, a time when we are bid to a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. It is also for most of us one of the busiest times of year and, therefore, not the most conducive to the types of studies and disciplines familiar to that other season of preparation, Lent. But, at the end of this extraordinary, disruptive year, perhaps a good preparation would be to follow the suggestion of Brother Luigi to take whatever is on our hearts or minds and say it to God.

Sunday, 8th Nov, 2020

My earliest political memory is of being in primary school and sending a card to a classmate who was away ill for a month. To cheer him up I included the biggest joke of the year, “What goes up and never comes down? Muldoon’s prices!”. The tragedy for me was that the 1984 snap election then took place with Muldoon losing, so by the time my friend returned to school he told me that my joke was all wrong and that it should have said “Lange’s prices”. Such was my introduction to the vagaries of politics.

This last month has been something of a festival for political junkies with first our own election and referenda and then, this past week, elections in the United States. Of course, like a World Cup final, the nature of elections is to have winners and losers and so some of us will have been delighted by the results of our own ballot and others of us will be counting the years to the next vote and a chance to try again. The elections in America are more distant but, this year in particular, I think we have all been keenly interested and might even have had our own (sometimes strong) views about who should win or lose.

Is there any guide for Christians when thinking about politics? Can we claim that God is on one side or another? In the past I have heard preachers claim exactly that - unfortunately they don’t always pick the same side!

This year I have been reminded that a lot of what Jesus spoke about is very relevant to the political season, especially perhaps in countries where the divisions are the greatest. What am I thinking of? Teachings like, “love your enemies” or “bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse” and even “turn the other cheek”. I am not suggesting that as Christians we shouldn’t be interested or involved in politics, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t campaign and advocate for those ideas, policies or values that we believe in. Quite the contrary, I believe that part of our call as Christians is to be active in the public space - to use the opportunity we have as citizens of a democracy to influence our nation.

Politics matters, as do elections. But the Kingdom of Heaven is much bigger than who sits in the Beehive (or the White House) for the next term. In a world where politics is about winners over losers, which (in some countries at least) sees political differences as grounds for division and hostility, we should remind ourselves that for Jesus the priority was not to beat our opponents but to love them. For in doing so we testify to the power of the Gospel to transform our world.


Sunday, 18th Oct, 2020

The cathedral at Salisbury is considered one of the best examples of Gothic architecture, although it is its spire (at 123m the tallest in the United Kingdom) that gets all the attention. Visitors come to marvel at its spiky heights, or to look with unease at its supporting pillars - which noticeably bulge from carrying the weight of the tower. Perhaps such unease is warranted, it has now been discovered that some of the cathedral is held up by workmen’s lunch wrappers (well, in a manner of speaking).

This week it was reported that masons working on the restoration of the cathedral have discovered that gaps between the stones have been plugged with hundreds of oyster shells. It is believed that these were the remnants of medieval stone masons’ lunches, they would have carried the oysters up with them and (when done with lunch) used the shells to pack out the stones as they were laid. Today’s restorers use more modern techniques but still, struggling to replace one block that weighed 380kg, they marvel at what masons in the 13th century were able to achieve.

There is of course something of a parallel between the restoration of an old church building and the process of renewal in a local church. Indeed, the Catholics call this process divine renovation. Renovation is a concept with which we, as DIY property-mad New Zealanders, are familiar. It is not about the full-scale demolition of what has gone before but at the same time it is more than a fresh coat of paint. It’s about getting in and restoring and reinvigorating what is already there, while also updating and replacing where needed. It is divine because as we seek the renewal of our Church – and this should be our constant prayer – we are asking God to be the builder.

As Anglicans we are proud to enjoy a wonderful heritage of worship. But that doesn’t mean there is no need for renovation. To a certain extent elements of our worship have always been changing and so from time to time you will notice some changes in our services or music. The intent behind this is the same as with any renovation, it is to enhance what has gone before by bringing what is needed for a new generation. As we begin to plan for ways for bringing children and families back into our Church life, these are things we will have to consider and try. In the meantime, hearing the story of Salisbury’s physical renovation I am very grateful for our (comparatively) younger, and easier to repair, old wooden buildings!

Sunday, 11 October

I recognise that my writing this probably guarantees the next few days will be overcast and chilly but some of the weather recently had me believing that spring was done and summer already here. Clear skies, warm sun, and light evenings (thank you daylight saving) it felt more like late December than early October. (Though one or two intrepid swimmers tell me that the water is still very much September temperature).

And so we enter that strange period of seasonal adjustment, where one afternoon you find yourself putting on a jumper or turning on the heater and the next you are leaving the windows open and enjoying the early evening warmth - only to go back to the jumper again the next day. Such variety can make planning things more complicated: should we order a tanker now or hold out for more rain, will next Saturday be good for a picnic or should we arrange to go to a cafe instead? Though perhaps we should be grateful for the variation, I heard it once said that the reason the English talk about the weather is that it is always changing and so is interesting and worthy of comment compared to, say, the weather in Spain which barely changes.

I have mentioned before that there is then something of the promise of eternity in the spring. That as a time of transition it both offers us a glimpse of what is to come (summer days) while also reminding us that we are not quite there yet (cold nights and rainy Sundays). In the same way, we as Christians live a life where there are times and seasons that offer us a glimpse of what is to come, in blessings, in answers to prayer, in experiencing the closeness of God, but we also experience cold evenings and rainy Sundays that remind us we are not there yet. Theologians call this living in the tension, the reality that the Kingdom of Heaven is here - but not yet here in its fullness. Just as we might have to wait until summer before the water is warm enough for swimming, so there are some things that we will not experience fully until that time has come.

But as we have seen in some of our readings from Philippians recently, the knowledge that summer is coming (or rather that God’s kingdom will come in its fullness) is meant to encourage us, to help us to continue with hope and even rejoicing. As Paul says in this week’s reading, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice”. Like a sunny spring day the Bible reminds us that we are people who have something to look forward to, who have a hope that we can rely on - the greatest hope in fact. While not every day will feel like it, every day can be enlightened by it: the certainty of eternity and our hope in the new life of Christ.

Sunday, 4 October

Returning to services after six weeks of gathering at home and online it’s perhaps understandable if one or two things are a little rusty. At least I hope so, as I try and remind myself what Sunday services look like. I think I’m getting there but if you see me looking lost on a Sunday morning just point me in the direction of the sanctuary and we should be good to go!

Truth be told the two lockdowns that we have experienced have been very disruptive to the normal routines of church life, and understandably so. We must also acknowledge that we are not yet back to “normal” and may not be for some time, even after we return to Level 1. In one sense this no bother, as a Parish I think we have shown ourselves to be very capable of adapting to the challenges of the year with great faithfulness.

As we slowly move toward Level 1 my feeling is that our focus now needs to be on renewing and rebuilding the rhythms and habits of our worshipping life. As I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday, St Augustine wrote about how our hearts are built to search for God’s and that we are therefore defined, our lives determined, much more by what we love than by what we know. Part of what we do in our weekly church services is to make time for, and to tend to, the love we share with God: in our worship, in our prayers, in listening to his Word. You might call these things rhythms of devotion - ways we teach our hearts to speak the love languages of God.

For the last few months of this very up-and-down, disrupted year, then, I think it is enough that we focus simply on renewing these rhythms of devotion, on re-establishing the habits of worship and prayer that help form us and tend to our love for God. It is in fact a significant thing to gather together weekly in God’s house, with God’s people, in God’s presence and we are grateful to be able to do so once again.