Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
ST NINIAN’S PARISH NEWS; JUNE 2021
You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to write a farewell letter that isn’t a farewell letter. In two weeks my two year appointment as your “stated supply” will come to an end – but, I will be taking some services each month as a “pulpit supply” for a while. So it’s not really time to say “goodbye and thank you for having me”.
But I do thank you. This is a great congregation to work with. We have had an unusual time: who would have thought that after nine years of using the church building, it would suddenly be declared unsafe? Who would have imagined that with the arrival of a virus, none of the buildings on site could be used, and no gatherings could be held anywhere? Who would have predicted the way in which the St Ninians people adapted to all these upheavals, and continued to be a loving, caring, worshipping community? It was especially obvious throughout the weeks of lockdown, when everyone stayed connected, sometimes in very ingenious ways. And then all came back together once the ban was lifted. I know that didn’t happen with all congregations in this city. That’s one of the ways in which this community is special. It has been a privilege for me to walk this journey with you.
I particularly value the way that for you, faith is active. It’s a lifelong journey and a continuing exploration. Never stop asking questions. Life will always throw new challenges and new knowledge in your way, and it’s important not to put all the challenges in one basket, and your faith in another, sealed basket labelled ‘don’t touch’. Our God is the Creator of all of life and creation never stops, so why should we expect our understanding of God’s relationship with creation – and with us – to stand still?
And now you face yet more upheavals in the coming months and years. It won’t be easy – as I know from the Durham Street congregation’s experience. There were years of work and many, many discussions and arguments and obstacles, but importantly, everyone came out at the end feeling that their voices had been heard, even if the end result wasn’t what they, personally had wished for at the beginning. And we made time for celebrations and laughter along the way.
GO FOR GOLD
On Friday 4th June, eight St Ninian’s folk travelled to Rolleston, seven starting in Riccarton and Sheila joining the bus in Templeton. We didn’t see much going there as there was a fog blanketing the area, however it started to clear as we neared Rolleston.
We stayed on the bus as far as the terminus at Brookside Park and then travelled back to the shopping area. This gave us a look at the many new housing areas springing up in Rolleston. We had an early lunch at the Black and White Café and managed to get a table together amongst the many mothers and toddlers and other locals. Lovely food and great service. A brief wander to the shops before catching the bus back to Templeton – this time seeing the views. We had a coffee and cake stop at Sheila’s home before heading back to Riccarton. A good day was had by all.
ROCHESTER AND RUTHERFORD HALL
R & R provides student accommodation at the University of Canterbury. It is an ecumenical venture between the Roman Catholic church (The Rochester part) and the Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches (the Rutherford part). The hall opened in 1972 on Ilam Road when the University was moving from the centre of the city to the Ilam site and was also used as accommodation for the Christchurch Commonwealth games in 1974.
Originally it was run as two separate halls, with a common dining room, but this was changed in the 1983 to a single hall run by an Executive Council that represents the two Trust boards. It sounds complex but in practice it works well and must be one of the more successful ecumenical ventures in NZ.
Each Trust board appoints its own chaplain; the Rutherford chaplain is currently Helen Sturgeon, minister of Riccarton Baptist. Both Maurice Brown and Clive Pearson have served in this role. The Rutherford board also runs, and provides prizes, for an Art competition that is well supported and highly regarded.
R & R accommodates 192 first year students, coming from more than 100 NZ secondary schools, with at 3 or 4 times this number listing R & R as their first choice for accommodation at U of C. It thus fulfills one of the reasons for its establishment – where parents with children coming to U of C would contact ministers in Christchurch seeking suitable accommodation.
R & R has a strong focus on pastoral care (where did that term come from?) and has been at the forefront in developing a pastoral care code for all residential halls following the unfortunate death of a student in one of the University Halls in 2019. R & R has a high ratio of residential tutors to students and focusses on building caring relationships within its community. Central to this is the dining room and the quality of meals. Our present caterer gets marks in the student survey that any home cook would be proud of.
R & R lies within our Parish boundaries as they used to apply. As well as the chaplains, Ron Cormack and Barbara Chapman have been involved in the Rutherford board while Jessie Dodd served on the Rutherford board and also as Chairperson of the Executive Council for many years. Kelvin is currently on the Executive Council.
Tom and Jessie Dodd’s house on Clonbern Place has a common boundary with R & R and was purchased by R & R when they moved to Nelson. Since then R & R has purchased another five houses/units on Clonbern Place. These provide accommodation for an additional 9 R & R students, with the other houses providing rental accommodation for 2nd year students as well as providing both land and an asset that would be available for future developments.
MASSIVE CHANGE THAT MUST COME
With the birth of modern science in the 17th Century, human thinking broke with ancient philosophy at every point, and so began a process of domination over Earth. DesCartes had pointed out that scientific knowledge would permit a man to make himself “as if the master and owner of nature”.
If nature is no longer mysterious or sacred but can be reduced to an inventory of merely physical phenomena, devoid of meaning or value, then there is nothing to prevent us from harnessing it in whatever way suits us. So in the 17th Century, most thinkers concluded that science would save us from the tyranny of nature. We could foresee – and so learn to prevent – the catastrophes so regularly visited on us by nature.
For this vision, to take shape,only one more step remained: that the project of the Enlightenment be integrated and “docked” with the world of competition, so that the engine of history – the evolutionary principle – ceased to be linked to any vision or ideal, to become instead the mere outcome of competition.
Hence the fearsome and incessant development of technology,
tethered to and largely financed by economic growth and the fact that human power over nature has become completely automatic, uncontrollable and blind because it everywhere exceeds the will of the individual. Thus the inevitable result of competition. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment aimed at emancipation and human happiness. Technology has become the opposite: a process without purpose – devoid of any objectives. Ultimately, nobody knows the direction the world is moving, because it is automatically governed by competition, and in no sense directed by the conscious will of humans collectively united behind a project at the heart of a society which, as recently as last century, could still think of itself as the “common weal.” And it is just this disappearance of ends in the interests of an over-riding logic of means that constitutes the victory of technology.
The democracies are fatally wedded to the structures of the technical world, being bound to the liberal creed of competition. So an unlimited and automatic proliferation of technical forces is triggered. Nietzsche summarised the turmoil of his age when he pronounced “God is Dead.”
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
ST NINIAN’S PARISH NEWS; MARCH 2021
In Lent and Easter, we have a number of readings from John’s gospel. John the Evangelist was the last of the gospel writers. He sat down to write somewhere around 50 years after Jesus died in Jerusalem. He never walked the dusty roads of Palestine with Jesus and his friends, sharing in their conversations; never shared the excitements and risks and discoveries of those years of mission; never knew personally the man called Jesus of Nazareth. But he did know and experience the post-resurrection Jesus, and he wrote of him with passion and with joy. John did experience the reality of God’s transforming love. John could sing – as a much later Italian poet, the great Dante, sang: “I have seen the hope of the blessed”.
John’s gospel isn’t a biography. It’s not a reporter’s narrative. And it isn’t set in ordinary time, our time, chronos, but in God’s time, kairos. That’s why it doesn’t matter that some of the stories contradict other Gospel accounts. John introduces Mary of Bethany as the one who anointed Jesus’ feet. That’s how the early church remembered her. Martha was remembered too, but Lazarus sank back into obscurity. But for John, although the climax of the Bethany story is the raising of Lazarus, its centre is the conversations Jesus had.
John presented Jesus as the powerful healer who can bring life out of death. The raising of Lazarus isn’t a freak of nature, but a demonstration of God’s power for life. Maori would say, this is kia ora theology – a theology of life. Secondly, John presented Jesus as one with passion – one who knows and shares in the anguish of others. The dominant culture of that time – and let’s face it, of our time too – was the way of power and social control. That was and is, never the way of the incarnate God, shown so clearly to us in Jesus. In the scene at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus is engaged not in any sort of social control to enforce God’s realm, but in dismantling the power of death and disintegration. He does this by submitting himself to the pain and grief present in the situation. A dominant culture doesn’t admit to the presence of pain and grief.
John’s narrative says many things to us, on many levels. It’s not a call to us to try to call our dead back to life. Resuscitation isn’t a thread in God’s weaving of God’s creation. Our dead are in God’s hands, whatever meaning we choose to put to that phrase – and we may not call them back. Their journey is no longer any business of ours. One of the ways in which our society can go off the rails is to deny death as a necessary stage in our journey through life.
I do think we are called to break out of the bonds that tie us to death and disintegration that hold us back from transformation. We’re called to have the courage to step out onto new paths, to take risks, and walk in faith and hope. Each one of us is called to break out of the things that bind us. This is one of the hardest things to do. It’s so terribly easy to hang on to old habits and old hurts, and the deeper the wound, the harder it is to let go. That never stops God from challenging us to make radical changes. Nobody actually asked Lazarus if he wanted to come out – imagine a scenario where he refuses to answer that imperative command, “Lazarus, come out!” Some of us do refuse the call – or refuse even to hear it.
The heart of this gospel story is that the fullness of new life is possible to all who believe in Jesus. The message for us, in the season of Lent, is that we too are free to embrace the new promises and possibilities of life available to us through Jesus.
WORLD DAY OF PRAYER
This year’s service on March 5th was held at St Ninian’s. Because of Level 2 Covid restrictions we distanced appropriately in the hall. Neighbouring churches from St Peter’s Church Corner, Upper Riccarton Methodist and Our Lady of Victories were all in attendance and helped with the service.
The service entitled ‘Built on a Strong Foundation’ was written by a group of women in Vanuatu and so our decorations included pictures, maps and artefacts from there. The service started with a procession to a greeting song by women from Vanuatu and the placing of items – shells, necklaces and local fruits on a table and also an open bible and a lit candle on the lectern table. The women in the procession wore a salu salu , a garland.
We used hymns from the St Ninian’s hymn book which fitted with the theme of the service and we received many positive comments about the music. Lois played the keyboard for us.
As usual, we ended with a time of fellowship by sharing morning tea together and we also received grateful thanks for this.
One of the reasons I enjoy the World Day of Prayer each year is that as well as spending time with ladies from other local churches there are always things to discover about the country writing the service.
Vanuatu is a Y shaped tropical archipelago with over 80 islands, 65 of which are inhabited. It has more spoken languages than any other place in the world! It has 113 spoken languages and innumerous dialects. By 2004 less than 100 of these languages remained due to the use of Bislama.
Bislama has evolved from broken English, French and traditional languages. Due to its colonial history, English and French have been adopted as the official language of education.
In 1774 Captain Cook came to the islands and named them the New
Hebrides because the islands reminded him of the Hebrides of Scotland.
In 1906 the New Hebrides became a colony ruled jointly by Great Britain and France called the Condominium Government with separate administrative bureaucracies, medical systems, police forces and school systems. By 1978, the people were calling for independence.
Vanuatu gained independence in 1980 and the Republic was founded on its traditional Christian principles. The people’s faith in God is part of their Constitution. The inhabitants of Vanuatu are known as Ni-Vanuatu. Most are Melanesian descent with a Polynesian minority on the outlying islands. A mix of Europeans, Asians and other Pacific Islanders also live on the archipelago. Studies predict that in 2021 Vanuatu will have 312,000 inhabitants. Most of the people live in rural areas. Port Vila is the largest city with 45,000 inhabitants, accounting for 19% of the country’s total population.
In the past 20 years, there have been changes for women in Vanuatu. The gender gap in literacy and education has narrowed. In some provinces, girls outperformed boys in school attendance. Since independence, five women have been elected to the National Parliament.
Celebrations are important. NZ has a new moveable date celebration, Matariki . We have fixed date celebrations like 25th December,
Christmas, or our birth dates. Personal memories may be tied to never-to-be forgotten events that changed our lives forever, changes that become molded into the fabric of our being, not ‘closure’ in the sense of being accomplished and forgotten. And there is Easter, that moveable date celebration. Easter falls early this year, Easter Sunday falling the
It was Easter Sunday when we learned our son Grant had been killed on the 18th April, in a fall whilst climbing Mount Aspiring. This year as usual there are two days of remembrance. That Easter Sunday I sat in the pew hearing “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” whilst I was saying to myself “Grant is dead, he is dead indeed”. My self talking was my way of
cementing the terrible reality of death.
Good caring folk offered consolation– how fortunate I was to have a faith, to live in the knowledge that we would meet in heaven—it must
be comforting to know he died doing something he loved- or even- rest assured Grant is happy now. The pit of grief is not the time to enter into a discussion about life, death and everlasting life. I thought of Job’s comforters, but I did not have the faith of Job. I felt more like Rachel, weeping in lamentation for her children, and not being comforted.
My awful Easter impelled a brutal reassessment of my faith and
accompanying beliefs. The mystery deepened, love was highlighted. Love, I determined, did not die with my precious dead. Love remained with me, accompanying and empowering me to live on with hope – most of the time!