One of the best periods of my life - in which, praise God, there have been many good periods - were the years 1984-86.
I was in Dunedin for theological study at Knox Theological Hall (a Presbyterian seminary at which "private students" of the University of Otago, such as my Anglican self, also studied). I am thankful to this day for the outstanding quality of the teaching, the pastoral care and scholarly attentiveness of the teachers and the brilliance of the ethos. In hindsight, it was a wonderful era for Presbyterian ministers in training (a number of whom I have met up with in recent years) and it was near the end of an aeon. By the 1990s all teaching of B.Theol. and B.D. subjects took place at the University itself.
I lived at Selwyn College - an Anglican residential college of the University. Selwyn College then and now has had a mixed reputation: some brilliant and famous alumni have emerged from the College. But around Otago University, any story of heavy drinking fuelling outrageous behaviour, daring pranks and strenuous initiation rites is bound to bring "Selwyn" instantly to mind. Even if it turns out it was students from Arana ... :)
I worshipped at St Matthew's Church, Hope St - an inner city Anglican parish with a reputation as a leading student church. John Meadowcroft was the Vicar and he was an outstanding Bible teacher and leading charismatic. (It is another blogpost for another day to speak about some of the experiences of that charismatic era.)
Selwyn College was founded in 1893 and named after the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn. Is there any other Anglican bishop of the 19th or 20th centuries who has had two university colleges named after him? The other is at Cambridge University.
So this year is the 125th anniversary of that founding and this weekend past was the celebratory weekend. Teresa and I were able to travel down from Christchurch in a leisurely way on Friday. En route we stopped off at Karitane (about 30 minutes north of Dunedin). Its bays are exquisite. World class.
On the way back, yesterday, we journeyed via Aramoana at the northern end of Otago Harbour, then turned at Port Chalmers for a winding route to SH 1 back to Christchurch. This view, from a lookout above Port Chalmers, across the harbour to Portobello, is as good as they come, anywhere in the world.
Within 30 minutes of the centre of Dunedin such brilliant scenes as captured in the two photos above could be multiplied a dozen times. It is the most extraordinary region geographically and scenically speaking. It also has some tough weather. Let's just say it is not tropical there so the vast population of Auckland lives in Auckland rather than in Dunedin. But if Dunedin were closer to Auckland, it would be our largest city and Auckland just a port with some factories around the mudflats!
Back to the weekend. We had a great time with a welcome event on Friday night, photos Saturday morning, a cricket match in the afternoon, a fab dinner on Saturday night, then the opening of a new building ("Fitchett House" - a redolent Anglican name, as some readers here will recognise) on Sunday morning before gathering outside Selwyn's entrance for the beginning of our Palm Sunday church service.
In the pic are Archbishop Philip Richardson (our NZ Dioceses' Primate, former Warden and former student of Selwyn College), Bishop Stephen Benford (new-ish Bishop of Dunedin) and Fr Michael Wallace (Vicar of All Saints, Dunedin - the church which forms part of the Selwyn courtyard). We processed from the entrance to Selwyn around the block to All Saints church itself. ++Philip preached and +Stephen presided at our eucharist.
Archbishop Philip challenged us on Sunday morning to prove to him that there is one person God doesn't love. His point being that everyone of us - each of us utterly unique and different from the other - is loved by God. Without exception. On Saturday night, Bill English, former PM, spoke about his experiences of Selwyn College and what it had contributed to his life. He could not remember why, as a staunch Catholic he and his siblings ended up residents at Selwyn College, but it cannot have done them any harm because they have sent their children there.
Among several speakers on Friday night we heard from David Kirk, former All Black captain and current business leader based in Australia. He paid tribute to Selwyn as a place of transition from the cocoon of home to the independence of adulthood.
Nevertheless the lived experience of Selwyn was not far away in what was said by a range of speakers. In that actual history of the college, alcohol has been mixed many times with the "stupidity of youth" (a phrase used in Bill English's address), with predictable results. There was a lot of drinking when I was there. I imagine there is less these days. I think students are more serious about meeting assignment deadlines than we were.
What remains a challenge for the College is what Archbishop Philip addressed in his sermon yesterday morning: how to give expression to the love of God in a community of young people bound together for a relatively short period of time. A starting point is that Selwyn has always been strong on being a community. I can recall lots of alcohol drinking in 1984-86 but we also had supper together, in small groups, Monday to Thursday evenings. Coffee or tea. And biscuits.
Where there is tea and biscuits, there is the love of God!