Sunday, July 21, 2019

Another world

The reason why I was "incommunicado" this past week was a visit to the Chatham Islands.

Most of the Diocese of Christchurch is an easy drive from my home or the Anglican Centre. Only 3/58 parishes on this side of the Southern Alps are more than 2 hours drive away. 2/58 parishes on the West Coast side of the Alps are more than 3 hours drive away, with the furthest away church building being 5 hours drive. That is, 52/58 parishes are within 120 minutes of my home and most of that driving is on fairly straight roads.

Those doing the arithmetic as they read will want to know about the one remaining parish. That is the Chatham Islands, 2.25 hrs flying time from Christchurch (and longer, if, as Teresa and I did, the flights are via Wellington) - east, out into the Pacific, next stop Chile.

It was our privilege to spend a week on the main island (Chatham, also known as Rekohu to Moriori and as Wharekauri to Maori). We were generously hosted and visited most but not all sites of interest. I won't detain you with the general (and very interesting) history of these islands and their people - Wikipedia can do that job.

This was my first visit to this parish, so one essential job was to preach and preside at a eucharist last Sunday, in St Augustine's church, Te One. This photo includes the Vicarage where we stayed. (There is currently no resident vicar. Regular priestly ministry is supplied via an NZ-based priest.)

There used to be a second church, at another small settlement, St Barnabas', Owenga. Services were discontinued there about 14 years ago and the church was demolished a few years ago. Keen to preserve the memory of that church, however, parishioners have worked hard to organise the building of a memorial shelter on the site of the former church. So last Wednesday we dedicated this brand new "St Barnabas' Memorial."

We had a great meal after the dedication and it include important local foods: fish, crayfish, paua (=abalone), and weka (one of these native birds is pictured above). It is illegal to kill and eat weka in New Zealand, except in the Chatham Islands.

We visited two sites on which an 1840s Lutheran mission team established mission stations. The information panel above (if you can expand the photograph of it) tells a sad story. The mission only lasted a few years. It made no converts of local Maori or Moriori. The missionaries gave up being missionaries and decided, those who stayed, to simply make their living there. As one brought up on many missionary stories, some of which were tales of persistence, faithfulness and only after many years, eventual fruitfulness, this is the saddest missionary story I have come across. It is a salutary reminder that there is no guarantee of success simply because we set out to do God's work with godly intentions.

By contrast I am pleased to report that the Christians I came across on the island in 2019 have a lively faith in God, a deep commitment to the well-being of God's church and a care for community and for creation.

We had an amazing week - much of the landscape was unlike anything else I have seen on NZ's main islands; apart from a few i-moments, we had no internet connection to family, friends, and the world; we ate weka for the first time; we waved to everyone who drove a car and they waved back; we never locked the doors of the vicarage; we ate fresh, raw paua during a picnic; and saw ancient carvings on trees.

It was another world. And it was good.

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