Monday, March 22, 2021

Conjunction of secular and sacred in Kiwi custom

I started primary school at the age of 5 at Hororata School. Hororata is a rural district about 30 minutes drive from from the western edge of Christchurch city. The school began in 1870 and so its 150th jubilee was in 2020. Celebrations were planned for March 2020 but Covid-19 put paid to that. So the celebrations were held over this past weekend.

It is something of a custom in NZ school jubilees which last across a whole weekend for a Sunday morning church service to be part of the programme even though our state school system is secular.

A service was part of the weekend's programme. The service was held at the school, led by the Reverend Jenni Carter, Vicar of Hororata, with the sermon preached by me. The scripture reading was John 1:1-14. Below is a shortened version of what I said.

Hororata 150th School Jubilee (21 March 2021)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.


I am Peter Carrell. My early upbringing was in Hororata because my father, Brian was Vicar of Hororata from 1960-1965.

Hororata has a special place in my heart and I have many memories, despite being very young, of life in this beautiful district.

I started school at Hororata School when I turned 5 in the middle of November 1964.

I remember being worried before I started that I didn’t have a school bag – in those days, a leather satchell with a shoulder strap.

My Mum assured me it would be fine but I couldn’t see where it was and there were no trips planned into Christchurch shops.

Nor did I have the ability to foresee that it was all arranged that it would be a birthday present for me and thus be ready for day one at school.

We lived in the old vicarage opposite St John’s so the trip to school involved catching the school bus.

I don’t remember lots about my two and a half terms at Hororata School but I remember that we learned some things which didn’t involve reading, writing and arithmetic.

One of those was to tie our shoelaces for ourselves. Another was learning how to knit.

There was also something that happened when I was at Hororata School which has affected the way I have lived ever since.

Back in that day the government ensured that there was free milk for every pupil. So daily a delivery of half pint bottles of milk would arrive and at morning break we had to drink our bottle.

But the delivery would be placed – as I recall – on the main school building porch and if the sun was shining the milk would get warmed up.

I found warm milk was revolting and to this day I can only drink milk if it is fresh and from the fridge!

Hororata School like all schools was and is a place of learning.

Last night [at a dinner] Shaun Clarke spoke eloquently of the values learnt at Hororata School –

-        values which serve ex pupils well as we make our way through life

-          and values that from a global perspective should not be taken for granted.

But where do these values come from –

-          values which, for example, value human life and value humans working together for the common good?

A British historian, Tom Holland, in a recent book called Dominion, mounts an impressive case that the values we admire and propagate through our secular school system are the result of Christianity.

That is, if Christianity never started as a movement and became a dominant force in European politics and culture, the values of the world, including in Aotearoa NZ, would be very different.

In the Scripture reading this morning, as St John introduces his readers to his presentation of Jesus and characterises him as the Word – as the supreme communication of God into the world – we heard these words:

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Tom Holland’s book Dominion presents the case for these words being historically true: the influence of Jesus  through the Christian movement he founded has extended to the whole world.

It is something of a custom in Aotearoa NZ to have a church service as part of a secular school jubilee weekend.

Perhaps the most important reason for doing so is that a jubilee is an occasion for giving thanks and a church service is a means of expressing that thanksgiving –

-          appreciation for all the good that flows from the presence of a school in a community;

-          appreciation for all the benefits of education in our lives as pupils and ex pupils.

But a service such as this service today is also an opportunity to reflect on the future of school, of community and of society as a whole.

My question for that future is how long we can maintain our commitment to the values we cherish if we have no connection to the origin of those values, to Jesus Christ the true light of God.

May God through the light of Jesus bless Hororata School in its journey through the next 150 years.


Father Ron said...

You were very fortunate in your early schooling, Bishop Peter
I note you had access to FREE milk in New Zealand AND a half-pint!. Back in my old school in Coventry - even during World War II - we had to PAY for our milk, and it was only 1/3 pint. (consequently, being poor I rarely had to drink it).

Yes, my elementary school days provided a foundation for my Christian Faith. We were a Church School - attached to our Doomsday Book parish Church of Saint Mary The Virgin, in the village of Walsgrave. We were marched down to the village church on special Feastdays, ocasions which we all loved.

Anonymous said...

Peter, this reminded me of long lost leather satchels and cartons of milk bought for a nickel ($0.05), It was usually at least cool.

But also of the Washington Cathedral's Evensong for my public high school's graduating class. The official Commencement ceremony made less of an impression, although it was addressed in the Southern tradition of florid oratory by the longest-serving Governor of Virginia since the long and fateful rule of a delegate of Charles I.

The cathedral itself made an impression. It has not one but two episcopal thrones. The nave is a tenth of a mile long. It's all stone and stained glass. There is a vast pipe organ. Above all, it is quiet.

My classmates were at home in suburban shopping malls and unimpressed by the capital's famous monuments. But the mere existence of such a place atop Mount Saint Alban was mysterious. And although we were pleasantly immersed in the experience, many of my classmates were puzzled that these were among our last hours in a very secular high school.

Detailed to help a few unchurched classmates to get their gowns on, I searched for the words to answer them when they asked, simply, "Why? What kind of place is this? Why are we here?" Simple and forthrightly curious, it may be the deepest question that I have ever been asked.


Anonymous said...

Could the great disconnect be this simple? Churches of the wise and the good try to be templates of whole societies, as the Body is the first fruit of a new whole humanity. Often they do that fairly well.

But at this moment, people of the West are hungry for intense membership in tribes. So some churches instead try to be those tribes, despite the near certainty that their intensely perspectival vision will never scale and cannot be universal.

In that situation, what is petrine ministry?


Peter Carrell said...

Dear Bowman
Your comment immediately above might be your most significant comment ever and the question at its end the greatest question du jour!

On the one hand you bless the strengths of two different ways of being church!

On the other hand you ask how global leadership might be exercised ... which is no idle question because the church may be divided within itself but the ex- or un-churched world is united in its expectation of "the church throughout the world" showing some semblance of resemblance to Christ!

Just an observation: if ACANZP is your first kind of church then it is noticeable that we have Christians joining us because they reach a point where their "tribal" church in some way lets them down (or even ejects them).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter.

English-speaking churches in the Anglican Communion are mostly of the first kind. So yes, ACANZP, belongs to it. Also, the conservative Southern Baptist Convention here up yonder.

To me, English-speaking churches in GAFCON seem to tend toward the second kind. But so by definition do the very different churches influenced by the liberal-ish Emergent movement.

The bifurcation is not polarised left-right.

Why does it exist?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Some of us need to belong to a tribe that is distinct from other tribes.
Others don’t. (Was it Woody Allan who said he wouldn’t belong to any club that would have him a member?).
There are advantages to being tribal can be easier to get volunteers when asking for them.
Of course, within the non-tribal Anglican Church, there are tribes!

Anonymous said...

A psychological hypothesis then--

For the common good, template churches inspire and require their members to do more emotional work than others do. So, if a society's unchurched citizens average about 500-625 millichristians of Christ-like emotional processing, then members of its template churches average oh 800-925 millichrists of the same. We could say that members of template churches take the hardest emotional work of their societies on themselves.

But even 500-625 millichrists of emotional work is hard for around third of all contemporary adults to do. As individuals, they may only average about 475-600 millichrists, But tribal churches provide simplifications and structures that enable them to do their emotional work more efficiently.

Template churches transfer emotional work from societies to their members; tribal churches effectively do the reverse. Members of the former have social ideals; those of latter have survival goals.


Anonymous said...


In culture wars, template churches tug their societies away from the workarounds that members of tribal churches use for the emotional demands of daily life.

Template Christians worry that stereotyping engineers as men will frustrate daughters good at math. But tribal Christians worry that if masculinity has no stereotypical content at all, their sons will never grow up to earn a living.

Abstractly, the tension is not flatly between right and wrong. Nevertheless, as societies polarize, moralism about it grows at the extremes.

Choices of churches reflect that polarised moralism.