Whenever I travel out to meet our scattered brothers and sisters I return encouraged by their faithfulness, love and connectedness. They ask after you and I in turn pass on your greetings to them. And then we talk for about 2 hours (typically), sometimes more, on all manner of topics ranging across family and friends, how the church is getting on and what is coming up in plans. Some have biblical or Christian life questions for me, which I especially enjoy since it invariably leads to discussing a range of scriptural passages and life stories of our own as these impact on the question. Occasionally we stray into theology, typically church (ecclesiology) or end time (eschatology) matters. But mostly we talk about us: the church and people we know.
Instead of flying into Dunedin and hiring a car there for a circuit through Invercargill, Queenstown and Wanaka before returning to Dunedin, I chose to start and end in Christchurch. I had been talking with Chris Hoskins at the festival in Waikanae and he’d suggested that Timaru wasn’t a great deviation returning from Wanaka to Dunedin, and since he’d asked, I thought on it and agreed. As it happens, it opened an opportunity to visit with Phil Baldwin also, so I rearranged my plans accordingly. Then, about a week out from leaving Daphne Sidney emailed me with a suggestion that I attend a meeting with the leaders of Christian Management Australia, with whom GCI Australia have a strong association. They were coming first to Christchurch on Monday 18th, the very day I was returning to Christchurch from Wanaka, and then to Auckland on Tuesday 19th. It clearly, then, was no accident that Chris had posed his opportunistic question, that I had considered it seriously and adjusted plans to suit. Hence, I did meet the CMA principles that Monday afternoon (and Rex in Auckland the next day).
All up I was away from home a full week. As noted already, I called in on Phil Baldwin first and we shared lunch at a local Darfield eatery. As it happens, we both had things to share and queries to pose, so it was a profitable time spent. My next stop was to drop in briefly on Brian Collins in Ashburton to share a coffee and catch up on his view of the world and church before meeting Chris Hoskins in the early evening in Timaru. Despite his being able to come up to Christchurch only every month or two, he is very connected with and concerned about all the members there, and elsewhere. We nattered for more than two hours over a meal in a local pub and then another hour or more at his home before I headed away to my motel.
My next stop was Dunedin, which always has a tinge of ‘home’ to me, having lived over five years there and where my son Graeme was born. For those of you who remember Gordon Bisset (now 89 and living in Mosgiel), he is a good health albeit not so energetic as he once was (although his handshake is still as powerful as ever). He is a caring and generous man, quiet-spoken and a steadfast friend, and I enjoyed the cuppa, biscuit and chat we shared. I spent the night as guest with Gary and Pat Pullar, again life-long and special friends to me, whose warmth and openness I’ve long appreciated. I don’t remember now all that we spoke about, but it ranged far and wide, from local happenings to the world stage, from family connections and challenges to news on various friends we have in common, both in GCI and beyond.
Friday was spent driving from Dunedin over to Invercargill, where I joined Les and Kaye Evans in a camping ground not far from where they have lived. They had recently sold their house and bought a large caravan and ute to pull it, so they were settled in that while I stopped in one of the serviced units. Next morning, I had arranged to meet with Anne Miller for morning tea at a local coffee shop and found her in good spirits. Sue and I had enjoyed a pleasant evening with Anne and Eric when we visited last year and dropped in on her in October after Eric’s death (we were en route with friends for a first ever visit and holiday to Stewart Island). Anne was her cheerful self and wished to be remembered to everyone. Then in the afternoon the Invercargill members gathered for a service and potluck dinner in the home of Gordon and Sue Wood (also present was Gordon’s painting buddy Gerald, Graeme Johnston, Alan and Raewyn Minty, and Les and Kaye). As you would expect, the discussion after our time of worship was intense, ranging across family and Christian impact, local and international politics, and a catching up on each other’s lives. Once back in my unit, I turned in early that night because the next day would be a long one.
Sunday started out with an abundant tasty breakfast that Les and Kaye had prepared for me, then I drove up to the Minty’s home at Wray’s Bush (not far from Ohau), and over morning tea we chatted further about the topic I had spoken on the day before (the Zacchaeus story and how Jesus had perceived and joined the Father in the work being done in that moment) plus other queries they wanted to put to me. Alongside Alan and Raewyn’s warmth and open manner, I have always enjoyed our time together and our discussions.
Queenstown was my next destination, to visit with Bert and Noeline Chandler. They had been part of the group that went to Stewart Island (also Evans, Sue Wood, Matthews and Morgans). As always, they were cheerful and talkative, and the topics ranged widely. Following on, I moved on to Arrowtown where Ana and Mike Wright have lived for the last year (I had missed them then since they were moving over that day I was going through). They too pass on their regards and best wishes.
The day ended with my driving over the Crown Range to Wanaka to visit and stay the night with Ken and Betty Smith. Ken, as many will know, suffered a stroke last year that impacted his health significantly. While no longer able to move about easily, he can walk, albeit slowly, with the aid of a cane, but once seated he is largely the ‘old Ken’ I’ve always known – considerate, clear on what he thinks, gentle in the way he talks about things, and generous. And Betty was well and her typically cheerful self also. They too pass on their best wishes to all.
My meeting with the principles of CMA in Wellington last Monday was helpful for me, though it is less likely I can be helpful for them. They were looking for interest in creating a group in New Zealand who would do a similar work as theirs in Australia, to establish and promote high ethical, fiduciary and financial accountability in churches and charities with a view to train and then certify those groups meeting the standards set. I was pleased to see that several of the other invitees were both interested in and experienced with the issues and need for good governance, so there is some probability that such a body will emerge. It was a reminder to me also of the importance of going beyond mere compliance with such standards and aiming that we too become competent and eventually achieve excellence in these as well as other matters.
So, I have returned home both encouraged and stimulated but somewhat tired for the moment. It has been a privilege and pleasure to visit with these many friends in the far south. Please be praying for them as they are praying for you.
Blessings and best wishes,