PO Box 5205, Dunedin 9058

St Paul’s Cathedral
A Sermon by The Very Reverend Dr Trevor James
Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral
Text: A New Archbishop and the Spirit at work beyond the Church
Preached at Evensong 12 May 2013
I have just returned from the service at Taranaki Cathedral for the recognition of
Archbishop Philip Richardson. It is almost inevitable that after such events one
enthuses at the splendour of the occasion, the liturgy, the music, even the homily and so on. One could do that, and rightly, but that is not quite what most
impressed me.
To explain this I need to backtrack a little, almost to 14 years ago when I was the
Vicar of a largish South Taranaki parish. Early in my tenure I was at a clergy
conference and a very wise and experienced priest from the Wellington diocese
who had much to do with South Taranaki when it was in the Wellington Diocese,
asked me a slightly unusual question: had I any sense of 'darkness' during my
ministry in the parish.
Various replies came to mind, not all entirely serious, but I remember that I
answered him seriously and admitted that there aspects to my ministry in the
region that I had not come across before, they were not clear and I would struggle
to define them - but there did seem to be something of a stubborn miasma that I
could not explain.
He went on to say that he had counselled priests from my area before and
speculated that this was a spiritual consequence of the Land Wars of the 19th
century which had left a deep legacy of bitterness, division, grief and loss. That
actually makes a kind of sense. The notion of a curse as something grounded in the
psyche and being passed on through generations, even soaking into a site or locus,
did not seem to me as especially fanciful or implausible.
So, back to Taranaki Cathedral on Saturday morning: the first thing that impressed
me was the abundance of Maori worshippers - yes it was a 3Tikanga service, but it
wasn't just that. There was a 'lightness', even a rippling spiritedness that seemed
new, fresh and energising. There were Maori there in abundance; there were
people from Parihaka (that most visionary and abused of communities); the
military hatchments from the Land Wars had been relocated; a new canonry for
the Cathedral Chapter was created to honour the legacy and strong ties of Sir Paul
Reeves to the region; and, lingering in the background, was a reminder that the
Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, had been here - and much had been happening
to foster justice and to overcome a legacy of bitterness. In all of this one has
gratefully to acknowledge the vision and hard work of Archbishop Phillip and the
leadership team he has formed in the region. A spirit of hope and reconciliation is
in the air and the difference is almost palpable.
Now I am not saying that everything is now right throughout the ‘Naki’. I would
like to say that but it would be naïve to believe that. However, and this is what
matters, things are changing and I notice the difference. The church was and is
helping to nurture real changes. Thanks be to God.
The other thing that really impressed me was the sermon: Judge Sarah Reeves
preached: here was someone also making connections between church and society
in a real way. She spoke in particular of the changes to the Marriage Act and how
society was becoming more inclusive and she compared the inclusivity that society
was welcoming with the difficulties our church has in being inclusive – and of
course the recent situation with the Human Rights Tribunal came to mind.
If I understand Judge Reeves correctly, she was looking for where there were signs
of what a Christian must understand as the activity of the Holy Spirit: where is life
being enriched, where is love being affirmed, where are people feeling included
and valued? It seemed to me that she warned the Church of being less loving, less
life affirming, less inclusive than society. I won’t argue with that: we sometimes act
and speak as if we thought the Spirit of God was limited to, and only acted through,
the church!
So, returning to Dunedin from New Plymouth, I travelled with a strong sense of the
activity of the Spirit of God working in our church and our nation: working in
Taranaki with signs of healing and reconciliation; and working in our society as
differences are overcome and as some people come to feel included where they
have not been before.