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Slipping the moorings by Bp Richard Rand

Many of us here at St Peter's, Eastern Hill, have had the privilege of hearing Bp Graeme Rutherford preach, or have been taught by him in the Trinity Course or at Trinity Theological College and will, I'm sure, continue to have echoing in our ears for years to come his well-worn words: It's not enough to just talk the talk, you must walk the talk.

 

Slipping the Moorings is an autobiography that would completely endorse Bp Graeme's dictum. Born in 1940 in Takapuna, a quiet town on Auckland's North Shore, Bp Richard studied Arts at the University of Otago and from there Theology at St John's College in Auckland, and was ordained Anglican priest in 1965. This was a time when 'church participation...moved from a habitual routine for many to a chosen activity for the committed.' It was a time of dwindling numbers in churches and a period of 'deep theological questioning' for Bp Richard. It was a painful time that finally led himself and his wife, Jackie, to sail to New York to learn more about theology in the context of contemporary life. From here, in the late 1960s, he began to find his true vocation. He had begun to encounter new ways of being church, that reached out and spoke to people on the street, the poor and marginalised.

 

Along Bp Richard's path are many people who have inspired him and helped resource his social conscience. Among these, in the early years was Daniel Berrigan, Roman Catholic priest, who became known here in Australia for his protest against the Vietnam War and later in 1980, when he trespassed onto the General Electrics nuclear missile facility in Pennsylvania.

 

Issues such as racism, peace, poverty, and other ethical questions were all at the forefront of theological thinking at the Union Seminary in New York and helped expand Bp Richard 's conscious commitment to work in these areas. The theology he was learning contrasted radically with what he had experienced until then in New Zealand. It informed his whole understanding of Anglican Church and mission:

 

'God was seen as active throughout the world, the spirit of love and reconciliation, suffering with the poor, the spur to right conduct in individuals, institutions and nations. Arising out of worship and teaching, the Church's task is to be active in the workplace, society and politics, to work for universal justice and well-being. The primary direction is church to world, not world to church.'

 

It was with new insight and understanding that Bp Richard and Jackie, with their growing family, moved to England in the early 1970s. Here he took on a curacy in the parish of Egglescliffe, near Newcastle, which involved two days a week with Teesdale Industrial Mission. Bp Richard 's description of life at Teesside 'where smoke-stacks, concrete and steel were everywhere in evidence ' and his visits to shipyards and coalmines made me think of Fr Lawrie Styles, who spent his last years here at St Peter's and died in 2011. Although their paths seem to cross only briefly, Fr Lawrie spent many years in Industrial Mission in England. Upon graduating from Cambridge University in the 1950s, Fr Lawrie joined the Industrial Mission in Tyldesley, a town between Manchester and Liverpool. He too became interested in the 'tragic gap that existed between clergy and industry...' and tells us in his book My God, What Now? that in order to connect with those he was serving he found it important to visit the local pit and see for himself what it was like at the coal face.

 

'I asked at the time of my first visit to the pit whether I should wear my clerical collar so that those I met would know who I was. "No need", came the reply, 't'message will go down ahead of thee before thee enters cage.' The only people that seemed to be astonished were my brother clergy in the neighbouring parishes when they found me walking home from a pithead in their parish — black with coal dust.'

 

After a number of years' experience in Industrial Mission and with his sense of vocation now clarified, Bp Richard went back to New Zealand in the mid-1970s.

 

Slipping the moorings is a memoir of a life founded on a belief that for any priest sermons and ministry must relate to contemporary times, or they become irrelevant. As Vicar of St Peter 's Church in Wellington and part of the ecumenical Inner City Mission, Bp Richard was never afraid to speak out on controversial issues. For example, at his initiative in 1989 a statement was issued, backed by 94 New Zealand clergy and laity, decrying a Government proposal to purchase four new naval frigates. A major debate opened up in the media following this statement — not least the belief that the church should keep out of politics. But this is precisely where the church, Bp Richard believes, needs to be. For it 's here that many issues 'determine for good or ill, the extent of poverty, or the well-being of families. ' So it has continued to be that he has put his energies into issues such as social justice, poverty, Treaty of Waitangi partnership, nuclear free New Zealand, anti-apartheid, gender equality, same-sex relationships, and public ethics and made public statements about them. He often attracts controversy, but always gets people to take issues seriously that otherwise could be swept under the carpet. Bp Richard holds the view that:

 

'...a silent church is a church that has become preoccupied with its own life and has lost sight of its mission to be a channel of compassion and a voice for justice. Both church and society are poorer for that. In speaking and acting I have always sought to be well informed on matters of faith as well as on topical issues. I also seek to consult with others before forming a viewpoint. Having done that I have taken a stand and prepared myself for whatever responses might come.'

 

On one level this memoir is a critique on Christian leadership in the 21st century. True Christian leadership doesn 't just happen, but evolves over time and experience. By means of stories and reflections, critical engagement with the world 's and his own ideas, Bp Richard shows us what such leadership can look like. Projects that involve social justice issues take time and patience, as well as hands-on commitment. Christian leaders need not only a moral compass and instinctive bias to the poor and marginalised, but courage and ability to take risks - to speak out publicly when needed.

 

Though subtle in his thinking, Bp Richard is often much more interested in getting to the point and acting from this place, rather than 'navel gazing.' He is a straight shooter, but 'prepared to win some, lose some '. A good Christian leader he tells us, like any leader, needs effective communication skills and an ability to work in a team. He or she needs to be grappling with contemporary issues and listening to people all the time. Most importantly Christian leaders need imagination and times of deep reflection and prayer, because at the heart of all this type of leadership is Christ and the Gospels.

 

In many ways this is the real strength of the book. The title is a 'plea that the church should slip its moorings ' from a place of comfortable complacency and become part of the challenge to work for a more just, environmentally and ethically aware world. And it 's a plea that is directed as much to bishops and clergy as to laity.

 

When he came to live in Canberra in 1994, as assistant bishop with responsibility for the church in the wider community, Bp Richard saw this as an opportunity to further this chosen role of hands-on Christian ministry. He gave addresses at conferences and chaired inquiries on the issue of poverty, became chair of the then named Canberra Church of England Girls ' Grammar School and affirmed the place of trade unions in the Patrick Stevedore waterfront dispute in 1998. In 1995 he was shocked to discover that the only Aboriginal Bishop, Arthur Malcolm, had no effective speaking or voting rights at General Synod. In all these areas and more he worked for justice and right relations.

 

After returning to Auckland in 2000, he has worked on the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification and later on the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology. Once more, as in Canberra, he was called upon publicly to defend his views on homosexuality. And, as in the subsequent debate concerning his views on faith where he was then 'caricatured ' as being an agnostic and unbeliever, he felt the need to stress that his views are personal, like those of others:

 

'As a bishop of the church I accept the policies and decisions of the Church and live by themâ. What one can expect is that a bishop will respect the convictions of every person, and ensure that all are included. I lament the immaturity in the church, or any institution if the leadership is prevented from speaking openly lest it cause offence. Clergy and church members need to be mature enough to live with diversity rather than to operate from a mindset that 'it 's my way, or the high way'.

 

To read Slipping the Moorings is to hear the call to all of us here at St Peter's to continue to recognise the richness of diversity of individuals within our own parish life. Bp Richard 's work reminds us that church community needs authentic responses from its parishioners, and needs a leadership that seeks to focus on the poor and marginalised. His mandate that the primary direction is church to world, not world to church, made me also realise the abundance of gifts we have to offer in this way. We have our obvious ministries to the public every day: the Institute for Spiritual Studies, the Breakfast Program for the Homeless and the Bookroom are such places. But there are many other important areas where this interface happens. Against a current tide of church practice we keep the doors of St Peter 's Church open everyday for people to come in and sit and pray. Our Vicar and Assistant Priests ' ongoing links with Parliament, Brotherhood of St Lawrence, Anglicare, Fire Brigade and Ambulance keep us connected with broader city services. Our collection of food parcels for the refugees, the pastoral care team who regularly visit elderly and sick parishioners, as well as inner city hospitals, the Children 's Play Group, and the recent practices of Ashes to Go and Palms to Go — where clergy and parishioners stand at Parliament Station bringing these to the world — all these are signs of our engagement in the contemporary world on many levels. There is always more work to do. But by remembering that we are not a church that should stay closely moored to its own preoccupations and existence, navel gazing, but called every day to 'venture out into the deep ' we ourselves as a