I still recall reactions to English folk talking about the weather. Though I guess it’s still a way of breaking the social ice, being quietly innocuous and mildly courteous. After all, we all initiate small talk somehow, before launching into deeper waters—and which Wykehamist is afraid of that! Yet when my circle (one of my circles; see below) speak of the weather, it’s mostly a matter of life and death, and little in between. Only this last week, someone who used to work for us as a stock manager told us of the snow storms they’ve been enduring. One metre of snow during lambing in Southland (a district covering the southern part of the South Island) equals a disaster for lamb survival; and that means a serious hole in the farm budget.

I start here as farming is now a major component of my life. In fact, our extended family have been involved in reasonably large scale meat and wool production for well over a century now. After all, someone had to supply Mother England during WW1 with food and clothing—and battle uniforms (out of wool mostly). Just so, Australasia came to the rescue, with not only ANZACs, but vital logistical supplies too. And my grandfather and his two business partners, one Australian, the other English, were part and parcel of that particular war effort.

To make matters more interesting still, NZ’s farming industry might just be the one essential component of our national economy able to assist us out of the massive hole Covid-19 has punched in the world’s global economy. And of course NZ is absolutely no exception. For both tourism and tertiary education have been all but wiped out. Both classes of business have been crippled; with the airports being all but silent and no foreign students arriving into our Fair Islands, it’s game over! And so, that’s at least 25% of things gone with the chilly winds of the Southern Ocean.

Yes; fortress New Zealand it seems to be. Of course, it’s fairly easy to become this when we’re but a few islands stuck on the very edge of the world, seemingly far removed from other countries and populations. Yet this is the 21st century! “No man is an island”, remarked John Donne, meditating upon death. Nor did he have to be prescient concerning the staggering changes in communications brought about by technology since WW2 to make that comment, only a deeply thoughtful priest. (I still rejoice in discovering Donne when I was 14 years old at Winchester: what poetry those Metaphysical lot bequeathed us!)

Yet such are the contemporary means of communication flooding the world—fortunately for our farming products, which are still being shipped by air to Sainsbury and Tesco, or to SPAR, or the burgeoning middle class Chinese; although the New York restaurant trade has taken a massive hit—that virtually everyone has heard of Jacinda Ardern! Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Orkney! But if I may balance the ledger just a little ... While she is surely one of the best political orators I’ve encountered, with her skills being beautifully honed through her formative years as a protégée (now, there’s a word that echoes down the years!) under major individuals [Google if you must ...], her ability to actually manage and deliver on policies is almost zilch. Yes; zilch. That’s what happens I guess when you’ve never actually worked a normal existence. Her first two and half years in government, before Covid hit, were lamentable. Just so, I fear for her almost inevitable election win this month, as the Labour team just don’t have the nous to steer NZ through the head winds of the next few years. And a good few years it shall surely be. And to balance yet again: nor do I fancy National, the other major party under our weird MMP system, after all their leadership confusion these past few months. Their previous crowd of able leaders, who would’ve been probably up to the job, quietly dropped from the scene when MMP finally delivered the country a curious coalition after weeks of horse trading in 2017. This despite the fact that National won the actual Party Vote hands down. Like I said: MMP is a weird beast!

That is one facet of my undergraduate self, Political Science, disposed of. Now for the other part, Theology, or Religious Studies, as it has seeminglybecome better known in the West. Who would’ve guessed upon leaving Win Coll in 1968 that by 1977 I’d be ordained an Anglican Minister, in the Diocese of Mashonaland (now Harare) of all places?! True; the formal training was back in England, at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, for which I shall be ever grateful, not least as we went back for a second dose in the mid 80s with our young family for doctoral studies. Those early years of ministry, during a civil war in Zimbabwe Rhodesia and thereafter in a newly independent country, which was finally catching up with “the winds of change” that had swept the continent, were extraordinarily formative—a veritable pressure cooker which moulded in ways for which I shall also be ever grateful. For both my wife, Cathy, and I reflected during the massive trauma of four major earthquakes in Christchurch, September 2010 - December 2011, together with aftershocks that lasted many, many months, that it was all a bit of a rerun. During that time I was the priest-in-charge of one of the largest parishes in the city, which mercifully still had its plant. The result was an extensive period of ministry to those worst hit, Anglican or not, Christian or not, all were now in the same boat, gasping for survival, city-wide, and beyond. We’ve written up the exciting story in a brief book entitled, God Is Where the Pain Is. For in the end, some 85,000 homes were visited by a team of volunteers, headed up by our key people. There are still some copies available!

Nor is that the only work I’ve been involved in writing. But this is not the place to try to vaunt one’s wares. Nor too have I ever been allowed to be a full-time academic, unlike, say, Walter Moberly, whom I recall from College, now at Durham University, and whose work is glorious. As I enter very soon my eighth decade of life, we have always, Cathy and our four children, had to balance the interface among Church, Academy, and World. For she too is away as I write this, heading up a medically related workshop in Auckland for women. It has been a delightful, if “trixy” (Gollum of Hobbits, now forever associated with NZ as well as Oxford), manner of existence, yet one I sense I’d never want to swap. For it has been after all rather akin to the Founder of Christianity’s Way of Life also; and that cannot be too bad, hey?!

 

Bryden Black C, 1964-68

Written by Bryden Black, (C,1964-68); aka Rev Dr ABS Black Christchurch and Parnassus, North Canterbury, New Zealand

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