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An Invitation to Voyage

Outside Christchurch art gallery are high metal sculptures which represent Maori canoes. Legend says that the Twelve Maori Tribes came to this ‘land of promise’ in twelve canoes. The sanctuary floor of Christchurch Cathedral depicts the four boats in which the first Canterbury pilgrims came; citizens are proud to trace their ancestry to these voyagers.

Voyaging is not meant to be something of the past. We invite those who have heard the call of God’s untameable Spirit to set sail in the ocean of God's love. We say ‘ be ready for the Spirit to lead you into wild, windy or well-worn places in the knowledge that God will make them places of wonder and welcome’. We commission them to sail forth across the ocean of God's world knowing both the frailty of their craft and the infinite riches of their God.

At first sight, Christchurch seems to be rooted in the Canterbury tradition of spirituality which can be traced to Pope Gregory’s sixth century mission team led by Augustine to the English people in Kent. In our emerging, post modern society people tend to think of this as a symbol of ‘top-down church’. We in The Community of Aidan and Hilda like to depict the church as a stool with three legs: The legs are the Roman tradition whose patron saint is Peter, the Protestant tradition whose patron saint is Paul, and there is a third, often overlooked leg, that of John the contemplative. In the East the Orthodox, and in the West the Celtic tradition has been this leg.

This leg has actually been there all the time. Christchurch has a suburb named St. Martin’s. There was a church in Canterbury dedicated to St Martin of Tours long before the Italian Mission arrived, Queen Bertha, who welcomed Augustine, worshipped there. When Martin was made the Bishop of Tours he refused to sit on a throne and instead sat on a cow stool. Humble and discerning people among the English have always sought to reach beyond the externals to the relationship of love that flows from the heart of the Trinity.

Christchurch has a church dedicated to Saint Chad. He was educated in the first school for English boys at Lindisfarne, and became the first Bishop of Mercia with his See at Lichfield. He was renowned for his humility. He also sensed the deep connection between God and his creation. When creation thundered and lightninged he fell prostrate in prayer and begged God to have mercy upon his world. In this era when we now know the planet may not survive unless we have widescale conversion of heart, we seek to ‘live simply that others may simply live’, to cherish creation and to allow God to cherish us through the sacrament of his creation.

An extract from a talk by RaySimpson at Theology House, Christchurch 2008.

Captain Cook and Saint Hilda

Greetings to you who live in the Land of the Long White Cloud, under the protection of the Southern Cross, God’s Own Land.

Jesus’ final commission on this earth was that we baptise every ethnic group, every people, in God. Baptists know that the word used by Jesus means ‘immerse’. We are to immerse all people, all life, every part of the world, every day and in every way in the Presence of God.

Today the sermon and the story-telling sections are joined together, so I will tell you stories of the time I was pastor of a new Baptist-Anglican church - one Christian family for one neighbourhood.

  • One day I visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and God spoke…
  • One day God called into being a world-wide movement of people who seek to live Christianity as a Way of Life, not just as the maintenance of an institution.
  • We set everything in the simple beauty of creation. Our belonging, activities and relationships are ordered in a way that liberates, rather than clutters our spirits.
  • We not only lay hands on the sick, we also lay hands, as it were, on every part of God’s world, to bless it and recognise its right to wholeness.
  • We seek to learn the art of listening; to cultivate inner silence that responds to what is in God’s heart and sets aside what violates it.
  • We seek to develop ‘the eye of the eagle’. The eagle, the symbol of the author of John’s Gospel, was thought to be the only bird that could gaze directly into the sun without being blinded. That is, we seek to seen God in creation, in contemplation, and in each person we meet.
  • We weave together God-given strands in Christianity that have become separated: the biblical and the justice, the sacramental and the charismatic, the eastern and the western.

Like the early church in Celtic lands, we honour and seek to go with the grain of what is of God in the peoples among whom we live. Tradition says the first Maori set out in twelve boats, one for each of their twelve tribes. This reminds me of the twelve tribes of Israel who set out for the land of promise and, once they settled, listened to God and learned more of his ways. Above a New Zealand art gallery I saw these words inscribed: ‘Lo, these are parts of God’s ways, but how little a portion have we heard of Him’. Is God calling twenty first century Kiwis to learn the art of listening, to discover and pattern the fullness of God’s ways and wisdom for our time?

We open our eyes to the example and presence of God-inspired people in our own past and in that of other peoples – these dear saints of God. I have been inspired by the story of Te Whiti, the Maori prophet, who established a village of God at Parihaka, and enabled its people by non-violent means to protest at the unjust confiscation of their lands sixty years before Mahatma Gandhi. After the devastating wars of the 1860’s and Governmen5t confiscation of Maori land, Te Whiti created on the banks of Waitoteara, not one of the usual fortified villages, but an open, alcohol-free village, which established good education, sanitation, agriculture and values. People from many tribes joined it, and when they were still persecuted Te Whiti, from his study of the Scriptures, helped them see that their suffering was God’s suffering, and in the love of the suffering Christ they would smile at, not smite, the Pakeha; they would use the plough instead of the sword.

History tells us that Captain Cook set out from Whitby, in Britain, to re-discover and map this land. He brought with him from Whitby a heritage perhaps greater than he knew. High above the harbour from which he departed stands, like a beacon, the abbey where in the seventh century Hilda pioneered a village of God, the largest faith community for women and men among the English. Before she was born her father sought refuge with the indigenous Celtic Britons, but was poisoned by the English colonisers. Despite this hard beginning, her mother had a vision of a jewel hidden in her skirts, whose brilliance shone across the lands. That jewel was Hilda. Throughout her last six years she suffered debilitating coughs and fever, yet she never ceased to give thanks to God in the rhythm of daily public prayer, such was her constancy and compassion. She died on 17 November. Miles away at a daughter community, a sister saw the roof being lifted from the building, and angels escorting her to heaven. Hilda calls us to ceaseless struggle that God’s kingdom come on our piece of earth as it is in heaven, and to the adventure that death does not end.

Today God is putting the desire in people’s hearts to create twenty first century villages of God – communities of healing love. It is not only individuals who follow the Aidan and Hilda Way of Life – there are Aidan and Hilda houses. The Cairn, in Birmingham, England is one …. My hosts in Queensland, across the sea, are exploring whether their house might become one. Maybe yours could be another?

Here in Auckland I passed signs to ‘Sky City’ and went to the gym in ‘Youth Town’ – but these are not yet villages of God which have yet to grow up. You can help bring them into being. A new dark age threatens our world. These villages of God, like the Celtic peoples monasteries in an earlier millennium, can keep the light burning through the days ahead.

Extract from a talk by Ray Simpson at Cityside Baptist Church, Auckland 2008