Migration in a context of colonisation

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Some thoughts from the recent Presbyterian Research Network lecture with Tony Ballantyne.

A larger than average attendance, I think I saw a good representation from the Friends of Toitu Settlers Museum.

The leadership of the settlement in the first generation was atypical.  As pastoral leader of the colony for the Free Church of Scotland Rev. Thomas Burns was sounded out by a delegation of workmen before landing in support of their request for a eight hour working day.  He was in favour.  The secular leader of the expendition, Captain Cargill, was a traditional classist in favour of the Good Auld Scotch Rule — a ten hour working day.  His leadership was muddled, perhaps it’s no surprise that the other ship’s captain, Captain Elles, settled further south in Invercargill.  The union question in first-generation Dunedin was decided to the workers’ advantage.  So much for the good auld Scotch rule!

Originally supporters of the new colony and benefactors, local indigenous Maori were quickly sidelined as further ships arrived bringing new settlers on whom it was easy to capitalise.

The colony was defined by its identifying boundaries.  Two thirds were Presbyterians, the minority were the Little Enemy, mostly Anglicans and Methodists.  It was not homogenous.  The discovery of gold expanded the size of the colony, the old identities labelled the influx of the miners as the new iniquity.  That did not stop them by profiting on stocking the new chums.

Even so when the Early Settlers Museum was established its identity of the Early Settlers took the cut-off date as 1861, late enough to cover six months of the arrivals of the New Iniquities.

Surprisingly while there is a surfeit of original documentation for the settlement of colonial settlement of Southern New Zealand the study of its history is overlooked, taking New Zealand’s history to the North Island.  There is a new history waiting to be written here, as well as a historical identity to discover.

The John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing in Otago Harbour, see http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=36533 for information.

The John Wickliffe and the Philip Laing in Otago Harbour, see http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=36533 for information.

Being A Public Voice

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A transcript of my notes from an address to Wednesday Worship at Opoho Church this week on the 22th July 2015, being some thoughts on my research and description of the Public Questions Committee in the Presbyterian Archives.

I want to talk about the Public Questions Committee in the Presbyterian Church.  For a long time the Presbyterian Church had a voice that contributed to public issues.  Originally the Presbyterians talked about religious issues relevant to the national church — temperance and Bible in Schools.  Social and political questions came to General Assembly and a special committee was set up to report to the next assembly.  By 1912 it was suggested the process could be streamlined and debate in the assembly avoided by setting up a Committee on Church life and work.  General Assembly set up the Public Questions Committee in November 1917 in order that resolutions relating to public questions outside of purely Church business yet in the moral and religious aspect that the Church was intensely interested should be the fruit of calm consideration of some of the wisest among ministers and laymen.  In 1924 Public Questions became a standing committee of General Assembly.

The subjects that that Public Questions covered were wide ranging: ANZAC Day, Abortion, Alcohol, Biculturalism, Education and Religion, the Media. The three that stand out to me in describing this collection is the file on wrestling from 1936 — in the verge of a world war the Presbyterians were agitated by wrestling in Wellington as a family entertainment; the conscientious objectors files that start in the 1930s and report on the treatment of the Presbyterian individuals who resisted the militarisation of the age and stood up for pacifism when it was unfashionable (surprisingly, in a later age when peace and conflict studies is fashionable they are unknown); and the long commitment of the Public Questions Committee and International Relations to keep attention on South Africa in the apartheid era — a yearly commitment at the shareholders meeting of South British Insurance to divest from South Africa, and when this was impossible, to withdraw the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.  I’m riding several favorite research topics here as hobby horses.

The commitment to apartheid and South Africa may have been Public Questions proudest moment. It may have also been the line in the sand for conservative Presbyterians who saw radical Presbyterian leaders taking positions in politics, in opposition to our sporting contacts with South Africa, including Maori in the All Blacks, and taking a stand which conservative Presbyterians considered contrary to the gospel.  By 1981 Public Questions became a joint committee with the Methodists. In 2000 The Society of Friends and the Associated Churches of Christ joined what was now known as the Churches’ Agency on Social Issues.  The conservative bloc in the General Assembly was critical of a committee that they felt did not communicate with the church and did not represent the church.  Had the committee always been radical and to be feared, or did it become so?  It is hard to say.  In 2007 the Council of Assembly ended Presbyterian funding to CASI and it dissolved.  Between 2007 and 2015 the church’s voice on social issues has been silent.  Having Vision New Zealand, and the Inter-Church Bio-Ethics Council, and the Centre for Theology and Public Issues, which is supported by the Synod of Otago and Southland,means we don’t need to have a voice.  Somebody will do it for us.  In contrast the Salvation Army, a church less than half the size of the Presbyterian Church on current members has become the go-to people for media on social issues. When the Salvation Army makes its annual state of the nation address people take notice.

In the moderator’s paper, his encyclical, It’s A Matter of Faith, Andrew Norton talks about the loss of Voice as a deafening silence.

Sadly, when people do eventually speak it is usually on one topic alone; we come across as a Church that is obsessed with sexual orientation.  Our voice is perceived as a voice against.  Wouldn’t it be great if we discovered the voice of God today that is a voice for. Who will speak if we do not.

He raises some suggestions to regain a prophetic voice.  In the Presbyterian Church I see that an open, generous orthodoxy conflicts with an orthodoxy by subscription.


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And that was the Easter that was for 2015.

A visit over the long weekend down to see my mother in Invercargill.  I tried to do some tidying up at home.  A bit Grimm’s Fairy Tale.  Once I had filled the rubbish bin there was not much more I could do.

Stayed with Southern Dave again and did a bit of family catch up.  At the last moment I rummaged through the shelves for something to take with me and pulled Hellboy: Oddest Jobs edited by Mike Mignola from the shelves.  It proved to be an excellent anthology of short stories to travel with.  The constant figure in these stories is Hellboy, a monster, a demon, a constant indefeatable champion for humanity.  They were a delight to read, and I would like to track down the earlier anthologies Odd Jobs and Odder Jobs.  I’m sure that they will have the same taste for comic book horror and superheroes.

I returned from Invercargill with loot, Southern Dave found me books:

  • Light in Dark Isles, by Alexander Don, NZ Presbyterian book on mission to the New Hebrides in 1918, lots of period writing
  • By Love Serve: The Story of the Order of Deaconesses of the Presbyterian Church of NZ, by J. D. Salmond, another one for my Presbyterian bookshelves
  • Spirit in a Strange Land: a selection of New Zealand spiritual verse, edited by Paul Morris, Harry Ricketts & Mike Grimshaw.  Excellent to have my own copy of this, my original thoughts on looking at this collection, some years ago, was that NZ poets view religion with a powerful hermeneutic of suspicion. I will be interested to see if that sense is still dominant in the collection.
  • Enduring Legacy: Charles Brasch, patron, poet and collector, edited by Donald Kerr, another book about Brasch for my collection at Manono House.

From mum, an easter egg and and a jar of relish from the Centre Street Dairy; and from my sister in law, a selection of Mama Jo’s Homemade Jams and Pickles: apricot, black berry, gooseberry and mixed berries jams, and capsicum and mango relish.  I have some serious sampling to do!

Presbyterians on Facebook

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I have a separate email address at work.  Quite by accident both my home email and my work email have ended up connected to different Facebook pages.  I created a password for the Presbyterian Archives page on Facebook and it’s ended up connected to my work address.  I expect eventually Facebook will notice and rationalise my account at work.  Mind you, with so many people on Facebook I suspect it’s going to take them a while to notice.

To justify the second account I used it to track down and collect Facebook pages relating to the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand: Presbyterian offices and organisations, Churches, and Presbyterian Support pages.  I think I’ve collected about 50 such pages, all connected by my green Presbyterian icon.  I think I may have collected more than anyone else, including the official Presbyterian Church page.

What I find interesting is that I’m the only connection between these various pages.  Many of them do not network with each other, even neighbouring parishes.  Their interests lean in other directions.  Instead I find I hunt around Facebook finding people’s pages I identify as Presbyterian and then rummage through their ‘like’ lists, looking for new pages to add to my work account.

Maybe the parish pages are not interested in each other.  Maybe this is an indication that we have stopped being a national church.  A shame really, because each of them is an island in the darkness, each diverse in their own way, and similar, speaking the same language and symbolism.  I will keep searching for them.

Hobbit-spotting for Labour Day

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Happy Labour Day, I hope the Trickle-down Fairy brought you something nice, or not, as the case may be.

It’s a public holiday so I get to listen to Matinee Idle on National Radio.  This may count as a form punishment, or possibly musical masochism.  I can hear the grass grow and it’s keeping me awake at night!  The gym was open earlier so I got a cardio session in before lunch-time.

Sunday across town to church.  I was asked if I could take the opening prayers.  The minister was away and it relieved one of our retired ministers from taking the whole service.  I must have done a good job of the prayers as several people complemented me on them.

I thought I could walk to Mornington on Thursday for an induction service.  Not a good idea, the rain was wretched, coming down like a monsoon.  It was about to get lost when I was on the edge of Mornington which a rabbit warren of streets.  Fortunately that was the time when I was spotted by a nice warm van going the same way.  I got a ride and arrived on time, still soaking wet, which greatly impressed some people.

Barbecue on Saturday on Caversham Heights.  The rain held off and I proved to be reasonably good at barbecuing meat.  If it’s still bleeding turn it over and move it closer to the hottest spot on the barbecue plate.

Current mood: rain and hail

Reviving the Flame

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A couple of weeks ago I examined a historic document of the Presbyterian Church to consider the Church’s position relating to marriage equality.  The document in question was Chapter XXIV of the Westminster Confession, an English document imposed on the Scottish Church which for historical reasons has been our standard since then.

I’m sure the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has produced a statement on marriage and divorce which is more relevant; and even though it contradicts some of what this chapter states on marriage and divorce, does not have the authority of being a subordinate standard.  The modern confession Kupu Whakapono says nothing about marriage and divorce.

For my own understanding of the text I translated it into a created language I use for journal keeping and translated it back into English.  As the original document is written in dead sixteenth century legal language it was the only way to read it that was relevant for me.

In the confession only opposite-sex marriage is practiced.  Monogamy is expected.  Reformed Christians shouldn’t marry inter-faith, Papists, nor idolators; it will only lead to trouble.  If a spouse dies the remaining partner is not allowed to marry the late spouse’s relatives any closer than would be expected to be incestuous among their own siblings.  Sex outside of marriage or abandonment are the only reasons for divorce, and only after reconciliation is determined to be impossible.

The proverbial ‘dead wife’s sister’ slipped away be the turn of the last century.  Presumably early-to-late modern Victorians hated the idea of property slipping out of family hands and changed the rules about who could marry whom.  Presbyterians were resistant to this idea.  It delayed the union of Synod of Otago and Southland to the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand by a generation.

I find the modern resistance to marriage equality, and other socially liberal trends, among Presbyterians is comparable to the sectarian group, the Destiny Church.  At least they are honest about the code of conduct that they expect from their members.

I am also reminded of a document I have seen in several collections at the Presbyterian Archives.  It belongs to the Church Union debate, about the time the Plan For Union was going to fail.  It was copied from the New Zealand Listener, and described the membership in the old mainstream churches as being of two camps.  One stream saw the united church working towards the transformation of the society.  Our old friend Rutherford Waddell would have been a nineteenth century ancestor of this camp.  The other camp, resistant to Church Union, worked for change through the conversion and discipleship of individuals.  The presence of these two streams in the Presbyterian Church is evident in that both approaches are included in the Church’s statement on the Five Faces of Mission.  They exist like yin and yang.

I continue to support marriage equality, and the inclusion of people of diverse orientations into the Church.  I claim no sexuality.  As a younger man in deciding whether I was gay or straight I decided that I would chose to be neither.  I would be a celibate.  It was a gift, easily chosen, a charism from god.  I suspect there are a handful of others who have made the same choice.  In our sexed-up culture of identity it is not discussed except as a disorder, a taboo.  Still we can enjoy others’ identity because ours is fluid, a liminal state, on the threshold, the maiden aunts and uncles.  Perhaps some day I may return the gift if I chose to lay it down.  While the Church rules no one in a queer relationship can be a leader in the Church my gift is being used as a millstone on the innocent, and we are all suspect and distrusted.

Mother Kirk does not trust me, her errant and heterodox boy!

Fighting the Cheap Sweat Trade in the Nineteenth Century

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In case people are looking for me tomorrow I will be at this:

Perhaps I might see some of you there?

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