At the heart of stewardship
One of the more enjoyable and refreshing of the moderator’s activities is to meet twice a year with the moderators of the other synods. It offers us a time of retreat and fellowship facilitated by our president. On one of the two occasions we also meet with the New Zealand Presbyterian moderator and Methodist president.
The April 2014 gathering was hosted by the Kiwis at Paihia in the beautiful Bay of Islands, near Waitangi. The area is famed for being the site where the treaty between Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown was signed in 1840.
In order to enhance the benefit of the trip, Helen and I added five days leave to travel and walk in the North Island. Our planned 8-hour traverse of the Tongariro crossing, with its active volcanoes and crater lakes, was thwarted by heavy weather.
Having said that, the day we arrived at the National Park was clear and we had a wonderful view of the majestic snow-capped mountains: Tongariro, Ngauruhoe (“Mount Doom” from the Lord of the Rings movies) and Ruapehu, the North Island’s highest peak.
Arriving early at Paihia, we made the most of the local walking trails, one of which led from Paihia, south along the coast to the ferry at Opua. Thereafter we made our way through dense and hilly bushland and mangrove boardwalks to Russell, New Zealand’s first White settlement; before taking another ferry back to Paihia.
At times we were trudging through unfamiliar territory with no landmarks, and often in a different direction to where we thought Russell ought to be. Doubt and faith wrestled with each other until a signpost assured us that we were indeed on the right track.
When the moderators and presidents arrived, we received a traditional Maori welcome and were treated to warm and generous hospitality from our Kiwi hosts. This included an afternoon at Waitangi, and another to the Marsden Cross at Oihi, site of the first Christian sermon preached in New Zealand by Samuel Marsden on Christmas day 1814. The fondness with which he is revered in Aorotoa New Zealand is unlike his reputation in Australia where he is known as the ‘flogging priest’.
In our sharing time we learned the New Zealand churches are experiencing similar struggles to us in terms of numerical decline, ageing congregations and financial woes. Yet their leaders are in good heart and, like us, see a strong future for a church that keeps following Christ even when the bush is dense and we are not sure if we are on the right track. Signposts, where they appear, are welcome.
One such signpost is called stewardship. The scriptures abound in affirming examples of the generosity of spirit that gives of itself and does not count the cost, of which Jesus is the supreme example. They also warn of the miserliness that fearfully holds its treasure to itself.
Our time in Aotearoa had significant stewardship moments; like the road sign: “Look after our forests. They are busy saving the earth”. Also, as we were leaving Paihia we learned that the local Presbyterian prison chaplain, who gave us many hours of his time to share the Maori culture, was in fact on annual leave at the time.
Stewardship is sometimes about how we protect, conserve and use precious resources. At other times, it is about the giving that does not count the cost.
Rev. Dr Brian Brown
You can follow the Moderator on Twitter @BrianBrownUCA
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