Peter Atkins was my supervising vicar at St Luke’s Havelock North in the late 1970s. He was also my bishop as Bishop of Waiapu and then an ongoing colleague over the decades that followed. I have reason to know that the grain of his character ran deep and true.
Peter was obviously and unusually gifted in the areas of administration, canon law, and ecclesiastical politics. He had a sharp incisive mind which could penetrate to the heart of matters very quickly. He had a nose for what was “ helpful,” or otherwise in these areas. I can recall an archdeacon saying once that it irritated him that Peter was usually right on complex matters. He could be terrifyingly efficient. He was super tidy too. It was once said that he had the cleanest shoes of all the clergy.
This skill set was partly natural and partly due to his professional training in the army and in accountancy before he was ordained. These gifts are not always predominant in the clergy, but they become crucial when we remember that to administer means literally “to minister to”. Behind every piece of ecclesiastical paper or diocesan bill is a person.
But it is a mistake to read Peter’s ability in these areas as his driving motivation. He was in fact a deeply engaged pastor and finely tuned practical theologian and liturgist. I can recall many occasions when Peter would give all of himself for people and for a high standard of worship, because he felt so deeply about these things. He went a third and fourth mile for people pastorally, often out of the limelight. If he could help, one to one, or to a family or whānau, then he would to the max. He could be highly forensic in a crisis.
We are fortunate that Peter wrote down some of his best thinking in books including reflections on liturgy as memory, church trust stewardship and on personality and ministry. His partnership with Rosemary was exemplary and interestingly resulted in several prayer books for children. He had also been a major influence in the Commission which produced A New Zealand Prayerbook, especially the baptism and confirmation texts.
Peter had a passion for the credibility and effectiveness of the church in society. He laboured for the common good from his faith community. As Dean at St John’s College he role modelled in the professional sense to the student community.
He was an invigorating presence in the church for which many of us have many reasons to be grateful. His witness goes on. Kororia ki te Atua !