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Will we be set free?

Here's the full text of Bishop Victoria Matthew's charge to the Diocese of Christchurch synod on April 13 - specially convened to consider a new map for the diocese.

Bishop Victoria Matthews  |  14 Apr 2013

Here's the full text of the charge Bishop Victoria Matthew gave on April 13 to the Diocese of Christchurch synod - which was specially convened to consider a new map for the diocese.

We are gathered here at this Synod to consider one agenda item.

How will we as a Diocese respond to the devastation of property, and the re-arrangement of the population, of our region following upon the earthquakes in Canterbury?

Will we be set free, or will we become even more imprisoned by our possessions and structures?

To use other imagery: At this Synod will the Holy Spirit of God blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks, or will we seek to control the Holy Spirit, as if we were programming a heat pump? I, for one, hope for the wind in a thousand paddocks.

However hard we try, we are never in control, but we are also never far from the embrace of God's love and presence. Later in the same poem which speaks of the wind in a thousand paddocks, James K. Baxter writes:

Lord, Holy Spirit,

In the love of friends you are building a new house,

Heaven is with us when you are with us.

You are singing your song in the hearts of the poor.

Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father.

This is an important Synod because we are not making binding decisions. Anyone can do that. No, at this Synod we are invited to build community and talk to each other. We are not building fences at this Synod. This is not the Synod for approving a new map for the Diocese. At this Synod we are talking about sharing wells for refreshment and common nurture.

We may go to our wells at the same time, or different times, but at all times the water will be the living water of Jesus Christ. Remember our Lord's words in John 4, to the Samaritan woman at the well? She comes at mid day because she is ashamed and does not want to be seen by her sisters and former friends. She feels that they despise her and she can not bear their presence, let alone their looks and whispers. Yet it is with this woman that Jesus enters into conversation: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."..."Those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

That is the water in the wells at this Synod. The question is whether we will drink of it and be refreshed, or become suspicious and back away. I ask you to remember that this is not a Synod for building fences but rather for drinking and sharing living water.

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same Lord God who activates all of them in everyone." 1 Corinthians 12.4,5.

Tomorrow we will consider the three Cathedral concepts so let me remind you of another well known passage of Scripture. 2 Chronicles 6. 18-21 is Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple.

"But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less the house that I have built! Regard your servant's prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you. May your eyes be open day and night toward this house, the place where you promised to set your name, and may you heed the prayer that your servant prays towards this place. And hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray towards this place; may you hear from your dwelling place; hear and forgive."

We hear an echo of that in Acts 7.48-50a:

"Yet the most high does not live in a house build with human hands; as the prophet says,

Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool,

What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord,

or what is the place of my rest?

Did not my hand make all these things?"

It would seem that the challenge is to so choose life that we are not taken captive by the seductive aspects of this world. Of course we are to live the abundant life but it is God we worship and adore.

We are now in the public engagement phase of the Cathedral Concepts process. I am most grateful to Warren and Mahoney, our architects, RCP our Project Managers, CPT and Chapter for their help throughout the process. The Cathedral Project Group has representatives of Standing Committee, CPT and Chapter.

We have also been enormously helped by the secondment of the Rev Jayson Rhodes from the Diocese of Auckland to assist us with media relations. Jayson of course is here at this Synod as is Lloyd Ashton who is the Provincial Media Officer.

When we do get our life and purpose in focus, extraordinary things happen in the power of the Spirit. Recall Acts 16.25-26: Paul and Silas are in prison because they have relieved a young girl of a spirit of divination and it has cost her owners considerable loss of income.

I quote:" About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and immediately all the doors were open and everyone's chains were unfastened."

What follows is the amazing conversion of the jailer who then tends the wounds of his prisoners. Please note that what does not happen is a work bee to rebuild the prison. Paul and Silas are focused on living the Gospel. They know they are the Body of Christ. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there is an awareness that God is so much bigger than human understanding.

Hence in Acts 2.42 "Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common..." We do well to allow the Holy Spirit to lead and not try to control. Let us keep that in mind as we move through this Synod and in the months ahead.

This Synod is all about listening to the Spirit and talking to each other about the future shape of the Diocese.

But we also know that while that happens the world God loves will continue to hurt and bleed. We need to be praying for North Korea; and for Syria; and for our neighbours in Christchurch in compromised housing on the east side.

I am mindful of the research that the Ven Anne Russell Brighty is doing on the needs of the elderly post earthquakes. I understand that the greatest human fears are loneliness, boredom and helplessness. And we know that the sense of helplessness is great in many parts of Christchurch as people are told they should move out of their home, but they do not yet have the means to do so, and have no idea if they ever will be able to regain a fraction of the comfort they once enjoyed.

The Reverend Jolyon White tells us that we need to advocate for a living wage so that people are not held captive by poverty. I agree. I also hope we will soon better articulate a call for more social housing in the city as rental costs go up exponentially and people have no where to live.

As more and more single men move into the city and surrounding regions to work on the city's re-build, we will be faced with the question of whether we will befriend and socially support these workers who are alone in a new city, or let the city and area cope with an increase in anti-social behaviour born of boredom and loneliness by demanding a stronger and more present police force.

Remember, not to decide is to decide, and the longer we take to decide questions about a diocesan map, the less energy we will put into helping our neighbours. It makes you wonder doesn't it? Will we fight over parish boundaries or reach out to the new comer in our midst who is wondering what sort of community this place called Christchurch really is?

I am enormously grateful for the huge amount of work undertaken by the Structural Review Group. Thank you to the Ven John Day, the SRG convener; the Rev Lynnette Lightfoot; Juliet Wensley, the Rev Andrew Allan Johns, Phil Mackenzie, and John Luke Day. I also wish to acknowledge and thank Suzie Sauer who is the Consultant for the Structural Review Group.

The SRG research is extensive, the report tight and focused, and their time frame to get the work accomplished was very short. They have given us in the draft proposal a well argued rationale for a way forward. I will be surprised if much of what they suggest is not embraced. But don't just accept what is presented in this report. Engage with it. Pray and talk and talk and pray, and believe that together we will find a road through the wilderness of post earthquake Christchurch. The next stage is review and consultation so no one should suggest a decision has been made about this or that parish.

One reason we should have the courage to follow the Spirit in building a new map is that the Diocese has been spending time learning to pray. I want to thank the Rev Dr Peter Carrell and the Ven Lynda Patterson for their Lenten book, The Praying Life. People across the Diocese, our Province and the wider church have benefitted from the book and we are stronger for it. It is my hope that we will keep praying and also turn our attention to what it means to be intentional disciples of Christ in this place and at this time.

Peter and Lynda have offered to write another study book, this time on Discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew. If our Diocese could embrace the study of discipleship as we have embraced prayer, I again believe we will be better equipped to minister and follow the Spirit in this Diocese.

Indeed, it is in recognition of our calling as people of prayer and as disciples of Christ, that I conclude with one of this evening's readings, Colossians 3.12-17, mindful it is not what we do for God but what God does in us that bears fruit for the harvest.

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against one another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another with all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word and deed, do in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In this Synod and in the months ahead, as we engage with one another, and consider what the new map of the Diocese will look like, let us indeed follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, deepen our discipleship and prayer life, and commit to drink deeply from the well of living water so that when we gather again as the Diocesan Synod our decisions might indeed be to God's glory and honour and the furthering of God's Kingdom on earth. “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine”. Ephesians 3.20

Alleluia, Christ is risen

He is risen indeed, Alleluia.