Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bereavement; Gay marriage in NZ; A "penny dropped"; something beautiful & heavy workload.

A couple of years ago as I looked out on the congregation I saw an elderly man (late seventies) who was a new face. I met him briefly after the service as he headed out and he informed me cautiously that he was "Church shopping" and that he had been to a few. He thought it was time to move on from where he was attending and was trying out Churches. He went on his way, with me thinking, "Well he won't be back!" To my surprise a couple of weeks later he came back. He was absent for a couple more weeks (checking out other Churches) then came back again. Ever since he has been there whenever he was able, has at times played the piano for us and been an active part of our congregation. I went to visit him and found a warm, friendly man who I just clicked with. We sat and chatted as if we had known each other for all our lives. He came to help set up a Christmas Day dinner and then assisted at the dinner itself. He came with his crutch but pretty soon it was discarded and he was dashing around like a teenager with a wide grin on his face. He simply loved it. He thought I was headed in the right directions with the things we were doing. This year he has had bad health with surgery and a nine week stay in hospital. He had just started venturing out to Church again. In spite of his health difficulties he was always cheerful, positive, warm and friendly. I felt completely at home with him. I knew him as "Norrie Duff". On Friday morning upon opening the newspaper I discovered that a "David Noris Duff aged 79" had been hit by a car and died later in hospital. (I knew he frequented a cafe next to where the accident happened.) "It must be Norrie?" I said to myself, "It can't be Norrie!" I did not want it to be Norrie, but all the evidence suggested it was.  I did not know his family at all so could not ring to find out, and anyway thought that might be an intrusion. It wasn't untill the evening that I had a call from his son to tell me all that happened. Friday was a long day during which I could not concentrate. I am sad. He was my friend. As I walked into Church on Sunday mornings to lead the service he would give a smile and a nod. He was one of those whose "attending" and very posture during worship drew the sermon out of me. He and I just felt at home with each other. I feel like I have lost a soul mate and I don't have too many of them. On Wednesday I lead his funeral. I think I will struggle to keep composed.
Proud of my country legalising Gay Marriage.
Gay Marriage legal in New Zealand
The other night amidst very emotional scenes the New Zealand Parliament passed the Marriage (definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill which legalised Gay Marriage in NZ. Here you will find a clever speech and here the feeling and aftermath in the Parliamentary chamber. I have not preached directly about this matter except to allude to the principles of equality and inclusiveness whenever I could. ("Let the hearer hear what I am saying" - type of approach) In private conversation, through blog post and other opportunities I have expressed my support. I once wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper but it was not printed. (They did print stupid illogical anti-gay opinions) It is to me a victory for love! It is a victory for equality, for responsibility and commitment.  The thing that hit me this morning is that in public worship I would love to have given thanks for this victory. I would love to have thanked God for the liberal, loving spirit that has driven this legislation. I would loved to have thanked God that we live in such a country and expressed pride in the achievement of our little country. But I could not. I had been warned that it would be divisive, and indeed it would have been. I felt deeply sad and even less at home because of that. It reinforced for me my decision to retire at the end of the year. I do not really belong in this denomination.
A penny dropped
I do not know what congregation, if any, I will attend when I retire. I long for a group of progressive thinkers who I could journey with. I would love to be part of a group of friends who encourage each other in an active progressive thinking Christian way. I have had thoughts that maybe when I retire I could start such a group but nothing jelled. I had a friend from the Night Shelter Trust phone me on Thursday and ask me about my day in hospital. I told him about the book I read by Karen Armstrong and that she was the instigator behind the "Charter for Compassion". He had never heard of it so I explained what it was. When I hung up I had an epiphany. "What about a group which was centred on the Charter for Compassion?" It would then be inclusive of those who did not necessarily go along with "Christian things". It would keep before us the need for compassionate action and stop such a group becoming a group of navel gazers or anti-established-church gossipers. The idea simply rang bells with me. It has a heap of potential. Will I have the energy to do it? Wait and see - watch this space.
My friend Joan.
A beautiful scene.
I have told you sometimes about the rough times at our Friday night Drop-in centre. I want to tell you of a really beautiful scene. We have a notorious town drunk called Joan Butcher. She has a very sad life story. She really has a nice "spirit" and I cannot help loving her. At the moment she is being looked after in mental health wards at the hospital. She arrives now at the drop-in centre sober and friendly. Unfortunately her brain and her speech are irreparably damaged. In recent weeks she has sat in a corner talking warmly with those who dropped by to chat. She sat there doing crochet, making head bands and cellphone carrying pockets. We have a lovely Indian nurse lady who, with her husband, was helping us at the drop-in on Friday night. She sat beside Joan and talked with her. She purchased a headband from her and the next time I went down, she too was crocheting and told me that Joan had been teaching her. It was a lovely picture of barriers broken down, love and acceptance.
When I went back to work after my surgery I intended to take life easier. It does not happen and it feels out of control.  I have an incredibly busy week ahead. Here are some things I have to do.

  • I have to do Norrie's funeral - at least 8 hours extra work.
  • I have to prepare and record a radio church service.
  • I have to write up, collate and print the Annual Report for the Church Annual General Meeting. The secretary used to do this, but we do not have one these days. 
  • I have to do 8 hours of chaplaincy work.
  • I have my usual Sunday service preparation to do.
  • I have to arrange to have meetings some people for the Night Shelter.
  • And of course there are some usual weekly responsibilities I have to fulfill.
I will not be able to have a day off tomorrow, nor will ANZAC day on Thursday be a holiday for me. Wish me luck.

1 comment:

Linda Myers said...

You sound like you're making a difference with your busy life. I, too, hope you find a group of progressive Christians to be your community.

I'm glad you're back into the swing of your life after your surgery.