Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Say it now...

Today was my final Sunday service.  I reused an old sermon that I preached for an ecumenical service earlier in the year adapting it suit the coming new year and the uncertainties involved. I felt it was ideal for the occasion. I prepared well but the occasion nearly got to me, I stumbled over many bits. When I got up to lead the service I discovered a number of people had come along especially for the event.  My brother and his wife from two hundred and twenty Kilometeres away. Past members fronted up. My supervisor had come. People from the Christmas dinner. A number of Drop-in centre people. Friends from the past. All these people were sitting there watching me present my final service. I was trying to remain focused, not on being the star of the show, but rather on leading worship. I must admit to getting a little flustered and to not being as fluent as I usually am. I had many, many positive comments about the service. One man who has come into the life of the Church in the last couple of years said, "I have never heard you preach a bad sermon, but this one topped the lot!" Another man I have known since we were teenagers, comes from time to time with his elderly father, he normally attends an Anglican Church. He came to me and repeated the same sort of thing. "I can sincerely say that I have never heard you preach a bad sermon, they have always been top shelf presentations, and today's was up there too."

It was these sorts of comments from members that got to me. People came up with tears in their eyes and thanked me for what I had done. One elderly man just simply hugged me tightly and struggling to control his emotions gasped out, "Enough said." A past elder who had moved out of town and had to move to a new congregation came and told me how I had looked after them so well during his time. Others expressed an amazing level of love, high regard for my ministry and the directions I had taken the church on. One lady said, "You do what other ministers just talk about. They all talk about reaching out to the community, but you have done it!" I appreciated these positive comments, all the more because I think they were sincere.  I got to thinking though, how during those tough times of ministry when I felt all alone, as if I was beating my head against a wall, I would have so loved to have heard just a few of these words of affirmation and support. At times it has been hard going and I could have done with these messages of love and support then. Why wait until I retire? I would still be retiring, it would not make a difference, but it may have lifted my spirits during the tough times.

Why do we do that? I recall the last time I saw a friend alive earlier in the year. I was with him by his hospital bed and I knew he would soon die. As I rose to go I grasped him by the shoulder, looked straight into his weary eyes and told him he had been and was important to me.  Leading his funeral I said some loving, sincere things about him. But why then? Why, oh why did I not have the courage to say when he was alive and well, "I enjoy your company Don!" "I really love your sense of humour and the friendship we have." It would seem sloppy and sentimental, but it could well be that he needed it back then.  Why do we wait until retirement or funerals to express our appreciations? Any way I feel humbled by the very moving expressions of love and appreciation I have received last week and today. It is funny to think I am now a retired minister. It is good, it feels like taking a heavy pack off at the end of a long tramp. But on the other hand, it feels like a boat that has been cut loose from its moorings and is drifting. What will happen next? What adventures await me now?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

People stifled by civilisation and regulation.

NZ based grandchildren open Christmas presents. 
The family gather.
Christmas Day...
We spent most of Christmas Day running our twenty fifth community Christmas Day dinner. You can read the local paper's report on that. It was at one stage VERY stressful. Somehow the people who cook the meat started the process very late so the meat was over three quarters of an hour late. We were lucky in that we had some good singers who entertained the gathered throng. The firemen did a massive job in cutting the meat at super fast speed. They cut in my office and people relayed it up to where we were dishing out the food. When we had cleaned up sufficiently and I had delivered borrowed tables to their owners we finally got home late afternoon to spend some time with the family. It felt like every muscle in my body hurt.
Toitu early settlers museum.
Today with our son and his family we visited the Toitu early settlers museum. We will visit again when we have more time. It was an interesting experience. I was so impressed with the resilience, drive and basic ability to set up home and survive in a new, unforgiving environment. They built houses out of material available. They made vehicles and machinery out of bits and peices. They modified existing vehicles to suit different situations. They invented gadgets. As I looked at the model of a settlers house I thought "You would be shot making that today!" But that got me thinking and asking questions. A poor man today wanting to add a wall to his house would not get passed the permit! The permit to do it would cost him heaps. He would have to employ a registered carpenter to do work he could do and would have to use expensive materials. He may have dreams, initiative and abilities but regulations and bureaucratic bullshit stifle him. The local by-laws keep him down. Again a poor man cannot keep his old car going. Because one or two rust buckets of cars got squashed in accidents with bigger vehicles, old cars have trouble getting warrants of fitness. Any signs of rust and it gets expensive. It annoys me too. My son and I once worked for months on an old car when he was a teenager. It was a great exercise in learning about vehicles, as well as father and son communication. We had to get it OK'd by the Land Transport Act authorities. It had small pock mark blemishes in a few places on the windscreen  and a couple of inconsequential spots of rust.  It would cost more than the car was worth to repair these. (People have hanging dice, rev counters, GPS screens all blocking their windscreen view more than these little weld indentations - it had passed a warrant test at the garage.) They declared also that they would have to strip and check the brake system, which would cost us heaps.  Sadly all our work was wasted... this perfectly good functioning little car had to be scrapped! The Land Transport Authority has representatives with a vested interest in making you buy more expensive vehicles. 
Anyway, I just think in todays world, the spirit of our early settlers, their initiative, their inventiveness and resilience is being squashed by the mad bureaucracy that surrounds us. It may keep us safer, but it kills the "spirit".

Monday, December 23, 2013

Community Christmas Day dinner number 25.

It is hard to believe that I was just 40 years old when we began to organise and participate in Community Christmas Day dinners. This year it is number 25... and most probably our last. We are all ready for the 300 guests and volunteers we are expecting.
I am fortunate in that much of the work I used to do in earlier dinners is now looked after by my daughter or I receive help with it. It is quite a logistical nightmare, but we have not had a dud yet. Last night on our set up night the man delivering the tables did not turn up so we had to go and get them. That was the biggest mistake in 25 years. Wish us luck! 
To all my readers I wish you a very happy Christmas filled with love and good company. 

Havin' a few mates over for Christmas dinner.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A highlight of our farewell night.

Some of the very eclectic crowd attending the farewell gathering.
Another part of the crowd.
The Church held an evening of farewell and celebration to mark the end of my twenty seven years of ministry there. It was a very moving night and I have seldom attended an event when so many men seemed to find it difficult to hold their emotions in as they talked or said their good byes. There is too much to report in one post but here is one of the highlights. A man who attends our Drop-in centre got up and read a poem that he had written. He has an interesting history and I have grown to love him very much over the years. He has grown so much as a person in the time I have known him.  
It was entitled "Friday Night" by Tim Aitken. 

We all line up on a Friday night, 
We know Dave's coming, when on comes the light,
We head up the stairs, as Dave says "hello",
He's a decent sort of chap, we're sad to see him go,
Then Curly serves up sausages, sauce and bread,
And during the winter, we'll have soup instead,
Next we talk, do jigsaws and play some pool,
Or table-tennis, Dave, at this does rule,
We all get along, most of the time,
Unless Tim is winning at pool, then its a crime,
For there is one unruly guy, I won't say his name,
So up went the sign - "Smile, it's just a game!"
We'll wait for an hour for dessert to be served,
Congrats on your retirement, its well, well deserved.

Apart of our Friday night drop-in centre.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The six of spades.

I have arrived at the office early to try to get things done before I retire. I turned on the computer and received emails. I then idly played solitaire as I thought out my day. The game of solitaire almost worked out, but there was six of spades that I could not get at, holding up the whole process. It so annoyed me because I had made such great progress in the game. I had to quit the game unresolved.
As I shut down solitaire, having failed at the game but successfully planned my day, it hit me how very often in Church or voluntary groups in the community I have experienced a similar thing. Often there is one pedantic or cautious, or just plain "evil" person who holds back a group from making real progress. Sometimes they are just not in tune with the spirit of the "mission." Discussion is limited or hindered, progress is thwarted and people get frustrated because this one person "stuffs it up". Many groups find themselves moving at the pace of the lowest common denominator, and it is only one person that does it! Sometimes I think we can be too nice. Sometimes because of the evil being perpetuated and the damage being done, it would be better to make some challenging, hard calls. .... but I have erred on the side of "niceness" because I am a bit chicken. My blood pressure would have been better if I had not. I have known a few "six of spades" people in my time, though I have often called them other names under my breath.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On TV again..

Edinburgh Grandson. His dad says "with his two favourite things"
I was asked to be a part of a 3 minute interview on the local TV station so last night I went in and was asked questions about the Christmas Dinner.  It is a strange style they have. The questions are not made up by the news reader so she tends to be detached, just going through the motions. It is also very quick so you cannot say much at all. Anyway you can see it here .

It is now twelve days before I retire and I am riding a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes I am angry that we have not been able to do more. At other times happy and looking forward to my long holiday. Sometimes I am sad to leave behind particularly the contact we have with those on the fringe of the Church. I received a beautiful letter from an elderly man I dropped off at a bus stop yesterday. He was on his way to visit family for Christmas.  He has been a minister, a principal of a Theological College, a lecturer in Biblical studies and I have known him since I was a child. His initial comment was, "When I think of your ministry David, I think of the song 'I did it my way'" He went on to express appreciation and made some beautiful comments about my ministry.  I have had another letter and some other very flattering comments. 
I have decided that instead of calling it retirement I will call it "refocusing" - I intend to still do stuff to make a difference.   

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our last Drop-in centre

On Friday evening we had our final Friday evening drop-in centre. There were not crowds there but it was a good night. We had made some special food and another helper had made four Pavlovas which all got eaten during the night. We were given a card which people signed and wrote messages on and received lots of hugs and well wishes. One man estimated that we had been involved in something like 720 Drop-in centre nights. 
Today I just post a few photos from the evening. We would have averaged 40 - 45 through on Friday nights. We probably had regular contact with at least 120 of Dunedin's most mixed up and vulnerable people. I still don't know if it is going to continue, but I have to walk away and leave it to others. I'll tell some stories in the next few posts.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not so bad after all...

Oh dear..
In my last post I sounded off about various things that happened to me the other day. I had a man in my office yesterday and I was telling him my tale of woe and he was listening. During a break in my moan session he said, "Well I had a bad day yesterday too." "What happened?" "I had an accident in my car and I think it will be a write off." He then went on to tell me what happened and he and his wife were lucky that they were not badly injured. It was a nice car, barely two years old, and I doubt he will get in insurance enough to replace it. .... My day of annoying events did not seem so bad afterall.
Christmas Day Community Dinner in Dunedin...
I did a radio interview yesterday morning explaining to listeners about the Christmas Day dinner we hold. Last Friday a newspaper reporter sat down with us and chatted about it. Here is the link that goes to the paper that came out yesterday. It is on page 11.
If you need company on Christmas Day and you are in Dunedin feel free to come.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Weird day!

Today I had to have a fasting blood test so I was not allowed to eat for twelve hours before. The test could be taken at around 10 a.m. so I had to go into the office without breakfast. I had a few things to catch up on and wanted to send out a number of emails. I set out early so that I could make a good start on the day. There were road works at a certain point on the journey in, so for about eight kilometres I had to creep along. The journey which normally takes ten to fifteen minutes took me about one hour ten minutes! I could have walked it faster I am sure! I was late to the office! 
I turned on my computer only to find my email was not receiving or sending. I checked two different computers - one gave me a "Sorry scheduled maintenance" message and the other told me I had entered the incorrect password. I fiddled and checked all possible reasons. About midday I rang the helpline and they told me they would text me when it was fixed..... they have not texted me yet and it is late at night! It has been down for more than 24 hours! I need emails!  What a waste of a morning!
Phone calls and people visiting the office successfully wasted extra time along with the visit to give my blood. I finally had breakfast about 11:30 a.m.  
I had misplaced some keys. I hunted in vain at home before I left. I searched the cab of the van. I searched my office but still no keys.... eventually I checked the pockets of an old jacket I had thrown in the back of the van yesterday. There they were!  More wasted time. 
At some stage I went to the toilet and discovered I peed blood. My guess is it is just injury from my self catheterising plumbing system, but it does not help my peace of mind. 
I settled to cleaning out four filing cabinet drawers, sorting stuff to keep and stuff to discard. I found papers related to early Dunedin Habitat for Humanity plans and projects. I found minutes of a Night Shelter Steering committee, before we had become a trust... the various logos we looked at before we chose our present one. There were Church planning notes from elder's team meetings from quite early in the ministry.  It was a gut wrenching exercise going through making decisions about what to keep . I kept some things thinking "I might use that in a service some time."  But I stopped and thought... I have three services to go then I retire... Will I be doing a church service again? Do I want to do a Church service again? I kept stuff anyhow. Now I have to find a place at home to keep it. 
The last two days have had hard moments. Yesterday we spent a few hours with a couple who are going to do an interim ministry here after I leave. They asked many questions and we told what we had experienced, the ups and downs of ministry.  In some ways it was like reliving some disappointing events. (although there were lots of good things to tell) Today had the road trip, the lack of emails, the lost keys, the blood test, the peeing blood and once again the ups and downs of memories of the last 27 years. I will be pleased when I can truly finish on December 29th! 
Tomorrow morning I will leave really early. I am a guest on a Radio breakfast show. If there are road works I do not want to be trapped. That will be another interesting experience in life.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Another working week done, just three to go.

My latest grandchild - one week old today.
My son and his child. A great picture of a gentle giant of a man.
A community ministry
As I look back on my week I realise how much community orientated time I spend. A meeting at the Police station, a meeting with the Night Shelter manager and emails and phone calls out of it, a session at the local civic centre helping present a new immigrants' orientation program, an interview with a newspaper reporter, a short christmas article for the local paper, four hours involved in chaplaincy at the fire stations and involvement in Space2B and our drop-in are just some examples of time spent with a community outreach focus. I am glad about this.
Strife at Space2B
We have people coming into Space2B at lunch times who are really drop-in centre type people, using it as a drop-in. I am disappointed about this because this was not the purpose of Space2B and I would love to have catered for their needs in our drop-in area but was prevented from doing so. The idea of Space2B was that it could be a quiet place in town where people could come, have a hot drink and chat. But these folk have taken it over and do not "chat" quietly. My dream for Space2B has been ruined, I know people who stay away because these people are there. On Friday from my office for about an hour and a half I could hear loud conversation, gossip and arguing. Then there was a loud disagreement. We went up and encouraged quietness, but when we left it started again. Three guys were sitting there, feet on the coffee table passing snide comments riling up a woman who has mental health issues. We decided and told them that since it was a nice day out and the ruckus was continuing, we would close half an hour early, so please would they leave. These men simply said, "No we are not going!" "Yes you are!" we said, "you would then be trespassing!" We pointed out that this was meant to be a quiet peaceful place. That in any cafe in town if they behaved as they were behaving they would be asked to leave. We had a right to ask them to leave. One man started yelling at us, - he would report us to the police, - the church was meant to accept people as they are, - he would shut us down, - he would write a letter and I would be finished at the Church. (Which made me laugh.) We still firmly insisted they leave... and they did - this one man walking down the street still breathing threats against us. I was relatively controlled on the outside but inside I was shaking with rage. I would love to have given them "a clip under the ear" (as my dad used to say- and sometimes do.)  I would love to have even ridiculed them verbally. They are arrogant, obnoxious and abuse the space and the kindness offered! These words rang in my head; "Give the world the best that you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth... Give the world the best you've got anyway!"  In anger, to work off my rage I picked up a heavy gas heater I have been meaning to move, and dragged it upstairs. People offered to help me, but I refused their offer. It was a more constructive way of letting off steam and at that point in time, I needed to do something physical. Life is fun.
Untying the ties that bind
Some of my time this week has been taken in tidying the office and taking stuff home. I also began to clean hundreds of emails off my office computer. Having been at the Church 27 years there are heaps of my things being used or stored at the Church. In three weeks time I want to be able to hand my key back and walk away. Somehow I get the feeling taking "me" out of the building is going to involve a lot of hard work. It is like cleaning out a house after a death of a loved one. Each item, email or document has a story to it and is related to some event or activity, mostly long forgotten. I will have a whole mixture of feelings over the next three weeks as I go through this clean up process. 
Drop-in centre to close after eighteen years
We have run a Friday night drop-in centre for eighteen years. It is only now that it is likely to close that we begin to hear how important it is to the people coming. One carer of a guy who comes told me it was important therapy for his client. A married couple said it was precious outing that was important - they could not afford more conventional outings. I begin to feel guilty, but then I tell myself we cannot go on forever. We have carried it for so long. This Friday will be our last Friday and I will be quite sad. I could write a book about the incidents that have happened and the people who have passed through. It has been worthwhile.
A gift for the Christmas day dinner.
A fire fighter came into the drop-in on Friday night and handed me a letter and cheque. It was to be used for the Christmas day dinner and was a gift from a friendly society which was closing down. It was $2,500! In 25 years of running Christmas day dinners we have never run short of money or volunteers. People are generous.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My grandson is home.

Hey here is a picture of my new grandson, born in Edinburgh.  My grandkids are sooo cute, but then I maybe biased.
He looks like he's the boss already.
Leon is in Edinburgh. I met him this morning via Skype.  He is a lucky boy.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Seen on my Sunday walk. The Koru (beginnings of a fern leaf unfolding) It is a symbol of new life and potential.

It is over a week since I posted and I need to let off steam.... While I have my lunch time coffee I will post... 
Saying "Yes" or "No"
While I was doing my chaplaincy at the brewery last week my phone rang.  It was somebody from the St John organisation where I do a voluntary chaplaincy wanting to extend my responsibilities further.  I gave a vague "I'll have to think about it" answer. I am not sure what lies ahead in retirement therefore am hesitant to commit the time involved.  When I told others about this phone call they responded with, "I hope you said 'no'!"  On Friday I bumped into one of my firefighters and he asked, "What are you going to do in retirement?" as so many people do. He then went on to say, "You will have to learn to say 'no' to everything! Just look after yourself from now on." I hesitated and said, "Nah - I won't be saying 'no'. Where would my life be if I said 'no' to everything? Imagine all the experiences I would have missed out on if I had said 'no' all the time?" I am convinced that Jesus was right. A life lived for itself is lost.  It is when you lose yourself that you find life. Life is enriched by unselfish living. If when I retire I revert to selfish living I will be miserable!
Dunedin Night Shelter Trust AGM
Last Thursday I chaired the Annual General Meeting of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust.  I spent well over a day in hours preparing and printing reports. I hate this sort of administrative stuff, but I did it and I survived. When it came to the election of officers I was re-elected as chairman again. I wished there was an alternative, I think I am better at background helping and supporting.  Maybe next year I will convince some one else to stand. The work for the Trust is voluntary, but it consumes a lot of my thought and energy lately. I was met by our manager this morning, he wanted a thorny HR question sorted out. It is exciting and worthwhile, often out of my comfort zone, but it also is very time consuming. 
Why I am still a follower..
This was my theme for Sunday's service. My answer in brief was;

  1. Jesus' principles for life make sense still.
  2. Following him empowers and enables me to be a more noble person.
  3. Following him enables me to prioritise in life, see what is ultimately important and sense the sacred in my living.
Confidence.... yeah right.
I know and admire a woman who is well educated (PhD) a militant alternative life styler, attractive and just about always in good spirits, with a keen sense of humour. I enjoy her company and we have a warm friendship. She confidently runs programs and courses and looks every bit the "together-self confident-spirited" woman. I bumped into her a few weeks ago, just after her birthday, and I joked with her as I often do. This time I noticed she did not laugh as much as normal, and after my joking headed off abruptly. I received a text later apologising for her departure and looking back on our brief conversation I realised that as she left she was barely holding it together. She was, in essence, like an insecure little girl, feeling alone and easily threatened. I wonder how many of us are like that and do not want others to know? We hide behind humour, a mock confidence, or dogmatism, activity or anything to avoid just letting others know that we are scared, isolated or whatever. 
I thought of this yesterday when the same lady phoned me to ask me to dispatch a sick hen she had, and could I teach her how to do it?  I went up to do it, but I suddenly felt unsure myself. I have killed countless hens, but never with an attentive audience! What if it went wrong? What if I have forgotten how?  What if I made a fool of myself?  We all have our insecurities we try to hide, it would be much better if we shared our uncertainties and admitted that we are all on a unrehearsed journey together. 
Taking a life...
I killed this hen. She was sick and never likely to get over it. It really was a kindness. I held her legs, gently but firmly, cradled her head in the palm of my other hand (she was as placid as) and I reluctantly stretched her neck, with a controlled gentle but definite jerk of my arm. I held her gently as her life drained out of her then reverently laid her in the hole dug for the purpose. She had lived. She had given food, company and added colour to life, now she was dead. She was once a colleague on the journey of life, and I decided it was over for her.  It is a "spiritual" experience raising all sorts of questions and thoughts. All meat eaters should at some stage have to kill the meat they eat. We would say grace with much more meaning! 
I thought it funny that when you want your chook put down, you think of the minister you know to do the job. "Dispatching a hen 101" maybe an essential course in theological colleges. She had phoned me saying, "I thought you would be the type of guy who would know how to do that." What a weird reputation I have!
A grandfather again...
On Sunday my son in Edinburgh and his Polish wife had their first child. My son is Maori/Samoan, he is adopted, but every bit as much "my son".  It is times like this that this is unmistakably reinforced for me.  I was walking my mountain when my wife texted me the news. I put my walking stick down to respond, then, quite distracted by the news, walked off leaving it behind. I was quite away down the track when I noticed it missing, and had to retrace my steps to retrieve it. I really, really would love to be in Edinburgh NOW! I love my kids, and their kids.  Welcome to the world Leon Tamati Brown, God bless little fella.