Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dunedin Night Shelter Newsletter article

Stepping down now. (I hope)
This article appeared in our Dunedin Night Shelter newsletter which came out today.
Dave Brown pauses during roof maintenance at the Night Shelter this past week.

A MIX-UP with staff rosters a couple of years ago became a graphic example of why the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust is needed and the difference it makes, says retiring Trust chairman and founding member Dave Brown. Fourteen years after the Trust was established, and after six years as its chairman, Mr Brown has stepped down from what has been a demanding and vital role in our city. In 2003, Mr Brown and several others gathered to discuss the need for emergency accommodation. At the time, Mr Brown was the minister at an inner-city church that ran a drop-in centre where many of the city’s more vulnerable people gathered on Friday evenings. A public meeting was organized and 50 people turned up to hear from social workers and others about the need in Dunedin. The Trust was born from that gathering. Mr Brown says two of the key challenges have been convincing people of the need and helping people understand that need. “When we first started collecting on the streets people would say ‘Why do we need a night shelter in Dunedin?’ or ‘They deserve to be homeless’,” Mr Brown recalls. “We have spent many hours talking to groups, convincing people of the need. I have found people are unaware of the changes in society that lead to many people living uncertain and fragile existences. We are often protected by our privilege.” He says the Trust has been very successful in telling its story and helping people understand the need. “Things like the sleep-outs and the publicity surrounding the fundraising to purchase the Shelter helped build a groundswell of awareness and support in Dunedin.” A mix-up a couple of years ago, which meant no Trust staff members turned up to open the Shelter one evening, reinforced for Mr Brown the enormous value of the work of the Trust. “I had a phone call at home, so my wife and I came in an hour or more late to open the shelter,” he says. “An ambulance arrived at the shelter the same time we did. It was a freezing cold winter night and one elderly client had fainted while waiting. “There were six people waiting, the youngest an 18-year-old woman, the oldest a 70-plus-year-old man. “I opened up the shelter, turned on the heater and boiled the jug for a cup of tea for all. The elderly man came right, and others started to warm up. A caring staff member, hearing of the problem came in and began getting meals ready. “As I reflected on the fact that here were six people who for various reasons were out in the cold on a winter’s night in Dunedin, I felt pleased to be able to open the door for them to warm hospitality, food and a bed. “I felt proud to be part of the group who made it all happen.” Mr Brown, who has retired from the Church but still works part-time as a workplace chaplain, is now stepping down from his work with the Trust. But he says there are certainly still needs to be met. “People are moving south hoping to get affordable accommodation in Dunedin. So, while Dunedin does not have the massive homelessness issues other cities have, the problem seems to be drifting south. Our numbers of homeless and vulnerable people are increasing.” (To read the full interview with Dave Brown, detailing how the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust got started, how it developed, what it has achieved, why he is stepping down and what still needs to be done, go to the Trust’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DunedinNightShelter/ )

Monday, November 20, 2017

Going against the best of the human spirit.

I have been befriending a duck that visits our paddock. In the last few days she has been parading around with nine new children. My wife calls them my new "grandchildren." Unfortunately I suspect most will not survive. Our neighbour has three hungry cats!
Well done Australia!
Our neighbours in Australia have had a hard time trying to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage to happen there. They had a non-binding costly referendum or plebiscite which is to guide the parliamentarians in their decision over the next week or two. The result was a "Yes" with 61% in favour. So there are celebrations happening among the gay and lesbian community "across the ditch". It surprised me that the vote was not a lot more in favour, though there was a lot of nasty sounding opposition. (Often by "Christian" people.) We in NZ had a sense of superiority over our neighbours because we made the decision in a much more civilised way before them. I was pleased that they made the right decision. In my opinion it is a human right, whatever your sexual orientation to have the freedom to express that love in a marriage relationship. Well done Australia.
But I as a marriage celebrant can't marry them.
I retired from Church ministry in what used to be called the Associated Churches of Christ, (Now Christian Churches New Zealand) at the end of 2013. These days I attend and have some leadership in the local Presbyterian Church. I also work as a workplace chaplain for a brewery, for Dunedin's Fire fighters and also as a chaplain in St John Ambulance. Sometimes I am asked to take weddings, so as a minister, I am still a licensed celebrant through my "parent" denomination. The celebrant's list for next year is going through a renewal process, so I emailed the hierarchy of the denomination to make sure I could still be on the list. They were happy to renew my celebrant status, but drew my attention to a remit passed at the notional conference in 2014. The remit stated that if a CCNZ minister led a same sex marriage then the next year he/she would be deleted off the celebrants' list.  There were a few pages of Biblical background reasoning attached. My celebration of the Australian "yes" vote was short lived, when I realised I was a minister in a denomination which took the opposite point of view. While I was still in ministry I had argued against such a move on theological grounds and also saying that because we are congregationally governed, the national body could not make such an edict.  Because I have a conventional wedding booked for February I will continue for next year to be a celebrant on their list. I am probably unlikely to be asked to do a wedding for a same-sex couple anyway, but the principle matters to me. So I will be reviewing my options for the years following that.
It will be a sad change for me.
I grew up in an Associated Churches of Christ family. I was the fourth generation to be involved in the Church, so my grandmother and parents were proud and involved members. But beyond a family link I chose to continue in the denomination because of the founding principles. Alexander and Thomas Campbell were Presbyterian ministers in the USA in the early 1800's who were distressed about the disunity of the Church, and formed a movement within their denomination to bring about unity. (The Christian Association of Washington) Alexander was an intellectual man who had, for his day, a very modern and progressive understanding of the scriptures. They promoted slogans like "No creed but Christ" and "In essentials - unity. In non-essentials - liberty.  In all things - love."  They promoted a congregational form of Church government and lay-leadership.  Eventually they were deemed too "modern" and thrown out of the Presbyterian Church and joined the Baptists. Because of their emphasis on the priority of the New Testament, they weren't able to stay with them, so became a movement on their own. I liked the Jesus-focused spirit of this movement. When I grew up in the late 50's and 60's we encountered a number of intelligent, fine and impressive men who exhibited in their lives and conversation the same sort of broad Christian spirit and thinking. It seemed like they were, in their generation, following the spirit of the Campbells, which I thought was in tune with the spirit of Jesus. So I was happy to continue to be involved and express my faith through this denomination, even though there was a more conservative element within it. All that to say that if, in time, I decide to resign from being listed as a minister of that movement, it will be a sad move for me. Quite an extensive section of my library is made up of books on the history and thought of this movement. 
The Church often fights against the Spirit.
Not so long after the death of Jesus when Jesus' Way was spreading to the gentiles, a big part of the Jewish Church resented this inclusion and argued against the new inclusiveness the apostle Paul and others were practicing. Paul argues that such an attitude is not in tune with the way of Christ, we are "all one in Christ Jesus our Lord" he wrote. When William Wilberforce and others were wanting to ban the slave trade, or later free the slaves, many times churchmen argued against it, quoting scripture. But the spirit of compassion and solidarity within people won out and slave trade and slavery were outlawed. (Although unfortunately in the world today there seems to be a growing concern over human trafficking.) Again racism was an accepted part of society and people inside and outside the Church, listening to the spirit within, challenged it. In South Africa, America and in other places there were Church people who argued against this spirit, saying racism was divinely ordained. But racism is seen now as an evil, though I suspect it will never be fully stamped out. Again and again when the best spirit in men see a new freedom, a better way forward, often the Church is seen to be using religion to fight against the best "spirit within". In the cause of women's rights and place in society the same thing happened. The best inner spirit in people led people to just know that the status quo was not right, and people inside and outside the Church pushed for change. This battle is not complete, but once again large sections of the Church, quoting scripture resented the change toward a more healthy, equal and whole society.  I believe the same is the case over same-sex marriage. People listening to "the good within" are calling for the freedom for same-sex marriage. It seems to be like a creative "right" people should have and celebrate. But the Church in general is dragging the chain. "The Eternal Spirit" who is love, "the cosmic creativity present everywhere and in everything, gently urging all toward the good" is stirring in our hearts, for a better way forward. But my denomination (and others) is found to be out of tune with the Spirit's directions. I believe "Good will live on, love on and conquer all" and such Churches will be seen to be largely irrelevant cults. They will do the cause of Jesus real harm and I am sad and embarrassed. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Old age", anger and sadness.

I am convenor for a community group tasked with using the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers for the community. This photo shows the first concert we hosted.
A duck I have been getting friendly with and feeding. She came in the house and into the lounge! I informed her she was an outside pet.
Another concert in Iona of NZ folk songs. I wish I was musical! 
Our new children- young point of lay hens settling in to our place.
Anger and sadness.
I have not posted for a while - what can I say, I have been busy. I am prompted to post today because of a very sad event in one of my chaplaincies. I am a workplace support chaplain for about 9 hours a week. I am a chaplain for St John Ambulance in a voluntary capacity. I am chaplain for the local fire fighters, and I am chaplain for a brewery. The task of a chaplain is to visit the sites and touch base with people. If there are those who have an issue they wish to sound off about or to have some help with, you listen in a caring way and sometimes help, or sometimes refer for further counseling. Most often I spend time with people and they talk about their life, and ask about mine. It really is sharing the journey of life with people. It is a real privilege to be involved with folks. 
A couple of months ago I had a phone call from a man who was going through marriage problems, that were the result of mistakes he had made. I met him and spent over an hour listening to him, and I tried to give some advice about directions ahead and assured him of my support. He was seeing a counsellor who suggested that he should not be seeing me as well. That was OK and is a usual stance for counsellors, but I said that along the way I could still be a supportive presence no matter what happened in the marriage. I texted him a few times and chatted briefly whenever I saw him. Things were not going well. I had phone calls and conversations from his work mates who were concerned about him and one afternoon I spent quite some time trying to find out where he was. There were a number of people offering support and his boss was also being helpful. I saw him two weeks ago and had quite a long conversation. He was not happy, the marriage it seemed was all over and he was aggrieved.  He said words to the effect of "I've stuffed it up!" He had said he had at times had "silly thoughts" which I took to mean suicide.  I told him that if he wanted or needed to chat or if he had the "silly thoughts" to phone me and I would come to wherever he was immediately. I was aware that people were in touch with him every day so felt he would be safe. I assured him that even though life is bad now, he will get through it and put together a new life in the future. I gave him a examples of people who had been there and done that. 
Last Wednesday around lunch time I had a phone call from his "team leader" to tell me he had taken his own life and had done so in such a way that his estranged wife would be the person to discover him.
Since then I have been visiting the workplace, listening to confused, grieving, angry coworkers, and of course attended his funeral with them. I myself have been angry. Of course you go through "Was there something else I could have done?" I wondered if I had pushed myself forward and had stuck with him as his counsellor, would I have been more able to help than the counsellor he had? I have felt really sad for his wife and three children and been angry at him for opting out. I have been supported, of course by my wife, but also two of the man's co workers have phoned me to see if I was OK. Also a man from my St John chaplaincy contacted me to ask the same question.  
At the crowded funeral I stood at the back among his fellow workers and went through a raft of emotions. Mostly my anger increased.  I noticed how in such circumstances we minimise death. We say things like "he is on a journey", "he chose a path" "He will be up there still with us in life" and "till we meet again" etc.  "No!" I wanted to scream, "The gutless silly bastard is DEAD! Gone! Of no use to anybody! He threw away his life! He opted out of his responsibilities!" I know that sounds bad, un PC and lacks compassion, but that was the way I, and others felt, and the funeral was such that there was no "pastoral care" in the leading of it. 
The sad thing is that in New Zealand too many young people and men are taking their life. I think there is what Viktor Frankl called, an "existential vacuum" for so many people in today's fast changing society. People suffer a lack of meaning, so they struggle when the going gets tough. 
Today I spent virtually all day working hard physically in the vegetable garden, and that has been a healing release for me.  
"Old Age"
I am pleased that I have worked hard today, stressing my back with digging, and it has functioned painlessly. Two weeks ago I could not have done the work I did today. My back had gone "out" and I was in pain carrying even small loads. At one stage during this period, when it seemed slightly better, I dug the garden. I knew I needed to get it done. It was a tough painful job, trying to dig in such a way as not to strain my back. I was digging away hurting with every shovel full, and I suddenly remembered that I had a smaller shovel. "Maybe that would be easier?" I said to myself. I grabbed my smaller bladed shovel and sure enough the less weight on each shovel full made the task easier. I paused and chuckled to myself.  Years ago I recall visiting a retired man who had moved to a smaller house. Being a keen gardener, he was showing me his new vege garden, which was a small patch of ground. He showed me his new small bladed shovel and told me how pleased he was with it. It made his digging so much easier he had said. I smiled and said that was good, but under my breath arrogantly I was thinking, "What a wimp! He has such a small garden and he needs that!?" He is long dead now and I am older, not quite as old as he was then, but here I am gladly using a small bladed shovel. "Jack, I take those arrogant thoughts back. You were right, I now understand." With age sometimes wisdom comes. I did go back to my bigger shovel today, once I was confident my back could handle it.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Introducing "me".

I was asked to introduce myself and answer questions for a monthly local West Harbour community paper. They have a local personality introduced each month with the same set of questions.

Here was what I sent into them...

Dave grew up in North East Valley, Dunedin, completing a plumbing apprenticeship with A&T Burt Ltd.  Changing careers meant 5 year’s study (4 in Melbourne, Australia) to become a minister in the Associated Churches of Christ. After a ministry in Palmerston North and as a traveling field worker, he returned to the Dunedin Church where he served for 27 years. It was late in 1986 with wife Jean, five children, and goats and hens, he moved into Sawyers Bay and enjoys the rural aspect and the community feel. Experiences such as running a drop-in centre, involvement in Habitat for Humanity, 25 Community Christmas Day dinners, helping to form the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust (still chairman) and other community orientated programs followed. His passion is helping to create inclusive caring communities. In 1994 he added working as a Workplace Chaplain to his ministry and continues to serve Dunedin Fire Fighters, Speights brewery and St John Ambulance. In retirement he helps out at the Port Chalmers United Church. He recently facilitated a public meeting working toward forming an Iona Management Trust, promoting creative community use of the historic Iona Church building.  

Q. If you had a chance which three people alive or dead would you invite for dinner?
A. Jesus of Nazareth. He was known as a glutton so he’d enjoy the meal. William Wilberforce was an eccentric determined politician and Dr Martin Luther King learned from great minds and had courage and hope.
Q. What are your three favourite movies?
A.  ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Chocolat,’ and ‘Pay it forward.’
Q. What was your first car and if money was no object what car would you buy? A. A 1938 Austin 12. (at rest under Forrester Park now) I’m a van man, so an electric van of some sort. Or failing that a completely restored ‘63 Dodge Ambulance.
Q. If you were to face the guillotine in the morning, what would you choose as your last meal?
A. Lambs fry with bacon, mushrooms, onion and garden fresh parsnip and carrots mashed together, with spud.
Q. Which three countries would you most like to visit?
A. Canada, Brazil and United Kingdom.
Q. When you were at school can you remember what you first wanted to be when you grew up?
A. A Farmer.
Q. What do you think is the most useful invention of all time?
A. I suspect the Internet will be seen as a very important turning point in history.
Q. What is the best book you have read?
A. So many? I have two – Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl and Meeting Jesus again for the first time by Marcus Borg.
Q. If you had a time machine where in the past or future would you go?
A. Late 19th century NZ.
Q. If you had to spend 1 month on a desert island name three things you would take along?

A. My Swiss army knife, a pen and paper. It would be a quiet place with no interruptions, for reflection and writing.

I add some photos for colour...
Our family about 1981 when we had a 1963 Dodge ambulance towing a 25ft caravan.
Historic Iona Church which we are going to use creatively for community stuff. 
My wife & I are honoured at the Dunedin Night Shelter.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A trip away

We went in my old van. You can see so much more and it goes OK.
Tekapo lake early in the morning.
Stavely - a great we place for lunch 
Some of the family at our evening meal on the Saturday.
Forrest walk

Childrens' imaginations run wild when we saw these "huts".
Part way up on our hill walk.

We pause to add a layer on the ridge - really cold wind.
The track coming down.
Looking back as we were leaving for home on the Monday.
I was going to write a blog about why I voted for Labour, but I think I am over all the political election speculation in NZ. The thing that really disappoints me is that the present Governing party, the National party is spreading lies, misinformation and offering tax bribes to hold onto power and unthinking greedy people are listening. I will be really disappointed if they get back in, as polls suggest they will. The calibre of people they have is in my view very low. The Prime Minister, Bill English, I once thought of as a man of integrity, even though I disagreed with his political views. But under the pressure of a close election he has told lies, evades straight questions and has condoned lies and misinformation. His ministers also tell lies, are aggressive, and put opposing people down in bullying ways. I think they are following successive leaders of the National party, but they are not good role models.  It almost feels like some of the low level practices we saw in the USA election win have crept into politics here. Jacinda Ardern, the Labour leader, on the other hand has been up front, dignified and positive. A leader we can be proud of. Who will win is anybody's guess.  
A Brief Holiday
My wife and I went on a brief holiday recently and I wanted to share some photos of our lovely country. My wife turned 70 in July, so to mark this special event our children planned a family break away in a tourist town of Hanmer. It is North and inland from Christchurch. It has hot thermal pools to soak in, bush walks and mountain scenery. Our daughter and son-in-law from here in Dunedin initiated it. Our son, wife and two grandchildren were coming down from Wellington, while our son, wife and two grandchildren from Christchurch were coming up to join us. It was indeed a lovely family weekend together. Jean and I set out on the Monday before and travelled to Central Otago for two nights. There I have two brothers and so we visited each and caught up on them and their family news. From there we travelled through the picturesque Lindis Pass, past Mount Cook (the highest mountain in NZ) through to Lake Tekapo. There we soaked in heated pools and enjoyed the stunning scenery for my 69th birthday. We moved on to the township of Oxford where Jean and I spent quite a bit of holidaying time during our courting days. Jean's parents used to have a bach, (or crib or small holiday house) there where we spent a few hot lazy summer holidays. Then we ended up in Hamner for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, driving the 540k home on Monday. I appreciated again the country we live in. On the Sunday morning we all went on a flat forrest walk, and it was great seeing the grandchildren exploring the sights and sounds of the forrest. In the afternoon, my oldest son suggested that he and I could go for a walk up a hill, "its a relatively easy walk Dad" he assured me. So he, early 40's, and me, 69 years, went up what turned out to be a bit of a mountain. There were steep parts of the track where we were scrambling up rocks. I was puffing, he looked like it was a wander in the bush. The scenery was great, but we could see the weather coming in and heard thunder. We reached a high ridge below the summit and we were in clouds, in a freezing wind and it started snowing. While we had some extra layers we were not equipped for this, so we turned for home trudging down through falling and lying snow. I love that my son wants to walk with me, we both relax better in the bush. It was a week away and I came back to a very busy schedule, but it was a great break, and I do love my family. We did miss the son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren we have in Edinburgh, Scotland though. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I want real substance in the election debate!

The election is not a game of rugby – it is important! It is not just another reality TV show. People’s lives matter. We have a beautiful country, with potentially great resources. We live in peace with a democratic system of government. But there are some big issues confronting us as a nation.

We have the highest youth suicide rate of all the developed countries in the world. Why? Have we lost hope? Are our values messed up? Don’t we have enough “connection”?

We have more homelessness per capita than any of the other OECD country. – In New Zealand!

In spite of the Prime minister and the Health minister ignoring the problem there is a crisis at Dunedin hospital. (Southern DHB) Senior Doctors are speaking out and patients (like myself) waiting for life saving tests and treatment will tell you this. I am sure other DHB’s have similar issues.

We have a high imprisonment rate, but of those in prison 51% are Maori, 33% European and 12% Pacific Island. Are we failing our indigenous people? It is estimated that 40% of those in prison have mental health issues.

We have serious alcohol and drug abuse problems. Why do we need to be self-medicating so much? One would think this beautiful country would provide sufficient stimulus for life?

The rich/poor gap is widening. The top 1% own 20% of the nation's wealth. The bottom 90% has less than half the nation's wealth. There are many examples of injustice, unfair conditions and inequality of access.

I could list more.  My point is that it is time to stop playing power games, or just fiddling with the deck chairs. We need politicians with compassion and a desire to address these people-issues. We need parties who do not just pander to our selfishness, but address the long-term deeper issues confronting us. We, the average citizen, need to be responsibly involved in the election process. Vote, and think deeply and with a wider perspective about the commonwealth of all. 

In saying this I do not think the full solutions to these problems can come from governments. I think we need to be thinking deeply about our lifestyle, culture and values. In discarding the old we have lost depth and meaning. But we are weeks away from an election and things need to change. We need leaders with depth, integrity and compassion. Vote responsibly and intelligently please. I love this country of ours. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Variation, theme for the day.

The donated ambulance in the Octagon (Centre of the city) ready to be dedicated and unwrapped.
As I drove home tonight reflecting on my day, I could not help but think of the variety.
Here was my day's activities; I began by checking emails related to the night shelter and responding to them. During that time I received a Skype video call from my son in Edinburgh. It was great chatting for a short time, interrupted by a phone call about local church matters. 
I then went into town, where my first visit was to the brewery where I am their workplace chaplain. I was received warmly and I wandered about talking with various workers. One guy asked if I had been in contact with a man who had been dismissed from the brewery several months before. He said, "We'll phone him and put him on speaker phone." So we did. The two of us caught up with him and chatted warmly then we all moved on. At another part of the brewery some asked how they could help out at the night shelter during a community work day? After well over an hour there I came away feeling like I had enjoyed warm and significant conversations. 
But I could not bask in the feeling, because I rushed to the Ambulance station to have lunch. I had to change some of my clothing. I was to be involved in dedicating a donated ambulance in the centre of town, so I had to look like a chaplain dressed for a formal occasion. On the side of the road, off came the high vis jacket, my jumper and the steel capped boots and on went flash black shoes, a tie, and a St John chaplain's jacket. I had a quick lunch with paramedics catching up on their busy morning, then walked to the Octagon in the centre of town where an Ambulance was placed all wrapped up with a ribbon on display. Local, regional and national St John dignitaries gathered.  The local police chief and fire chief turned up and of course there were important people from the bank which was making the donation and other members of St John, operational and administration staff. I chatted with the fire chief, the St John dignitaries and an unemployed friend who used to come to our drop-in centre. Then the ceremony happened and I had to put on a clerical stole and lead appropriate prayers. The flash new state of the art ambulance was unwrapped, people had coffee and chatted before going our different ways. I chatted with some of the city's vulnerable people, the street people of our city who recognised me, and were keen to catch up. The local Member of Parliament had attended and shook my hand warmly. As he was leaving he stopped and talked enthusiastically about changes in leadership of his party and the election campaign. I went on my way chatting warmly with the fire chief as we walked down the street together.  I drove home to prepare for the next part of my day. As I travelled I thought of the mixture of people I had shared with and Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If". The last verse begins:
 "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch. 
If Neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you. 
If all men count with you, but none too much."
I felt thankful for the variety. 
Once home I prepared to lead a Night Shelter Trust meeting that night, printing off papers and doing some thinking of the issues we would talk about. My wife was doing her rostered afternoon voluntary stint as a St John "Friend of the Emergency Department" at the hospital, so I prepared vegetables and a casserole for the evening meal. She would come home while I was at the Night Shelter meeting. 
I then returned to town to lead the Night Shelter meeting, which covered reports about past progress, and plans for the future. 

Driving home in the dark to a warm house and a meal which I had helped prepare, I reflected on the rich variety of my day.
There was the variety of tasks. 
* Catching up on brewery workers and having significant conversations there in high vis jackets, among kegs, computers, machines and forklifts.
* Talking with Ambulance staff and leading in a dedication ceremony in the centre of the city, dressed in clerical garb suitable for a St John Order chaplain.
* Preparing food in the kitchen and planning a meeting.
* Talking Night Shelter business, finance and future plans with a Trust Board as I chaired a meeting.

There was a variety of people. Family in Edinburgh. Brewery workers. Paramedics. Dignitaries. bankers. Fire Chief, a Member of Parliament and caring responsible Night Shelter Trustees, as well as friendly vulnerable street people. 

I am indeed privileged, - but maybe a tad busy.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sleeping out in a frost.

Me on a park bench prior to 2014 sleep-out. This was in the local paper.
Four years ago when we as the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust were trying to raise money to buy our buildings, my friend and I, along with a local politician and another man, slept out in the Octagon, the park-like centre of Dunedin city. It was reported in the paper and raised our profile. 
The next year the Student volunteer centre at the University got in touch and suggested that we have another winter sleep-out involving students. We slept out in the Octagon again and through various fundraising schemes, the nearly 200 students raised $12,000 toward our purchase price. But more than that it launched the last few months of our campaign and raised the city's awareness of the need. We were able to complete the purchase in October of that year. So a student sleep-out in the Octagon in winter (July) has become something of a tradition and I have been privileged to join in them. Last Friday was this year's version. There were smaller numbers, about 70 students, and I shared with them for the night. It reached zero degrees centigrade, probably below that at the grass level, where we were attempting to sleep.  They begin at 7p.m. on the Friday evening with speeches, then had various musicians and entertainers with Zumba and breakfast at around 6 a.m. on Saturday, finishing at 7 a.m.
I unfortunately had responsibilities in the local Church early in the evening.  I had joined some students late afternoon to help them set up the Octagon, then helped look after a family fun night at our Church, (I played pool, foosball, twister etc. with kids in the church hall.) returning to the students about 8 p.m. My daughter who is treasurer of the Night Shelter Trust deputised for me with the opening speech. 
I had expected a friend and a local Member of Parliament to join me for the night, but both came and gave me legitimate reasons why they had to be looking after family instead. So here I was, a lone old guy (68 years old) among 70 students enjoying sleeping out on a freezing night in the centre of the city. I LOVED it all over again. 
I saw these young people caring for the cause that so dominates my life, but they had fun doing it. They made cardboard dwellings where they could sleep. These were judged and the winning team announced. The music talent was of a high standard.  Some "fire dancers" came and entertained, then opened it up to others to join in the activity. This went on for a long time, well past midnight. One particular bar in the Octagon had extremely loud music playing which we could easily hear, so there were a heap of students having a spontaneous dance party, doing some sort of line dancing, singing and laughing in the cold night air.  In our city the students often have a reputation for bad behaviour and drinking too much. This was an alcohol free event, it was freezing, but they were still obviously really enjoying being together. 
Me with the Student volunteer co-ordinator and members of the Uni-crew planning team a week ago.
One incident stood out. There was an asian dwarf girl who needed a wheel chair to go any distance, but who could walk short distances.  She and her carer joined in the fire dancing, laughing and grinning from ear to ear as they attempted the tricks. I was sitting in a deck chair dressed for the cold, just keeping an eye on everything. A man who had been walking through the Octagon sat beside me. He had been drinking and had slurred speech, but was friendly as we chatted a bit while we watched the fire dancers. It turned out that he used to do fire tricks, and for a while he went over and joined in, chatting with the leaders. He came back beside me. The little dwarf girl was attempting the fire dancing nearby and had taken off her jacket, hanging it on a traffic cone. She saw that he could be cold, and came over with her little jacket and offered it to my companion for warmth. He declined, but I was really impressed by this gesture. Here she was a woman with major challenges of her own to face, but still open to the needs of an unknown drunk guy sitting on the sideline.
People gathering for music.
Fire dancers entertained us.
The noisy bar continued to pound out music until 3 a.m. It was getting colder and I found it hard to get comfortable for sleeping. (I had forgotten to bring gloves) I snuck away to my van which was parked just a few metres away. It was not much warmer, but I managed about an hour's sleep. At 6 a.m. Zumba started and a group joined us to cook pancakes for breakfast. My daughter and son-in-law appeared, and we joined a few of the leaders in pulling down the cardboard dwellings and loading the cardboard into a student van and my van, then going off to appropriate skips to get rid of it. The clean-up had begun. We were finished by about 7:50 a.m. and I rushed off to the Farmers Market. There I stood for nearly four hours with a bucket collecting for the Night Shelter. Just after midday I headed home. I had got up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning for a radio interview, and from there until midday Saturday, I had only one hour of disturbed, cold, uncomfortable sleep, and had done a lot of work. Driving the 10k home I began to feel sleepy. At one stage I momentarily lost consciousness, but managed to wake up before the van wandered off the road. At home I made a cup of tea and sandwiches and crawled into bed for the rest of the afternoon.
Tucked up to sleep out in freezing temperatures to raise awareness about homelessness.
Zumba at 6 a.m. The dwarf asian girl tried Zumba in her wheelchair. Toward the left edge of the group.

It is nearly breakfast. 
The edge of the Farmers Market where I was collecting.
I felt really privileged to be part of such a wholesome event. There is much about the world to bring a sense of despair, but these young people lifted this old man's spirits with their compassion, energy and shear enjoyment of life. Well done to Otago University Uni-Crew.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coping with "Know alls".

I have suffered an affliction all of my life. It happens because I do not have all the relational skills I should have. It happens because I lack a certain confidence or maybe courage. Sometimes it happens because I am wise.
I keep putting up with "know alls". Some of them are my friends. They come across as if they think they are authorities on all sorts of subjects and can pontificate assertively about them.  On the light side I often say jokingly, to the firefighters that "If I want to know anything I only have to ask a firefighter and they will tell me - whether they know about it or not!" (Don't tell them but often they are very helpful sources of information.)
I recall once I was doing some pipe work at the Church and this Church member came along and started telling me how to do it! - I trained and worked as a plumber - he was a paint salesman! I have also had all sorts of people trying to correct my Theology or tell me what the Bible says. I have spent decades studying the Bible. I appreciate opinions, but I appreciate informed opinions. I am going to build something and there will always be someone ready to tell me how to do it, or how not to do it - and there is only one way according to them. But they are often looking at it as someone with an limitless budget, and that's not me. When we decided to raise money to buy the Night Shelter, there were those who said we could not do it! I have listened quietly to "advice" from all sorts of people, on all sorts of subjects, from people who often like to give such advice without a hint of humility - they know! Often they do not see the full picture of what they are talking about. They are often comparing "apples with oranges", but that does not stop them prattling on and pontificating. They say things with such certainty that if I differed I would either have to call them a liar or stupid! ( I get the same feeling listening to some politicians - e.g. Donald Trump) They state things in such a way that "this is the way it is - and there is no room for debate!" Some times I want to scream- "Do you think I'm stupid!" - but I don't. Maybe I'm chicken. Only occasionally do I break out and contradict or question.
I saw a video on facebook recently with the camera focused on the face of a woman with a deadpan look, listening to some person and nodding and just saying "Mmmm" from time to time. Underneath was the caption, "Me listening to another bullshit artist!" That is often me. I am not skilled enough in being assertive in response so I just say "Mmmm", and fume underneath. 
Sometimes I want to disagree intensely, but I think, "What's the point? This person will never change their mind. They do not have the insight to have an intelligent conversation. They obviously are not willing to think differently. I will be wasting my breath and their time challenging them." Even Jesus said something about "Don't caste your pearls before swine."
Often I do not speak my mind because I learn to "choose my battles". Some things are worth the hassle, but other things are just not worth going on about.
Often I guess it could be that I do not have the courage to challenge the speaker. Sometimes I say things like, "That's an interesting perspective." in such a tone that I communicate that it is, however, not the way I see it, and the subject is dropped. I think too that my job has been to listen in a pastoral way, and people are more likely to mouth off to a "listener", so I am fair game for such people. If I'm with it enough, I will occasionally have the wisdom to ask a question that suggests a different perspective. 
I heard somebody describe another man as somebody "who does not suffer fools lightly. They call a spade a spade." Well I guess that's not me. I seem to be destined to "suffer fools." Just sometimes when the issue is important, or involves a slur on somebody else, I will "not suffer fools", but most often I am the non-assertive listener, and I guess I will be until I die. Just sometimes I wish I wasn't. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My neighbourhood.

I went for a walk today in my locality. I have been trying to get back into running, but have not managed a run for nearly two weeks, so I thought a brisk 12k walk would loosen me up for a run later in the week. I headed out and ten minutes into my walk encountered a man from one of my chaplaincies walking his dogs. We stopped and talked for about five minutes and I went on. Around the corner came a cyclist on a fancy road bike, all in lycra. "Hello Dave" he said as he braked and turned around and rode back toward me as my mind raced to locate his name in my memory banks. I remembered just as he reminded me. He is the partner of a friend I have not seen for years so once again I stopped and talked. (I have been in Dunedin too long. This happens often. When my wife and I visit a hardware store in town, she jokingly says, "$10 for everybody we meet that you know.") I finally continued my walk, uninterrupted except for a quick talk with another couple halfway around. As I walked I began to really appreciate the simple beauty of the place I live. I live on the outskirts of Dunedin, in Sawyers Bay, which is the suburb next to the port "village" of Port Chalmers, the container and cruise ship port for Dunedin. I simply share some photos I took with my phone as I walked.
Careys Bay next to the Port.
Looking toward the mouth of Otago Harbour.
Historic Iona Church, part of "our" presbyterian Parish. It is in the process of being restored.
Port Chalmers Logo - Koputai is the Maori name for the locality. 
A murky Otago harbour looking toward Dunedin.
A fishing ship on its way from Dunedin Wharfs to the open sea.
Nearly at my house - I love the semi rural outlook. The days are short, so it is beginning to get dark - and it was raining!

I love New Zealand as a place to live. I enjoy Dunedin, and the Port Chalmers/Sawyers Bay community. I am indeed a fortunate man.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A gift to treasure.

Jean and I and our daughter and son-in-law received an invitation to the Night Shelter for morning tea on Friday. It came through my daughter and she said it was "just a thank you thing." So we went, and when we arrived there were a couple of other volunteers there and two of the staff. One of the staff is a down to earth "been-there-done-that" Maori woman named Matekino. She has been a great asset to the Night shelter and has been with us for about 18 months - 2 years. There was a table full of food to eat and warm cups of tea and coffee. I was wondering what prompted this, when Matekino spoke up and said she had something to give "Mr & Mrs B, David and Jean". She left the room and came in with two Maori cloaks or Kakahu. In Maori tradition the Kakahu was a sign of Chieftainship and was a significant honour or acknowledgement that was given to "special" people. Matekino had made these two Kakahu using as their base two donated blankets. She placed these over our shoulders and said they were a gift of appreciation for our acceptance of her into the work of the night shelter and our role in that work. I was lost for words. She is an over night supervisor for us and a community worker helping clients find accommodation and access the help they need. She is sort of shy and bashful, but wanted to express her regard in this special way. I think the job at the Night Shelter is one she loves and a significant step for her. She is good at it and says the Night shelter is her "whare" or home, "where she can offer hospitality".  I am not sure when or where I will wear it, but I treasure it and her loving gesture. It was a special time.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Encouraging happenings.

I realise lately that I lead a pretty interesting, encouraging and fortunate life. I thought I would share some events with you.
Students raise funds - At the beginning of the University year I had a lecturer approach me through the volunteer coordinator at the University to see if his management class could partner with the Night Shelter. The idea was that his class would be split into groups and each group had to fund raise for the Night Shelter. They would be given marks for their work, with the group raising the most getting the most marks. I had to go along and speak to them and they made further contact with me if they wanted to ask questions. Recently they had their final tutorial of the class and I was invited along to speak and receive the proceeds. I will let the photo speak for itself.

It is quite a pleasant duty to be there and receive this generous donation from these bright young people.
Local's enjoy the space. We attend the local Presbyterian Church at Sawyers Bay/Port Chalmers. While at first we found it hard to fit in, we have been progressively becoming more involved. We felt we were needed there and could help the Church in its life. My wife and I are now on its Parish Council and I lead two services each month. We have been taking a lead role in getting the Church to relate more purposefully with the people of the local community and serve needs there. The Church is right next to the play centre and to the school, with school families using the Church car park regularly. My wife has begun a Tuesday afternoon coffee time when parents and others can come in at the end of school, catch up with each other and have a hot drink together. The numbers enjoying the hospitality of the Church supper room are slowly, but surely increasing. Secondly we recently started an intergenerational family night time in the Church hall. I have been repairing a pool table, a foosball table and we bought a table tennis table. We had our first night a couple of Friday nights ago, after letterbox dropping every house in Sawyers Bay. We opened up and waited. About five to ten minutes after opening we had a whole influx of Children and parents. We had nearly thirty through on the first night! It was a happy noisy time, which we have named Rumpus Room @Emmanuel. It was a good feel to be making new friends.  We look forward to building this service up. 

Toward the end of the evening when things had quietened down.
Brief break away-  My wife kept telling me we needed a break out of town, so on the Saturday morning after our Rumpus Room night we drove the two and a half - three hour drive to New Zealand's southern most city, Invercargill. We booked into an "executive suite" (with a spa) at a Motel and in time went out for dinner at an Irish pub, "Waxy O'Shea's" We came back to the Motel and enjoyed the Sky Sports on offer, watching the visiting Lion's Rugby team (UK) playing a local team. The next morning came the main reason for traveling south.  First we went around to a special Hardware store which we had visited a few years ago. It has old motorbikes (the original Bert Munro Fastest Indian) some old and interesting machines and tools and various classic cars on display. Apart from that the store stocks the most interesting array of hardware and tools. I wandered around in man-heaven, soaking in the sights. From there we went to the Transport Museum. On display were countless cars, vintage and classic, trucks of all sorts and farm machinery. There were other displays as well. So we wandered around in petrol-head-heaven for a couple of hours before retracing our journey home. It was an enjoyable break.
The Brewery where I am chaplain once had this with a tanker delivering beer to inner-city pubs.
We once owned an Ambulance of this model.

Roast lamb meal and a guinness at an Irish pub before the rugby started.
St John enrollment ceremony- On Monday night I went to an enrollment ceremony for St John Cadets. The Order of St John have cadet groups, and apparently it is the fastest growing youth movement in the country. I am proud to be their chaplain because they teach good core values and service to the community. Several cadets were being enrolled from various locations, and I as their chaplain had to receive the flag at the beginning of proceedings, and start the night with a prayer. I found the night an encouragement, especially when I was able to catch up on a mum and daughter (now an 18 year old) both involved in the St John Cadets in leadership positions, who I knew well. We had worked with them years ago in building their Habitat for Humanity home. It was delightful to chat with them in this different setting. I admire the Order of St John and its ethos and am pleased to be a volunteer chaplain for them.
Community Leadership Panel- Several weeks ago I got an email from a woman from the Otago Medical Students Association. They have been running sessions on Community Leadership for Medical students, and were planning a panel discussion with some people who had done leadership in the community. She asked if I would be part of this panel. Initially I replied, "Are you sure you have the right guy? I just muddle along." Anyway she had supplied me with questions to begin the discussion and last Tuesday night I went along to join two other panel members in front of about 30 - 40 students. The two others were the local Dunedin North Member of Parliament, David Clark, and Rachel, a lady heading up an interesting community hub project. The first question asked what experiences we had of community leadership? This was embarrassing, because I was by far the oldest. When I told my wife the question, she said, "Good Grief! Where do you start? You have been doing stuff since you were a teenager!" I recall my father in 1963 telling us boys, "Stop complaining about there being no youth group in the Church. Get off your butts and start one if you really want one." I did not bore the listeners in going back that far, but mentioned just some of the projects we had been involved in over the last thirty years. (Christmas dinners, Drop-in centre, Habitat for humanity and the Night Shelter. etc.) The second question was what is your motivation? I suggested mine came from my spirituality as a follower of Jesus, and how as such, I recognised the essential unity of humankind. I talked about the gap between rich and poor and much of what I had initiated was an attempt to in some way lessen the gap. I found the night encouraging meeting this group of caring motivated young people seeking to learn more about serving their community. But as I prepared for the questions I began to really appreciate the journey of life I have been on. It has brought untold experiences, I have met lots of lovely people, I have grown immensely as a person, and each of the projects has been fulfilling. Often it has been bloody hard work with tough passages, but looking back, I have few regrets, and we are still doing it.
I am the old bloke in the middle.
A dead mum - On Thursday last week I was in town between appointments and needed somewhere to eat my cut lunch. I took my lunch out to a suburban fire station where I knew there was a crew whose company I really enjoyed. I walked in and told them I was there for lunch, and we sat, ate and chatted. I was just washing my cup preparing to leave when the officer received a phone call. It was his wife, she was at the hospice where she was sitting with family around her dying mum. The first I knew of it was when the officer, who had departed the room to talk in private with her, re-entered and looking at me said, "What exquisite timing, I've got the Reverend here!" In due course I was asked to become involved. She died that afternoon, but had left instructions that there was to be no fuss, and no funeral. So on Friday I found myself at the funeral Director's in a room around the open casket of this lady with her four children. I asked about their mum. The told me about her tough life, her faithfulness, her devotion to being there for them throughout their life and her personality. There were sobs but also laughter. We then went into a brief ceremony. They had chosen some things to read and I led them through a final committal. Again I felt encouraged. I felt the extreme privilege of being let into this family's life and history, and sharing in this personal way in this intimate moment with them. But I also found encouragement in the effectiveness of the Workplace Chaplaincy model. They had no Church connections, but they looked on me as their "Reverend". Some years ago I had been through a tough time of bereavement with this family, and knew the officer well. I was so pleased that in a very natural way they could turn to me again and receive my support, and I could travel this journey with them also.

That is part of my never dull, interesting and fulfilling life over the last week or so. I am so so very fortunate.