Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The virus hits NZ

This week it feels like all of New Zealand has had to take seriously the Covid 19 virus. Suddenly it impacts our life.
Chaplaincy - a mission or a business?
Last year a new CEO took up the reigns of Workplace Support in Dunedin. (Inter-Church Trade and Industry Mission.) A new CEO brings changes. I know this because I have worked through four CEO's now. For 26 years I have worked as a chaplain, as well as Church ministry. My longest spell has been in the Fire Service, and also a year less in the local brewery. (I am contracted for four hours with fire fighters a week, and one hour at the brewery.... I often do more at each place.) I have had a few other shorter term positions. I do a voluntary chaplaincy with St John Ambulance. When I started you gave I think your first four hours free, it was mostly clergy doing it and they paid whatever I earned into the Church. There was a "Director" who had part time office help and about 20 chaplains in the Dunedin area. These days there are very few "staff supporters" (what we are mean't to call ourselves,) a big office with counsellors, a manager and a CEO. We are now not so much a "mission" but a business, and the board and new CEO have been working to make us more viable as a business. When I started one of the phrases used was that we as chaplains were available "24/7" but now as staff supporters all phone calls go through the office phone system and it is business hours only. We are not to give out our own telephone numbers, and we tick boxes reporting to the client managers the general topics of conversations we have. I see chaplaincy as travelling in life alongside the workers we visit. For me confidentiality is at the heart of chaplaincy. I get the feel that the management see it more as finding problems, fixing people and referring people for counselling. I like the philosophy in this short paragraph;
 When someone is broken, don’t try to fix them – (you can’t).
When someone is hurting, don’t attempt to take away their pain – (you can’t).
Instead, love them by walking beside them in the hurt – (you can).
Because sometimes what people need is simply to know they aren’t alone.
I see the low key contact and listening, sometimes referring, sometimes suggesting as being the heart of what I do. I think people value normal interest in their everyday lives, humour and friendship. (with some boundaries of course) All that to say that I squirm a lot in recent years as the organisation has become more "professional".... (I think I am "professional") So in this last week I have sat through two days of being "re-chipped", learning the new policies and protocols. I will try to live within them but will continue to do what I see as normal. A part of the two day sessions was talking about how we offer staff support if we are not able to visit the workplaces. We are facing the corona virus and workplaces are reluctant to have extra's visiting, in case they are contaminated. During the day I had a phone call from the brewery. They had been directed by their corporate superiors that only vital staff were allowed in. There was all sorts of extra pressure on the brewery because of course, people are not drinking in pubs as much. So I was told I should take a break from visiting. I passed on my phone number and email so that people could contact me if they needed to. I checked with the fire station boss to see if I was allowed to go there. It is extra important that fire fighters not get the virus. The boss replied "Yes please continue" with careful Covid 19 protocols.  Then over the weekend Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister announced that people 70 years old and older should self isolate. I am over 70, so I guess I need to contact the fire station and St John and say I will not be in. It is hard. For twenty six years I have been visiting the fire station twice a week, apart from holidays. For twenty five years I have visited the brewery, these people are important to me, and now I cannot see them! I feel like I am letting them down. I will actually miss them as people. I love being "Father Ted" "Padre" "Sky pilot" "the minister" and having the privilege of sharing in their life.  Now because of this virus, I can't. It is, of course the responsible thing to do for the community, if we are going to slow the spread of this virus at all.  
The Church
We help out at the local Presbyterian Church, a small elderly congregation. I lead services twice a month and we run a couple of community type things, making contact with and hosting families in our Church facilities. I had been preparing a service for today, Sunday. Then I got a phone call from the Session Clerk. Public gatherings had been discouraged. Most of the congregation is over 70 and some were thinking that they should not attend. (The virus has a bad impact on us older people - possibly fatal.) So the Session Clerk, in her 80's was wondering if we should cancel church worship. I was a bit annoyed. My wife and I had come off parish council, and there had been a council meeting on Monday, surely they should have discussed that then? Anyway we got drawn into helping the clerk to make a decision. We decided to cancel services, then a day later a notice came through from the Church hierarchy advising the cancelation of services. I have offered to do things to somehow keep us in touch with every one. That will be tomorrow's job.

It is a strange feeling. We are going through uncertain times, and inside all you want to do is draw together with the people who are important in your life to give and receive support. But in this instance with both chaplaincy and the church, we are being prevented from doing that. It is hard, I like being by myself and often want to avoid people, but this event tells me that I am not the hermit I thought I was. I want to be with fire fighters, brewery workers and church people as they cope with all the uncertainty the virus brings.  Something of the meaning and purpose in my life has been taken off me. I am going to figure ways I can still be there without being there, but psychologically it is an interesting experience. 
I purchased this bike in 1966. It was a fancy ten speed, quite rare then. Over the weekend I have been "restoring it" - cleaning it up and getting it going again. I enjoyed it.

My father was a plumber. This is his old pipe vice. It used to have three screw in pipe legs. They have been lost but I have kept this, using it occasionally. Today I cleaned it up. I LOVE old tools.

Last Sunday evening I climbed Mt Cargill, "my mountain". I have not done it for a long time, and it was slow going compared to old times. I loved doing it though.

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