This morning I sat down at my kitchen table, ballpoint pen in hand, and cast my votes in the local elections. Not an easy task when there are 5 different elections going on at the same time. Some of the candidates I know, others I don’t. And 200 words in a booklet isn’t really enough to get an idea of a prospective councillor’s priorities.
But it got me thinking deeper about what it means to participate in a democracy. Casting our vote every 3 years is important, but full participation in democracy means using the opportunities between those times to be involved in decisions which affect us. One of the advantages of living in Buller is that because of our smaller population we are more likely to know our councillors personally and to be able to speak to them about issues which affect us. Of course we can also write submissions, sign petitions, and write letters to the newspaper. But face to face communication with our elected representatives is more important than we realise.
Kate Sheppard is rightly regarded as a heroine of our nation in securing women the vote in 1893. She was motivated largely by her Christian faith, and the principle of equality for all. In championing women’s suffrage she spoke up for the 50% of the population who previously had little or no voice. 125 years later, the sad reality is that in our local elections, whilst all enrolled adults have the right to vote, roughly 50% choose not to use it.
So back to my kitchen table and ballpoint pen. How did I go about casting my votes? One key consideration was how well each candidate would listen to the voices of others. Are they already imbedded in our community and showing a capacity for listening and collaboration? I also used the time sitting at my kitchen table to pray. To pray for the candidates, certainly. But also to pray for our region and our district. And to pray for the way I use my voice in our democracy. None of the candidates are perfect, nor is any governance system. But we can use our voice to help make it the best it can be.
Tonight as the Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan, many of us will be reaching for our TV remotes, or with the digital revolution taking place, our smartphone. I’m just hoping our internet speed holds up to livestream. Too bad that fibre will only be connected in Lyndhurst Street in November.
Rugby is a game that requires discipline, teamwork and perseverance. Since the World Cup comes around only once every 4 years, it provides the ultimate test for the current generation of players. True strength requires mental focus as well as physical training. The All Blacks know all too well that confidence and trust in your team-mates is important, but that overconfidence can breed mistakes.
Last week I took a team from St Peter’s Church in Granity to a training event at St Arnaud. I loved seeing the way in which the team supported one another as we each stepped up to new challenges. The focus of the training was not so much on what we know, but on how we live. Or to put it another way, how we put into practice the life lessons that Jesus shared with his disciples. Of course we weren’t training on the sports field, but it struck me that the same qualities of trust, discipline, teamwork and perseverance are important in learning to live the Christian way. Walking the way of Jesus is best done as a team sport – with others to cheer us on, to challenge us to go further, and to pick us up when we stumble.
As I tune in to the rugby this weekend, I’ll be watching from the comfort of my couch, and with a glass in my hand. But Christian faith has never been an armchair sport. We don’t have the challenge of a world cup to raise our game for, but there will be situations in our family, our neighbourhood or our workplace which test us, and which bring out the best (or the worst) in us. One of the great benefits of belonging to a church is that is provides teammates to help us to live life well. Church shouldn’t be a case of one person up the front whilst the others sit back, but rather a group who are journeying together on the adventure God has for us.
This post appeared first as a Church and Community Article in the Westport News, Friday 20th September 2019.
Today Westport marked one week since the atrocities committed at 2 Christchurch mosques. Many of us gathered at the NBS Theatre outdoor stage to pay our respects, to listen and reflect through music, to join hands during the broadcast Muslim call to prayer and 2 minute silence. Then at 8pm, we released 50 paper lanterns from Victoria Square (Well not quite 50 - some were tricky to light - see photo). St John’s Anglican Church has been open for people to drop by and we are asking people to “stand in solidarity” with those who lost their lives, by leaving a pair of shoes on the mat at the front of church.
People will be feeling all kinds of emotions in the aftermath of the attacks: tears, anger, disbelief, fear, emptiness. That is part of the grieving process. Even if we don’t know anyone personally involved in the tragedy, we feel keenly that our complacency has been shattered and that evil can be closer to home than we realised. One thing I learnt from living through the Christchurch earthquakes is that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you need help with anxiety or stress there are many sources of help: doctors to give medical help, churches to pray with you, or just a well-chosen friend to hang out with.
Today, a week after the attacks, is an important day to mark. But how should we respond in the weeks and months ahead? How can we make sure that #LoveNotHate is more than just a slogan?
Well we need to show love practically, to those who are different to us. And I don’t just mean to our Muslim neighbours, there are lots of minorities in New Zealand who are feeling fearful right now. It could be dropping off plate of cookies or garden produce to a neighbour. Taking time to talk with the new family who have joined the school. Showing someone new to town where the different facilities are. A lift to a hospital appointment. Or calling someone out when they make a racist or unwelcoming remark.
Jesus summarised our responsibility to others as “love your neighbour as yourself”. When pressed for what that meant, he told his most famous story, the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. It’s a story of 3 travellers walking down a dangerous road. When they come across a man who has been attacked and injured by robbers, 2 ignore him and walk past, and only one stops to help.
Samaritans were the “ethnic minority” in Jesus’ day. They were looked down on, misunderstood and berated. And yet Jesus places one of them as the hero of this story. It is the Samaritan who stops to look after the wounded man at the roadside, to take him on his donkey to the inn, and to show him love, compassion and hospitality. (Luke 10:30-37).
Interestingly, my experience of moving to New Zealand 10 years ago has been that it is the immigrants and ethnic minorities who have given us the warmest welcome. People originally from Zimbabwe, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Malaysia opened their lives and their homes to us and have become our best friends. What’s the connection between Jesus’ famous story and my experience? It’s that those who are considered the outsider sometimes have the deepest reservoir of love to share. #LoveNotHate is not just about expressing our love to those different to us, it is about being willing to receive it from them as well.
Last night I attended the public meeting in Ngakawau about health provision for the communities north of Westport. The meeting was well organised, and there was plenty of passion shown around the importance of maintaining staffing levels. Representatives of the West Coast District Health Board, St John’s Ambulance and Buller Health answered questions from the floor. I’ll leave it to the locals to assess the responses received.
But I do want to comment on a concern that was shared by all: The importance of looking after our nurses. In a rural area it is the nurses who get to know the patients, they are the primary responders in emergencies, they are the ones on the ground, and often give of themselves beyond the call of duty. New Zealand is facing a national shortage of nursing staff. One of the worrying statistics shared at the meeting was that the average age of nurses is 50 – much higher than many other professions. How we look after our nurses will be a crucial factor for the future of healthcare. That applies to the DHB as employer, as well as to us as the receivers of nursing care.
It got me thinking about one of the early nurse pioneers in New Zealand. Sibylla Emily Maude was born in Christchurch in 1862. Known to many simply as “Nurse Maude” she dedicated herself to improving patient care from the age of 30. First, she advocated for reforms in Christchurch hospital. Later she pioneered district nursing, visiting patients in their homes, with a particular concern for the elderly, the poor and those who found it difficult to access healthcare provision.
Te Ara, the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, describes her like this:
“Dressed in a light-blue uniform and white apron with dark-blue cape and bonnet, Nurse Maude walked many miles every day in all weathers, carrying not only nursing equipment but often the pans for cooking, cleaning and washing which many people lacked. She tried to teach her patients the importance of cleanliness and fresh air, and as a woman of prayer she invariably prayed with them. Her short, sturdy figure and large, regular features were known throughout Christchurch. Although her manner was grave and almost forbidding, and she was often outspoken, she was loved for her selfless work for the poor.”
Nurse Maude’s approach was inspired by her Christian faith. She saw her work as a vocation, as a calling, something that God had placed on her heart. And for many nurses I know today, they feel a similar way. There are many questions to be asked in how we provide quality medical care on the Coast. But here are 2 key ones: How do we inspire a new generation of New Zealanders to choose nursing as a vocation? And for those who have chosen nursing, how do we support them to live out their calling in the rural areas as well as in the big cities?
Photo credit: Te Ara
This post first appeared as a church and community article in the Westport News on 15th March 2019
No we're not talking rappers from Oakland or Los Angeles. Aaron Intermann (AI) is from the Westport, New Zealand, and is producing his own hip hop with a West Coast flavour. I've loved getting to know Aaron over the last few weeks, and listening to his recent album "The Compassion Scrolls vol. 3". He's also a youthworker and recently was featured on TVNZ's Seven Sharp accompanying one of the young people he has worked with to the Eminem gig in Wellington. The story is definitely worth watching!
Aaron's own music blends together deft vocals, emotive bass, melodic mastery and spiritual insight. He tells his own story and speaks into the lives of young people who are seeking direction. Worth a listen on spotify or check out the download at
“So do you like it here?”
The question is asked in various ways. Sometimes to ask how we’re settling in. Sometimes to fill a gap in the conversation. Sometimes I detect another question behind it: “Are you going to stick around?”
I’m ready with my answer: “Yes, we love it here.”
Our family moved to Westport a month ago. We’re “new Coasters”, moved over from Christchurch. Our older kids attend South School, our youngest is at Westport Kindergarten. We’re loving the space, the sense of adventure, the quiet streets to cycle on, the friendliness of the locals, and living only 100m from the West Coast Brewery. It’s all a lot calmer than earthquake-ravaged Christchurch.
Of course, not everything is perfect here. The length of time it took to get parts for our broken washing machine, for instance. A family of 5 creates a lot of laundry in 2 weeks! And for those of you who have been around longer than I have, you know Westport has had its ups and downs: the uncertainty of industry here, the closure of the cement works, the provision of healthcare and the saga around the replacement of the Buller Hospital.
One word stands out though, as I think about our first month here in Buller. Contentment. I’m content with how life has worked out. A guy called Paul wrote in the Bible: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in need.” That’s how I try to live my life.
I’m a Christian Pastor, so it’s second nature that I turn to the Bible to give me perspective on life. But there’s wisdom in these words for all of us. Learning the secret of being content – that’s a project worth undertaking.
So yes, I do love living in Westport. And whilst I don’t know what the future will bring – I’m content with where God has placed me.
This post first appeared as a Church and Community Article in the Westport News on 1st March 2019
I spent today visiting new friends in the town of Granity, a beautiful 25km drive north of Westport. Something caught my eye again and again along the main street (there are only 3 streets here) . I counted at least 10 microwave-ovens loving upcycled into weatherproof mailboxes. I asked a few of the locals where the trend had come from, but no one seemed to know. If you know part (or all) of the story then do post in the comments below. Also has anyone heard of other towns with the same quirky trend?
So what is the motivation behind this particular upcycling phenomenon. Here goes with some thoughts from me:-
(1) Microwave ovens are big. Plenty of room for plenty of mail.
(2) Microwave ovens are weatherproof (I think). And it rains a lot in Granity.
(3) Microwave ovens serve no other useful purpose once they stop being able to reheat food. And dumping fees are pretty expensive in the Buller District.
I'm yet to find one of these microwaves which is plugged into the mains. But if I were a Postie on a cold winter's day in Granity, then I would definitely be reaching for my pot noodle.
"Why is there so much driftwood here?" This was a question asked me by a German freedom camper on Westport's North Beach. And as you can see from my photo, the place is pretty well strewn with driftwood. Great fun for my kids building sculptures, shelters, pretend fires or whatever else their imagination dreams up. But why is there so much driftwood here and on other West Coast beaches? Here's my stab at an answer to that question;
(1) The West Coast is densely forested. Driftwood starts life as real live wood, and there are plenty of trees in this corner of the world.
(2) West Coast valleys are steep sided. If a tree falls over, is struck by lightning, or is part of a landslide, there is a good chance it will end up rolling a long way into a stream or river.
(3) West Coast rivers pack some punch. The Buller river has an annual mean flow of 429 cubic metres per second and boasts the highest flood flow of any New Zealand river which is over 14,000 cubic metres per second. So the Buller and other West Coast rivers have no problem transporting large branches and tree trunks downstream.
(4) West Coast waves are big. The prevailing northwesterly winds and frequent storms mean that if logs find their way out to sea, then chances are they'll find their way back onto land pretty quickly. And that means washing up on a beach!
(5) West Coast people are rugged. They find a pristine sandy beaches pretty boring. In fact they love sharing the beach with the driftwood and like my kids, building stuff out of it. Driftwood can make a pretty good source of firewood too.
Yesterday I joined in the Westport Waitangi Day celebrations at the NBS Theatre. It was great to be given a warm welcome, to hear from the Maori organisations within our community and the movie "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" was a great choice to end the family-friendly celebrations.
We were all asked the question "What does Waitangi Day mean to you?" One person bravely stood up to share her answer to that question - and won a whanau-ora T-shirt for doing so. I wasn't that brave, but with a bit of time to think, I've had a stab at answering that question here on this blog.
My wife and I visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on our honeymoon 15 years ago... and it was infamously the scene of our first marital argument (we did get to cuddle and make up later!). But it wasn't until I moved to New Zealand from the UK in 2009, that I got to appreciate some of the history and the politics behind Waitangi Day.
I think for me Waitangi Day is a day of hope, whilst also being a day to recognise that there have been many injustices committed against the spirit of te Tiriti in the last 180 years. It is worth celebrating that within the generation of the first Europeans settling in New Zealand, a bicultural treaty was drawn up and signed. I know there have been differing interpretations of what the treaty stood for and how it was interpreted. But to my mind a treaty by its very nature recognises 2 equal partners.
I am also encouraged by the role that another Anglican priest, CMS Missionary, Henry Williams played in translating the text of the treaty into te reo Maori. The title "missionary" for some conjours up images of thoughtless colonialists unwilling to listen to the local culture. But in the case of the early missionaries to Aotearoa New Zealand, this couldn't be further from the truth. Williams and others spent time to get to know local culture and customs. They were the first people to write down the Maori language. And their motivation in translating and supporting the treaty was to protect Maori from the unthinking colonialists they are sometimes mistaken for.
How should we celebrate Waitangi Day? Well in Kawatiri Westport, I was glad to be able to join with both Pakeha and Maori in an event that was fun, informative, and built community for all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Most of the West Coast beaches aren't safe for swimming - but this one, tucked away inside the Buller river mouth is a great find and has much smaller waves. The locals know about it - but it isn't signed off the road or marked on the map. You can access it by cycle along the Kawatiri river trail or drive up off Coates Street. Great for a quick swim or bodyboard, and 5 minutes from our house.
NZ Maori identify themselves by their local mountain and river, but I grew up in the south of England where the land is flat, and our local river - the Blackwater - lived up to its name as being one of the most polluted streams in the UK. So now I'm claiming the Buller River, or in te reo Maori the Kawatiri, as my own.