Sunday, March 31, 2013


A Happy Easter to all.

I have spent Easter in Dunedin.  It feels like the first time.  I was here in 2010 but at that time I had only lived here a little over 3 months.  I had just moved into my house and my sister was here to help. We went to St John's on Maundy Thursday and the Cathedral on Easter Day.  My sister does not like the sadness of Good Friday services so we just went for a drive to Palmerston.

In my evangelical youth I remember occasionally attending communion on Thursday to remember the first last supper.  Services on Good Friday were sometimes the Litany and sometimes Ante Communion.  I took a while to understand that was not Anti Communion but merely the service leading up to but not actually consecrating and partaking of the bread and wine.  It was instilled in me that Good Friday (and I guess Easter Saturday) were the only days on which one never took communion.
In the afternoon we often went into the city for the Procession of Witness.  This began as a procession in opposition to the opening of the Easter Show on Good Friday but developed into a more general procession in which the parishes marched behind banners through the city.  Occasionally I went to the cathedral for the 3 hour service from 12 to 3 in which there were sermons on the 7 Words from the Cross.
At home we had hot cross buns and I still continue this tradition.  Friends laugh at me that under no circumstance will I eat a hot cross bun before Good Friday.  I often went hungry at staff morning teas in the week before Easter rather than break this rule. The leftovers are eaten on Saturday then not again until next year.  I think it is ridiculous to see them on sale in shops almost the day after new year.

Easter Day was just like any other sunday except the churches were more crowded and we went home to a special dinner and exchanged Easter eggs and bunnies.
Thankfully, my family has never gone into the commercialisation of Christianity in a big way.  Once I grew beyond childhood we have never given gifts at either Christmas or Easter just exchanged cards and Easter eggs.

Most of my adult life has just been a service on Good Friday morning in addtion to the usual Easter Morning Communion. 

I began worshipping at St James, King Street in 2006.  It was too far to attend the Thursday evening service but I returned to the 3 hour service on Good Friday.  The first year there was the familiar sermons and meditations on the Words from the Cross but in the following years they moved to more elaborate services, including a section where the cross is processed down the aisle and we all kneel. Not quite kneeling at the Cross itself which is forbidden in the Diocese of Sydney.

They also have communion, they use the elements consecrated the evening before and reserved (also forbidden) in the chapel.  I have always left at this time as I still feel that Good Friday is the one day we do not take communion.

I would have liked to have gone to the Easter vigil on Easter Morning at St James but there is no public transport at that time. (unlike Anzac day when trains and buses are put on to transport us all to the Dawn Service starting at 4.30am).  Easter Eucharist at St James has very special meaning for me with a great procession of crosses, banners and incense, singing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today".

In 2011 Easter Day was followed by Anzac day.  In 2012 they were 2 weeks apart so I went to Sydney both years for both special times.  This year there is nearly 4 weeks between so I am just going over to Oz for Anzac day.

I attended the Maundy Service at St John's.  I find the stripping of the sanctuary and leaving the church in darkness very moving.  I missed the music at St James.

On Good Friday I went to the 3 hour service at the Cathedral. The Dean reflected on 12 paintings with meditation and bible readings, mainly from Mark's narration of the Crucifixion.  This was interspersed with 12 organ recitals.
Then on Easter Day I was able to drive to St John's for the morning Vigil and service of Light. We sat in darkness for an hour with bible readings by torch light and meditation. Again I missed themusic.  I do not do quiet meditation very well, my mind wanders.  However lighting the candle and then entering the lighted church was very moving.

Afterwards, I returned for Choral Eucharist and the opening responses of "Christ is Risen" and the singing of "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" meant I did not feel I was missing St James.

The whole liturgical experience from the Last Supper and darkening of the church on Thursday through  the meditations on Friday and then lighting the candle and celebrating the Resurrection with Eucharist on Sunday has been a wonderful gift.

Oh and my sister has left me an Easter Bunny when she visited Dunedin 2 weeks ago

Monday, March 18, 2013

An excellent speech

Note this is a member of the National (conservative) party in NZ. He is also a committed churchman.

CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : In the first reading of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill I voted that it be sent to the Government Administration Committee to ensure a call for submissions and a platform for discussion, and I am very glad that I did that. Serving on the select committee as deputy chairman was instructive, illuminating, and educative, and it was a pleasure working with the Hon Ruth Dyson as chair.
I wish now to speak to the considerations of the select committee. The one aspect that was universal—common to all submitters—was that marriage is special, precious, and desirable. Everyone said so, no matter which part of the argument they were interested in. The issue is over who can or cannot participate in it. Submitters were very definite in expressing their particular views.
I found there were three main groupings, and I would like to talk about them now. One grouping has an eschatological view of the bill—in other words, to pass the bill will be the beginning of the end of society as we know it. This was a very firmly held view. It is perceived as a slippery slope, leading to our ultimate demise as a nation and as a civilisation.
I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of submitters who hold to this view. It was sincerity, though, that seemed to be entirely based on apprehension and fear and circular reasoning, rather than on a persuasive argument.
Although I cannot imagine, if the bill passes, that a particularly large percentage of the population will suddenly take the opportunity to engage in same-gender marriages, I also cannot imagine that any number would make one iota of difference to the 41 years of marriage that my wife and I have enjoyed, or to anybody else’s heterosexual marriage.
I cannot see it. I have thought deeply about this and cannot believe that the social impact of the bill would herald the demise and collapse of the wider societal values in New Zealand. I respect the right of those who wish to hold to that view, but I cannot give it currency in coming to a defined position on this bill.
Another grouping held a perception that this is counter to religious views and practices and represents State interference in religious practice, beliefs, and dogma. The select committee listened very carefully and sincerely to the concerns expressed. As someone who had 5 years as a lay minister for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa / New Zealand and was a member of the council of assembly for the Presbyterian Church, I had a particular interest in this aspect of the discussion.
It became clear through listening that the overriding concern is that the clergy and those authorised by religious bodies to conduct marriages would be obliged—indeed, forced—to conduct ceremonies for same-gender couples should the bill be passed. We have already heard from the Hon Ruth Dyson about section 29 of the Marriage Act, which has always stipulated that it authorises but does not oblige any marriage celebrant to solemnise a marriage to which the licence relates.
The select committee has recommended a new clause that makes it abundantly clear that ministers of religion or celebrants from approved organisations are not obliged to solemnise a marriage if to do so would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or approved organisation.
I thoroughly enjoy theological discussion and have a huge appetite for it. I have been most grateful for the opportunity to sit with clergy from many different denominations and engage with them on this issue.
By providing and ensuring that this bill deals only with secular issues—I will say it again: it deals only with secular issues—it nevertheless leaves a dilemma for established religious groups that wish to differentiate their churches or holy matrimony from the new definition if the bill passes. It is not for the State to have a view on this. It is for the churches to resolve in their own way and time, and I look forward to engaging in that discussion in a personal capacity in my own time.
The third consideration—we have heard it spoken by my colleague and friend Tim Macindoe this evening—is that marriage is an institution: time honoured, never changing, and having the essential components of one man and one woman common to all countries and civilisations throughout the millennia until death do them part. It ain’t necessarily so.
I am privileged to have my wife in the gallery tonight. My wife and I married on 11 March, 41 years ago last Monday, and lived happily ever after. But the question that exercised the upper echelons of ecclesiastic minds in those days was whether or not the bride should take a vow of obedience to her husband. If you are marrying a red-headed West Coast girl from a West Coast aristocratic family, some hope!
During that same time, to have children born out of wedlock was a hamper to church marriage, as was a divorce, or, indeed, wanting to marry someone of a different religion. Bans of marriage were called from pulpits, advising that people were intending marriage, and others were invited to give reasons why that marriage should not proceed or to forever hold their peace. Marriage is not an unchanging institution, and although most of its institutional aspects have been laudable for men, they have often been less than favourable for women.
Some statistics to show this change to the institution are quite illuminating. Twenty-three percent of marriages are conducted in a registry office, 32 percent of marriages are conducted in a church, and 45 percent are conducted by independent marriage celebrants. The figures shout out change that we cannot close our ears to.
I found it personally significant that from the—wait for the figures—9,347 independent marriage celebrants, which is nearly 10,000 independent marriage celebrants, and 530 civil union celebrants, so that is 10,500 all together, the select committee received two—two—submissions.
The last two aspects I wish to touch on are the matters of conscience and the question of family coming first. In terms of conscience, I have given much, much thought to this. I am acquainted with guilt. Being a Presbyterian, one goes through life thinking that one has not worked hard enough, has not done enough, and has not reached the requirement that life’s opportunities offer, and you will always get other members who will tell you that, as one did this evening.
To assuage my conscience on this issue, I delved back in my life to the age of understanding, which I think those of Catholic persuasion tell me the Jesuits determine is at 7 years old, when I was a boy.
I looked at catechismic values when learning the catechism by rote in Glasgow: “Who made you?” “God made me.” “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know him and love him.” The third question: “What image did God make you in?”
The answer: “God made me in his own image.” Every 7-year-old boy and girl said the same and believed it was true. They did not have to add: “… as long as I conform to being heterosexual, and not to loving anyone of the same gender as myself.” My conscience is very clear on this issue.
Every person has the same spiritual claim as one another to being made in the image of God, and it will take a braver person than I am to deny that. I have addressed the question of eschatology in my mind, the question of ensuring religious freedom, and the assumption of benign institutionalisation. My conscience is not clouded or indeed involved in this issue.
As an older person, we do have baggage to carry of remembering when homosexuality was illegal—in fact, it was criminal—and it was, we were told, immoral. There were two definite groups of people who came and made submissions before us, and it was what I would call a generational divide.
So, in dealing with the legacy of discriminatory prejudice—and I would not want that to be a deciding feature—I prayerfully ask to be able to internalise and resolve this complicated situation in my head, in my heart, and in my soul.
What I learnt from listening to the submissions, colleagues, was that in fact each homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person appearing before us was not to be seen just as an individual, not to be identified just by gender preference, but in fact to be seen as a mother’s son or a daughter, and a father’s daughter or son, as siblings to their brothers and sisters, grandchildren to their grandparents, nephews and nieces to their uncles and aunts, and uncles and aunts to their nephews and nieces, and cousins to their cousins.
They are all family, along with their heterosexual friends and relations, and all are an integral part of the New Zealand family, and all are part—in my mind, in my heart, and in my conscience—of God’s family. I now realise that this bill seeks to put first something that critics have accused it of undermining, and that is the family.
We as parliamentarians should not simply look past the interests of the applicants for this bill. We should not simply look at their interests. We should, and we must, look after their interests. We should pass this bill.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Marriage Matters Update

The controversial marriage equality bill has passed its second reading in Parliament tonight.
MP Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, which would allow same-sex couples to marry, was passed with 77 in favour and 44 against.
MPs also voted on whether a referendum would be held on the issue, with 33 voting in favour and 83 against.
Wall told Parliament that denying marriage to someone is to essentially not recognise them as a person.

"This Bill is about marriage equality. It's not about gay marriage, same sex marriage or straight marriage. It's about marriage between two people. There's no distinction to be made. That is equality," she said.
"Whether the form of that marriage is religious, secular or cultural is a matter for the couple to determine. Denying marriage to a person is to devalue that person's right to participate fully in all that life offers ... No state has the right to do that."

The bill passed its first reading in August last year with 80 in favour and 40 against.
It will have to go through further amendments and a third reading before it can be passed into law.

I have heard this will be in April. While 3 votes moved, this is not unexpected as some members will often vote for a first reading to allow discussion, then oppose the 2nd. It would be very unusual for the 3rd reading to be unsuccessful after such a good majority in the 2nd.