We are ‘calledsouth’

In 1998 I was the Bishop’s Chaplain for Ministry in the Diocese of Waikato when I was offered the post of Vicar of St. John’s Roslyn. After visiting Dunedin, discussing, praying and weighing it all up, Clemency and I decided to decline: after all, given the factors of Clemency’s job, our family circumstances and and my settled and congenial position, a move South made no sense at all. Once the Dear John letter to the Dunedin nominators had been posted off however, both Clemency and myself were plagued with a pervading feeling of loss; as if somehow a boat had left and we had missed it, So when, a  week or so later, Vin Maffey emailed and invited us to contact him if ever we changed our minds, we did. A few months later we drove South with a Christmas tree taped to the dashboard – there was no living room to put one in that year – and a deep sense that we were doing exactly the right thing. After 14 years that sense has never left me; I was and am called South. I am here because this is where God knows I fit best, and where God knows I can be and do my best.

Having been back  here a while now, it’s also a matter of choice: I WANT to be here. Why is it that, having lived in all of New Zealand’s major cities, I could  not now imagine myself living anywhere North of the Waitaki? There are the obvious factors of course: the unparalleled scenery, the unhurried lifestyle, the elegance and panache of our small cities, the crystal quality of our wine and food and air and water. But there is something less definable; a something that comes to me  with greatest force when driving through parts of Western Southland. In that part of our Diocese the roads wind through small country towns and green lush farmland; the fences are tight and straight and the houses are well cared for; the pasture is clean and the livestock plump and healthy. About me on every face of the softly rolling hills are signs of prosperity and civilization; and yet, on other hills, visible only a few short miles away is the dark brooding green of the forest. The forests of Southland, which move out from the gentle order and security of cultivation to merge, seamlessly, into those ancient wild places where there are no roads and where the mountains and lakes and deep snowy passes have known seldom, if ever, any human footfall. Down here, we are on the edge; the very edge.

 An edge is not a rump or a backwater. It is a growing point; a place of innovation and change; a place of paradox and new alliances; a place of sharpness and  newness. One need look no further than our region’s educational, artistic, literary, business, farming, exploratory and entrepreneurial history to see that. But of course, this edge dwelling is sometimes the cause of ribbing from other Kiwis unfortunate enough to possess smaller latitude numbers. We hear the same old story that the more closely packed the people are the better, and, despite ourselves, we catch ourselves privately wondering  if perhaps the Holy Spirit might move more freely if we had a  few more four lane roads and a higher density of espresso machines. We are tempted to forget, in other words, that our place on the edge is precisely what makes the South so special and so compelling. It is our pride and our glory. It is what we are called to, thank God.

In the Christian Church we are doubly Called South; firstly as citizens of Otago and Southland but, more significantly, as citizens of the Kingdom of God. Whatever answer we might trot out to the question “why live in the South?” the deepest and truest answer is that  this is where God has placed us. We are Called South  be the Church here in ways simply not possible elsewhere. So, as far as being here in the truest, deepest, richest part of Aotearoa is concerned the first rule of public speaking applies: never apologise, never explain. We are simply Called South: the Called of the South and those called to the South. What could be a greater privilege and blessing than that?