31 August 2013


I had become Reformed because I believed - and believe, still - that what the Reformed faith taught was much closer to the truth of the Bible than what, for example, I had been taught as a Baptist.  In 1992 I still believed this - yet felt at a standstill.

I had come to believe, from the writings of people like Jim Jordan, that the Reformed faith had unnecessarily dropped things that the Catholic Church had believed, simply because the things were Catholic - but things that were quite true.  I have talked about the importance of Communion, for example.  The Reformed churches, by de facto making Communion a rite for adults, made it into a kind of acted-out example, whose principle purpose was to teach.  Calvin had believed much more than that.  In Communion we truly received Christ, he believed, although he did not accept the Catholic view of transsubstantiation.  In theory we Reformed agreed with Calvin here; in practice, it was hard to see it.

In general I felt a longing for ... well, I didn't know what - something more.

Something happened to me during late 1992 or possibly early 1993 that I found strange, even at the time.

Every Saturday I worked at Archibald's in Papakura.  Each Saturday evening I walked from his office to the 'bus stop - and my walk passed a Catholic Church.

At first I had not even known it was Catholic.  But Saturday after Saturday I saw there were many cars there.  I looked at the sign and realised it was the Catholic Church.

What were all these people doing there?  This wasn't Sunday (I did not then know of Saturday vigil Masses)!

I was puzzled by something here.  I had been a signed-up member of three churches in my Christian history:

  • International Baptist Church in Honolulu
  • The Reformed Church of Avondale
  • The Reformed Church of Pukekohe
I had never really questioned the sociological reality of these churches: the membership of them was far more uniform culturally than was true of society in general.  Perhaps I had just assumed that being a Christian made people all 'like us.'  It is true that I had begun to complain, inwardly, and, occasionally, outwardly about the Reformed churches.  I do not think I knew of any member of our Reformed church in Pukekohe who was not middle-class, middle-income, moderately well educated, and white.  I do recall once or twice saying that membership in our church was so much based on intellectual ability that there was no way that we could accommodate semi-literate Samoan immigrants (for instance), or intellectually handicapped persons.  Indeed, we had had one or two cases of moderately lower-class white families come to us for a few Sundays, then drift away.

Judging by the faces of the people attending this Saturday evening Mass in Papakura - and their cars - they were sociologically far more diverse.  There were people of all skin colours.  There were cars from all sorts of income levels.  I did not have occasion to speak to any of those attending, but (I now know) I would have found them of all levels of literacy, intelligence, and education.

I was strangely moved by this.  This, somehow, was what the Church of Christ ought to be: "all peoples, nations, and languages."

A completely irrational (that is, I knew of no rationale for it) longing arose in my mind towards this Church - and towards the Catholic Church, in general.  I passed the church for two or three Saturdays and a fantasy grew in my mind: perhaps someone - a priest, a nun, I didn't know what sort of person - would come out, as I walked by, engage me in conversation - and, by some miraculous process, make me a Catholic.

I did something quite daunting to me - I wanted to pray the "Hail, Mary!" prayer - but I didn't even know it.  I looked it up somewhere, and the next Saturday or two, as I passed, I did pray it.  I wondered if something like my fantasy would occur.  No such thing did, of course, and I began to feel guilty praying this idolatrous Catholic prayer, so stopped.  The whole thing faded out.  It was not long after that that my work at Archibald's finished.  But I have always wondered if, somehow, that occasion was not the beginning of my becoming a Catholic.  I was particularly struck, later, after I had actually entered the Church, when I discovered something I had not known at the time: the church is St Mary's of Papakura.

26 August 2013

Busy, busy, busy!

Okay - lots happening here.  John has been in rehearsals for his orchestra.  They had their 20th Anniversary Concert on Saturday night.  It was wonderful.  The house was sold out and there was a party afterwards for those who could stay. 

He plays four or five concerts each year with this orchestra and has again accepted the invitation to play in the university orchestra for their graduation concert in October - that's a lot more rehearsals...that's in between working up in Auckland five days a week -  lots of motorway driving.

Me?  About ten days ago I was driving up the motorway at 6:15 on my way to Auckland.  I don't like leaving that early but the traffic is now getting very heavy and if I don't leave early, I end up spending as much as ninety minutes on a trip that usually takes me forty-five.

It was dark, the traffic was moving and it wasn't raining.  I had only been driving for a few minutes when I heard a bang.  I wasn't able to identify what it was but it didn't seem to be much.  I kept driving ahead  and checked my rear-view mirror.  I was startled by what I saw in it.  Cars seemed to slowing down behind me - what for?

I decided to pull over - maybe one of my tyres had blown, maybe there was something on the motorway that others wanted to avoid......

A ute pulled over behind me and I started to get out of the passenger side of the car to see what was wrong.  The young guy started walking towards me and said, "I'm sorry.  I hit your van.  I fell asleep at the wheel.  I think I have been working too hard."

I was stunned and grateful.  He seemed to be honest.  He helped me start my car and offered to wait until the AA came if I thought they were needed for a tow. 

All things considered, it was a clean accident.  We were both able to drive away.   He has insurance and was very willing to accept responsibility, etc...  He works up in town for his father who owns a demolition business and was on his way to do a job.

He told me that he had fallen asleep at the wheel, side swiped my car, corrected to the right and hit the median barrier (good thing that was there) and then tried to correct again - causing the cars behind him to slow down. 

We were both so very lucky that nothing else happened. 

A few days ago I was telling a friend about the accident.  Everyone in town has seen the courtesy car in our drive way - or me driving it in town - which is an announcement that something has happened....  When my friend asked about the red station wagon in my driveway, I started to describe the accident and who had done it, she said she knew the  family - in this country/town it seems that someone always knows someone, somehow - she asked me if the fellow's last name was Ward - yes, I told her he gave me his card - I thought maybe he owned the business.  She said he was the owner's son and then she told me some interesting information.

Ward Demolition were the first-responders from the North Island when the big earthquake happened in Christchurch two years ago.  The guy who hit my car and his father went to Christchurch and worked at the recovery of the  CTV Building that had collapsed killing 180 people. 

I felt like our Guardian Angels were working overtime for us - and I am grateful.  A few days later I read in the paper about an accident very similar to mine and the car hit had ended up flipped over in a ditch along the motorway -

To make things even more exciting, I got a new cell phone - it is just deluxe.  Between the courtesy car that I am not familiar with, John's rehearsal schedule and this new phone - it's been interesting.

04 August 2013

Catching up

It has been so long since I last wrote on this blog – not too sure where I stopped but I think our family was preparing to move to Seattle – March, 1959.

During the past weekend I have been in Wellington for a friend’s 60th birthday.  She is someone who I knew here in Pukekohe for a few years after we returned in 1984.  She had five children  who were (are) near the ages of ours -   Our friendship has continued since then and has been really meaningful to me.

I got to meet her cousins, see her grown children with their own kids, meet many friends who she has in Wellington – and enjoy the very unseasonable weather.  Wellington is the windy city of New Zealand and the winters can be horrible.  Two years ago when I went down for a visit, I told my friend that I wasn’t ever coming back at that time of year again….ever.  Her fireplace wasn’t working, her flat wasn’t insulated and it  is located against a hillside – reduced sun – whatever – but I did do it  this time and Wellington was actually sunny and warm – in July – no wind that almost knocks one off their feet, no rain that soaks one’s clothes….just nothing but clear, blue skies and sun during the day and mild at night.  My friend has also now got a heat pump and her flat has been insulated – totally helps.

I don’t remember much about the move to Seattle except that in March, 1959 it seemed a lot colder then Portland, Oregon.  We moved into an older house in the University District, near University of Washington campus, and across from a large park (Ravenna Park)  that was actually a ravine.  It was filled with many large trees and had pathways that we often walked. 

As usual, my mother got to know a lot of the neighbours and some of them were really wonderful.  They made our stay in the area memorable.


None who know me will need to be told that I am intellectually arrogant.  It may be said that I am, at nearly 71 years of age, somewhat cooled down from what I was in 1990, at 48 - I hope so, at least.

By 1990 I had been a Christian for 20 years.  When I was converted I had practically no knowledge of the Christian faith; by 1990 I was quite knowledgeable - and strong in my beliefs.

And I had progressed from a very nominalist understanding of religion - roughly what is quite broadly the outlook of our times - to a realist understanding.  Specifically, I was beginning to come to understand that the Christian Sacraments really did something; that baptism was what made you a Christian (I was still pretty vague about how this might work).

And I was strongly of the belief (still am, for the matter of that) that the only qualification for receiving Communion was to be baptised, and not in a state of serious (I would not then have used the qualifier 'mortal') sin.  I was, in fact, a paedo-Communist.

But in our Reformed church, the right to receive Communion and the right to vote for officers in the church - indeed, all voting, including voting relating to financial matters - the two rights were resident in the same persons.  A Communicant member of the church was ipso facto a voting member.  It was clear that this view of who could receive Communion must exclude, not only baptised infants, but even young adults who had not yet made the promises connected with Communicant membership.  In my increasingly acrimonious arguments with our elders and pastor, I was told that Communicant membership was appropriate for those 'of marriageable age.'

Acrimony - bitter acrimony, at times - is the word for it.  I was very much an unsubmissive church member.  Matters came to a head when I wrote a letter to the members of Session (the elders, the pastor, and deacons - the church officers) speaking of the sin of barring my children from the Table of the Lord.

I must testify to their great self-restraint in responding.  The acrimony had, in fact, been all from my side.  They responded to my letter with a firm but peaceable statement to me that I could not myself be in a proper relationship to them and still take the position that I was accusing them of sin in the execution of their duties as rulers of the church.  They requested that I write a letter retracting my accusation.

I did.  I was in angry tears when writing it.  I wrote, nevertheless, that I did not intend to accuse any of them of sin.  They accepted that and welcomed me as though nothing had happened.

This was a real turning point in my own Christian life.  After the incident I reflected on the meaning of the whole business.  Did I, in fact, believe in church authority?  Was the whole idea of "those who have the rule over you" (Hebrews 13:17) merely a metaphor for "those with whom I agree?"

I concluded that church authority was real, was of God, and that, short of committing sin myself, I must submit to it.  Although neither they nor I knew it at the time, this was a major step towards my eventually becoming a Catholic.

My own new docility may have been apparent to them.  In any case, sometime in 1991 I was asked if I were willing to be ordained a deacon - to become, in fact, a member of Session.  I recall at the time pointing out that some of the more explicitly anti-Catholic statements in the form I was to sign I was unsure of.  I was reassured that I could not be held to anything that I did not see in Scripture.  I laughed, saying that was a loophole one could pretty well drive anything through - but I accepted.  I was ordained.