Dear Friends in Christ,

The ecumenical Ash Wednesday service in St Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Manchester St, Christchurch was a moving occasion. We are now into Lent—our season of prayer and fasting as we walk with the Lord on his journey to the cross. Paschal candles are not lit; the Gloria is not said or sung; flowers await Easter Day! This Lent, Covid is constraining our life locally—I am receiving reports of key people—lay and ordained leaders, musicians and singers—within ministry units either being diagnosed with Covid or needing to isolate at home with a household sufferer. It is also the case that people, especially our older parishioners are making wise decisions to stay home as daily statistics tell us we are heading towards the peak of this particular part of the Covid pandemic. I continue to encourage ministry units to make appropriate local decisions as the impact of Covid makes itself felt on plans for services, gatherings and meetings.

While writing about Covid, Paula Tesorieso the Disability Rights Commissioner at Te Kāhui Tika Tangata, the Human Rights Commission, has noted that some in our society say, of Omicron, “we’re all going to get it, so, best get it over with”—but this doesn’t take into account disabled Kiwis. She writes, “Omicron is being framed by many as “mild” or “most people will be fine”. This ignores the concerns and reality for many disabled people, and those with compromised immune systems.  References to “most” leaves out the crucial fact that “some” people won’t be fine. While surely unintentional, these narratives are inextricably linked to ableism and create a perception those ‘some’ lives are not worth protecting. It is a collective duty of government and the public to manage risk for the ‘some’.” Paula’s point here underlines the importance of continuing to offer safety and be safe when we gather, especially masking, observing physical distancing and getting boosted.

On Sunday it was lovely in the morning to be with God’s people at Holy Innocents, Amberley, and to find the congregation in good heart as the search for a new vicar continues. At Evensong in the Transitional Cathedral that evening, it was a privilege to hear Archdeacon Mark Chamberlain preach and to commission Mark as our Archdeacon for Regeneration and Mission.

Through these days of continuing war in Ukraine, let’s be steadfast in prayer for peace. I continue to discern no reason which justifies Russian aggression and am appalled that Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church continues to support the killing machine which Putin has unleashed. In the midst of sorrow and grief, there is some light. The welcome of refugees in other European countries is inspiring. This week I have been introduced to a moving video of Psalm 31 being read by Ukrainians, often sheltering in their basement. The story of Jews and Christians across Ukraine making Psalm 31 their “go to” Scripture in the midst of their suffering is told here. [Within that page click on the video (with English subtitles).]

This Sunday, 13 March, is the second Sunday of Lent and the gospel reading is either Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (9:28-36) or Luke’s account of Jesus’ Lament over Jerusalem (13:31-35). I recommend that the Transfiguration is celebrated each year on a Sunday in our churches. In the story of the Transfiguration we have a prefiguring of the glory of the resurrected Christ, as he keeps company on the mountain with two mighty Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah, both of whom were taken by God without dying. Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is a prefiguring of the suffering Jesus will endure in Jerusalem when he is arrested, tried and crucified in a wave of popular support for his demise.

Next Tuesday, 15 March is the third anniversary of the Mosques Massacres in Christchurch in 2019. A Christchurch Islamic Awareness week is being celebrated from 7-15 March, however, this year there will not be a public, open Remembrance Service on 15 March—as discussed in this City Council notice.

Looking a little further ahead, some news in respect of youth and young adult events and ministries in our Diocese and beyond. With Easter Camp being cancelled this year (due to Covid), there are planning discussions underway for Covid-viable, alternative activities for our young people, likely focusing on participation in Easter services in our ministry units with extra activities built around that participation. Also cancelled this year, for the same reason, is The Abbey (a national Anglican youth event), which was due to take place, 19-21 August. Likewise, planning discussions are taking place about an alternative, local way of gathering young people together at that time.

An ongoing project in our Diocese through the past three years has been work on youth mental health, generously funded by the St John’s College Trust Board. We have been well served by our two previous educators, Charlotte Falloon and Guy Cowan. With Guy obtaining a teaching post in one of our local secondary schools, we have appointed William Jamieson to be our new Youth Mental Health Educator. William has a BSc in Psychology from the University of Canterbury and a PGCert in Counselling Studies from the University of Waikato. He will be working 10 hours per week and can be contacted on Welcome on board, William!

We remain in challenging times—Omicron’s grip on our communities, war in Ukraine, rapidly rising inflation—let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.