Tuesday, February 28, 2006

on being Resident Friend

Cherice's post and a recent email from a WGYFer considering applying for a wardenship post asking me for advice has made me think a lot about my role here - both what I do and what I'd like to do with it. The two aren't always compatible! This post is a mishmash of my emailed reply, my comment on Cherice's blog and further thoughts...

In Wellington we have 3 buildings - the QMH, the Quaker Centre and George Fox House. For the first 2 it is a matter of bookings, cleaning etc. GFH is run as Bed & Breakfast accommodation for travelling Friends and is what takes up most of my time - probably not what most wardens (or whatever they get called!) have to deal with. My post is supposed to be 20-30 hrs a week on average. Note the 'on average' bit of that sentence!!!! When I first got here there weren't many B&B bookings and I reckon I was doing about 15-20 hrs a week. Over the summer it has been flat out full time as B&B numbers have gone through the roof and I gave up even trying to count my hours.

I'm really lucky here with my RF Support Committee, mainly because Marion (who is my main contact on it) and I have been Ffriends for a long time and socialise a lot anyway so I get support at the drop of a hat when I need it. Were one of the others my official support person I'm not so sure how it would be. The 'down side' is that Marion and I tend to forget to have official meetings as we see each other & chat on the phone so often! In the past I've been on the wardening team at Edinburgh QMH which is a busy city centre building where if there are bookings you have to be present on duty unlike here where groups have their own key and let themselves in and out, but beyond that many of the issues are much the same.

I'm not sure how it would have been coming half way around the world to a Meeting where I didn't know so many people so well beforehand. What with Marion, Quentin & Fran all of whom I've known 16 years or so (ex pat British YFs!), Jonathan & now Charlotte from the FWCC Triennial in 2004 as well as WGYF, plus those I met at NZ Summer Gathering 10 months before I moved out here it meant I had a pretty good starting point. Also I have far more relatives around here than I'm used to having on my doorstep! It's been good having contacts here outwith Quakerdom - stops the cabin fever setting in... There is a strong YF+ group which has made getting to know others easy. The various residential events I have been to here, plus getting to know Friends who stay in the B&B accommodation means I have a strong network of Ffriends the full length of the country and far more offers of people to visit than I'll ever manage to take up!

Contact with the RFs here in Auckland and Christchurch plus knowing various RFs/wardens etc in Britain and Australia provides an extra level of support - all 5 of the Aotearoa NZ RFs were at Summer Gathering in January and many a story and wry smile was shared between us!

I love having this opportunity to serve, the main problem I have is that I am soooo not a mornings person and with high guest numbers at present that's a lot of early morning breakfasts to get ready and be coherent at! However that is hardly a tragedy in the greater scheme of life =)

Is this role really akin to the pastors of the programmed Friends churches though? I think so. Thankfully unprogramed Meetings don't expect a sermon/message prepared in advance each week as me giving ministry is a blue moon occurrence and never yet during Sunday morning worship! I'm here on a Minister of Religion missionary visa - that still creases me up but the more time goes by in this post the more I realise how accurate it is, well maybe not the missionary bit.

I have my rent and utility bills covered by the Meeting in return for not only the practical services to the Meeting I've mentioned but also taking an active roll in the spiritual life of the Meeting. I admit to not having been as pro-active as I'd like to have been with regard to helping support the YF/JYF groups but B&B duties have been somewhat heavy over the summer.

However I am finding that I end up acting as both an elder and an overseer here despite not officially being either! Overseering I am used to, but dealing with eldership issues is new ground to me and a bit scary at times. Logging on to the online Meeting for Worship during some challenging phone calls (thank heavens for broadband!) has just about got me through. There is enormous potential for RF posts to be more than just wardening and there is an expectation that you will contribute to the life of the Meeting. Apart from at Summer Gathering and doing WGYF feedback with the others my main contribution so far I guess is the bible study group - one of the last things I would have expected to be doing! The rest has been having an awareness of what is going on, making suggestions for the newletter, representing Friends at various things and slowly but surely improving the ecological footprint of the Meeting.

I find that many Friends turn to me with issues within the Meeting as I'm seen as a neutral zone in many ways - this is often far from the case but hey it's good being at the hub of things still - I think I'd've missed that after WGYF. Most of the time being here to listen is what is needed more than anything else and thankfully I'm fairly good at that. As with my WGYF post, and FWCC EMES one for that matter, my role is often one of support and being a sounding board as people test their concerns and bounce around ideas as well as frustrations. Also I'm the only person with a foot in every camp of Sunday Meeting, Midweek Meeting, YF+ group and is involved with the children (that's a lot of feet, maybe it should be fingers in pies!!!)

Posts are usually just for a year which limits what a RF can do (Quaker process being slow!) - it wouldn't be right to barge in and start doing whatever you felt was right. It takes time to understand where a Meeting is at, what it's needs are and also what is sustainable. Sure I could have run a residential event by now for the JYF age range but it makes more sense to work with Friends across the YM to strengthen the existing structure for JYFs. I have to recognise that I might still have to leave here in just over a year so enabling others and sharing my skills is far more beneficial than providing a one off experience for a few. Hopefully we'll get something more going for the JYF age range this year here in Wellington but that is because those here have seen there is a need and have asked for help rather than me waltzing in an imposing it on them with there being no sense of local ownership.

As I said some time ago I have had a distinct sense of calling to be here, of needing to be here and being needed here. Working for Friends is not that dissimilar to becoming a monk, nun or joining the clergy in the sense of it becoming a way of life, a life of service to the church/meeting/organisation. It is not something to take on lightly and would be hard to fulfil without a sense of calling, of mission. So maybe having a 'missionary' visa isn't so wide of the mark after all?

Monday, February 27, 2006

the bright side of life

It was our bible study group again on Sunday - I'm really quite enjoying it altho' I always seem to end up producing the handouts and doing the reading at the last minute (no shock there then). It's a shame really I wasn't a bit more organised on this particular occassion as if I had then maybe my wandering mind would have got over it's sidetrack before the session and I'd've been able to focus without trying to smoother the giggles which were bubbling away inside me trying to outdo the boiling mud pools around Rotorua.

I mean how is anyone who has gone through Summer School & NFSC with that particular crowd of YFs supposed to take seriously any discussion about whether someone is the Messiah or not? I spent the whole hour trying not to think about the line 'He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy...' oh dear. Ah well I guess Sally, Toms D & W, Stuart, Alex & Ken et al would be proud of me even if no-one else is! What with that and wondering who spilled the beans when Jesus told 'em all not to tell anyone I think I'm fairly safe from any accusations of taking all of this too seriously =) The great thing was tho' when I told Fran about it after Meeting she knew exactly who it had brought to mind without me needing to say!

Other things that have made me smile recently:
- Aidan's suggestion to come and do the haka at Jonathan's wedding, altho' he reckoned his chances of then leaving the country alive might be limited (Leith you are a star for this footage of them at WGYF!)
- Xavier's suggestion of 'Nothing Bucket' as a title for Julian's blog! I said it would be worth asking him =)
- and of course in a big silly cheesey grin kind of way Simon proposing to Susie whilst they were here in Aotearoa NZ - yay!!!! Awww, all very sweet and lovely and it proved that the Quaker grapevine here is in good working order as I got to hear the goss from Christchurch Friends before Si & Su had got home and had had chance to make the big announcement!

And do you know what? (as Xavier would say!) The best bit about it all is the fact that I can link all of these together as the people are almost all interconnected by more than just knowing me, sure they are all Quakers which helps no end but even so we're talking both sides of the globe here... it just takes us back to the 6 degrees of separation theory being shot to pieces (in a non-violent fashion needless to say) as soon as Quakers get a look in on the act. It makes me wonder how many connections there are amongst all of you who read this, beyond the ones I know about that is...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Gandhi had it right

Reasons to be cheerful, part 3 (I've lost count to be honest) - I don't live here any more. The silver lining is that Spitting Image is apparently making a comeback to satirise it all.

And people need to ask why I want to stay in New Zealand?!!!

Reporter - What do you think of western civilisation?
Gandhi - I think it would be a very good idea

snap happy

well more a case of finally getting photos uploaded... thanks Lucy for sorting me out with a Flickr pro account. For some reason Flickr didn't like me trying to pay with a UK visa card but an NZ address - fussy or what.

Anyway there are now oodles of new photos, some going back to before Christmas, up on my Flickr site. I could only upload so many a month for free hence the slow process up to now, hopefully pics will appear a bit more timely from now on!

There's a link to them on the right....

Thursday, February 23, 2006

space (the final frontier?!)

I've just got another film of photos developed which included a couple from the Marae at Te Papa. I was there a few weeks ago with a Ffriend from Edinburgh, the first time I've explored that part of the museum - as with the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh it is one of those places you can go back to time and again and still find something new (altho' invariably my visits in Edinburgh ended up at the steam trains whilst various little people pressed the buttons on the models to make the wheels go round...).

What struck me tho' about the Marae apart from the amazing carvings/sculpture, and the beauty of the light coming through the enormous stained glass window - despite the greyness outside - was the instant sense of being in a worshipful space - it felt tapu/sacred and it felt wrong keeping my shoes on or talking aloud - kind of mixture of cultural reactions. It was like visiting a cathedral back in Britain (something we did a lot of when I was a child as for several years my parents made ceramic pendants and plaques for Cathedral gift shops). I could have quite happily sat there for ages, just being present in that space - definitely somewhere to remember for future grey days! It surprised me to find that sense of tranquility and inner stillness there. It has been a while since I've found that in a building that wasn't Quaker.

I remember getting very annoyed at York Minster whenI found that it felt more like a medieval tourist theme park than a place of worship (sorry Kate if I've got the wrong era!). St Giles in Edinburgh is much the same - both tho' have their saving grace of a side chapel which somehow retains a more 'appropriate' feel.

Quakers don't place much attachment (if any) to buildings as places of worship in the sense that why should any one place be more sacred than any other (probably a bit like the implied double standard of oath taking - why should ones behaviour be any different on consecrated ground than elsewhere?). To me it doesn't matter where I worship - be it inside or out, I'm more worried about being physically comfortable than anything else. Yet I find that there are places, be they Meeting Houses, churches, cathedrals, stone circles, a clearing in a wood, by a still pool on a river or a windswept cliff top where I get a sense of there being something more to them than meets the eye, sometimes to the extent of feeling a tingling running through my fingers. These are places that seem to draw out the need in me to give thanks, a silent prayer or contemplation. Not all 'religious' buildings have that effect on me by a long way, I can remember not being able to get out of the new Coventry Cathedral fast enough (new as in not the one bombed in the blitz) as it gave me the creeps - I couldn't explain why then and still can't now but remembering still sends shudders down my spine.

In recent ministry at Meeting someone referred to the stillness they had found in a meditation tent which was in town for 24hrs as being of a 'higher plane' whereas the silence in Meeting for Worship 'went into the depths'. It was an interesting concept and I understand exactly what was meant by the difference between the forms of silence but I wonder what it is about these places that feel like they are gateways between the spiritual and temporal worlds - where does the quality of the silence often found there lie on that spectrum? I guess I'll just have to go back to the Marae and see if I can work it out...

But do we all experience it in the same way? Do others get a sense of depths or heights when they come into our space? Many times as a warden of Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House I'd be showing people round (both Quakers and non-Quakers) and they'd get to the Meeting Room on the top floor and comment on the 'wonderful peaceful atmosphere' in the room - yet so often the street outside would be noisey and could be clearly heard through the open windows. A Friend at Svartbäcken in Sweden was telling me how when showing someone round the buildings there when they got to the Meeting Room the person just stopped dead in their tracks and asked amazed 'what happens in here? Is it a chapel?' - they didn't know anything about Quakers and were just looking at the building as a venue for a conference yet they were instantly hit by the atmosphere in the room as being worshipful. How is that atmosphere achieved though? We don't exactly sit there and plan it at Premises Committee - we have enough to worry about with deciding on chairs and decor, not to mention leaky ceilings etc! We don't have someone come and consecrate our buildings first, we just turn up. Do we have that effect when we worship over the years on space that isn't collectively ours, like community centre rooms or even people's homes? What impact does this have on other users of the space?

So many questions, so few answers....

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

the wonders of Welly

I knew it was too good to be true, I was saying to Kate this morning I was feeling unusually awake, especially having provided breakfast at 7am... it's now 7.45pm (well it was, the phone rang and it's now somewhat later!) and I'm back to propping my eyelids open again. I'm blaming the weather as it has been sooo humid and headachey today - definitely a weather front on the way. However I've had a few days of bounce and energy so shouldn't complain - if the weather leaving me feeling like Tigger one day and not very how the next is the worst I can say about Wellington then it can't be that bad now can it =)

In fact this last weekend has been fantastic - been meaning to post for days...

It all started on Friday when a fairly mundane trip to the bank turned into a mini adventure (without the car...). I was wandering along past the lagoon and a rather large platform was being constructed on the water which looked like it wasn't going to leave much water uncovered, strange.... ah yes, the fire festival thingy for the Volvo Ocean Race... a few yards further it sank in (what it meant that is, not the raft) - the Volvo Ocean Race!!!! Already? Wow. There were people standing on the waterfront looking out at the water, maybes they are watching for a yacht coming in, so I watch for a wee while but don't see anything more impressive than usual out on the water so carry on taking my usual shortcut round the waterfront to the bank.

This was where I really did question my ability to think beyond the instant moment, to get to the bank I had to pass by Queens Wharf and yes, the Volvo Ocean Race yachts (not my pics I haven't got my film developed yet) - so much for my shortcut! However as ever I had my camera in my bag and got a few shots of them moored up, then pushed through the crowds to pay in my cheque. Being a glutton for punishment and wanting another go at getting a decent photo of the Pirates of the Caribbean banner the right way around I wended my way back the same route, watched some footage on the big screen of the yachts in action (far more impressive than them bobbing about with sails stowed and oilskins hung out to dry from the boom) and then finally realised what the people on the waterfront had been watching on my way past the first time - dolphins!!!! Three of them playing around in the harbour just 20 yards or so from the waterfront.

It was amazing watching the dolphins who seemed totally oblivious to the fact that there were hoards of school kids jumping off the wharf into the water nearby, and they seemed to like the busker. No point even trying to take photos (you see that dark streak in the water there, that's a dolphin that is, honest...) I just sat on the edge and watched them for ages. Would have sat for longer but I had a meal to cook for folk coming round and so the chilli that was going to have sat and slowly mellowed in its flavours ended up being somewhat rushed but no-one seemed to mind! Good company rounded off the day nicely.

Saturday saw a trip to Thorndon New World in the car with Frances - ok, not the most exciting date for most people's diaries but believe me when buying 48 rolls of loo roll at a time getting a lift makes my day! Then another meander along the waterfront catching the start of the Latin Beat celebrations before heading off to the cake tin to be baked whilst watching the Black Caps beat the Windies (translation - off to Westpac Stadium where it was very hot - when in the sun - to watch the New Zealand cricket team beat the West Indian team in a One Day International, and if you don't know what one of those is don't worry it'd take far too long to explain...). My first proper ODI, and my first ever cricket match where the team I was supporting won! Well Scotland vs Pakistan doesn't really count as an ODI and I've never seen them win, not that they always lose, just always when I'm there... Chris who I was with was supporting the Windies which seemed only fair as we're both Brits - one for each team! Some fantastic stroke play by the Windies but they also skyed a few too many catches and the fielding of the Black Caps appeared flawless.

After the match I left Chris to catch the end of Latin Beat and continued along the waterfront homewards... a warm still night (we do have some!), with clear skies, lots of stars and wonderful reflections of the city lights on the water. It really was Wellington at it's best. There's hardly any city light polution compared to Edinburgh so we get great night skies here. Had it not been for the fact that I had to set up for guests breakfast and get up early enough to feed them and set up for Meeting (having not managed to squeeze that in inbetween everything else!) I'd've been tempted to just sit and watch the world go by again and soak it all in.

As if that all hadn't been enough for one weekend I just managed to get up Mount Victoria after lunch on Sunday in time to watch the start of the next leg to Rio of the Volvo Ocean Race (hence all the Latin Beat stuff the night before). There was a flotilla of small boats accompanying the yachts out to the Cook Strait - great to see them under full sail, spinnakers and all. Much as I've dreamed since childhood of going on a Tall Ship or any ocean going sailing boat I think I'll hang out for a chance to go on something a little more sedate and built for stability and comfort rather than speed. Beautiful to watch as they might have been I prefered my vantage point on the hill to the prospect of being on 70' (no longer than a narrow boat!) of sleek nautical engineering powering through the swell with another 3 weeks to go before Rio with Cape Horn en route...

Friday, February 17, 2006


A couple of quotes have come my way in the last week on patience which 'spoke to my condition'...

"Hold to patience in your hearts, my friends, and put it into action when the situation calls for it. Don't let any abusive word from your neighbour stir up hatred in you, and don't allow any loss of things that pass away to upset you. If you are steadfast in fearing the loss of those things that last forever, you will never take seriously the loss of those that pass away; if you keep your eyes fixed on the glory of our eternal recompense you will not resent a temporal injury. You must bear with those who oppose you, but also love those you bear with. Seek an eternal reward in return for your temporal losses." --Gregory the Great

"You will be interested to hear that after giving my mum the Siemens phone to use "It has been a series of ups and downs" but she has "talked it through with her counsellor" and on the whole she feels it has been a positive thing. I have just received her new laptop and am booked in to give her some basic tuition, oh god help me etc etc..
Patience, n. - A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue. "
-- Leo P

Patience is something I've usually got a reasonable supply of, yet there are times when I want things done and dusted now, not next week/month/year but by yesterday/last week. I want to be able to go from beginner to expert without passing through years of tedious study and practice because the perfectionist streak in me doesn't like the frustrating stage of half understanding or knowing how something should be done but not being able to get it quite right.

One of the ways I've got around this is to rely on others when it comes to the things that I know I just haven't got a hope of getting as good as I need to be to satisfy my own standards (cheers all you techie people!), but I hadn't really considered before that alleviating my despair could well be contributing to someone else's.... humble apologies where due...

I'm not sure that I'm entirely convinced about 'eternal recompense', or even partially convinced come to that, and 'eternal rewards' sounds like I'd be quicker waiting for a decent integrated public transport system (a test of anyone's patience!). But I suspect in reality the rewards for such patience would normally, one would hope, arrive whilst still alive - if nothing else I guess you have the satisfaction of knowing at least you tried. Anyway a timely reminder none the less.

Cheers to Leo (via Jon & Dad!) and Liz for getting me thinking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

still alive, just not very awake

Well I don't know quite what happened to yesterday, I seemed to have slept through most of it. Ok so it was a busy morning; providing breakfast for B&B guests (again), 3 loads of washing, endless phonecalls, getting rooms ready for the next guests (yay a few days off first tho'!) etc etc. Then after lunch zonk...... my get up and go went back to bed, literally. Next thing I knew it was 7pm - hmmm, in theory I'm either too old or not old enough for an afternoon nap (a bit like railcards) and I'm in the wrong country for a siesta. However the humid weather probably didn't help matters.

Why so tired? I've just had a holiday! Probably too many nights of not sleeping so well, the fact that I seem to have become a human barometer (which I'd quite like to switch off, any suggestions?) as I feel every weather front going past in my head and joints, too many busy days/late-ish nights followed by early mornings (the definite down side to providing breakfasts! The company usually makes up for that though) but I probably shouldn't be that whacked even so.

It was good to have time with Si & Susie - the weather wasn't exactly doing it's best for them and the amazing views across the Hawkes Bay region had to be imagined. Apparently you can see Ruapehu from Te Mata peak, yeah sure and you can see Ireland from the Isle of Whithorn too, just never when I'm there... However the wine festival did it's bit and fortunately the wine was superior to the quality of the band at Matariki - altho' they did play I'm Gonna Be (500 miles) - where was Roz when we needed her eh?!

Recommendations - Moana Park Muscat & Rose, Mission Estate Pinos Griz, Icewine/Eiswine (can't remember how they spelt it) & Sauvingion Blanc, Sacred Hill Late Riesling (or maybe that was from somewhere else... I did write it all down on a piece of paper, along with the time...) and Church Road Viongnier but that was well overpriced compared to the others. Moana Park wines are vegan which is always a bonus. There was something good at Matariki but as it was the last one we got to I was hankering after a cuppa too much by that point to remember what it was... I reckon I drank more that day than I usually drink in a month, if not two (which says more about my usual low consumption levels than how much we drank!)

We also found Te Mata cheese - lots of goats and sheep milk cheeses so I could try some too =) The corn on the cob from one of the farm shops was just divine - so sweet, pity we didn't buy more. Ah well, back to Wellington prices for fruit and veg again now. At least it's still better than Edinburgh prices for the same.

Napier was odd - like a ghost town over the weekend altho' the Waitangi Day sales brought the locals back out of hiding and Mitre 10's carpark proved that holiday Mondays are just as much DIY orientated here as in the UK. Burton's Buildings and the Latham Arch raised the Art Deco's ratings somewhat by name association but on the whole the highlight of the town for us was the Singapore Restaurant on Sunday night!

Anyway I'd best toddle off again, I have the excitement of cleaning the loos before me still today!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

procrastination is the thief of time

ok, ok, the washing needs hung out, the floor needs hoovered and I still have a huge pile of invoices to write BUT I was logging off (honest) and I caught sight of my stars on the 'my yahoo' page. Now I'm somewhat skeptical to say the least about generic horoscopes but for some reason I still read them, if nothing else they do make me think about my life and why the horoscope either does or doesn't fit with it.

What caught me eye was this

We all have to make compromises to live in this modern society. You may have strong beliefs, but it is difficult to combine your ideals and your social life. Today, you may wonder if you are prepared to be edged out of society and to fight for your convictions. Shouldn't you try to find a compromise between life itself and your ideals?

It grabbed my attention because right now I am feeling as though I am having to 'fight for my convictions' (unquakerly as though that may sound!) and compromise on this occasion as far as I'm concerned is not an option, so no I don't feel as though I should.

What I would like to see instead is dialogue and understanding gained by someone who to be fair is coming from a point which many in society at large would identify with. Knowing that doesn't make it any easier, nor does having been in a similar situation before - that just makes it scary. Last time I didn't 'fight' but this time I'm not giving up. If that means putting myself out on the edge then so be it - it will be painful trying to sort it out but it can't be worse than not doing so was.

off to recharge my batteries

I'm off to Napier on Saturday for Waitangi weekend, nope not the Garvald house where I used to work nor the university in Edinburgh but the east coast art deco town on Hawkes Bay =)

Can't wait...

a) because I'll get to spend time with Simon & Susie (who are over from Edinburgh) who I miss heaps
b) because I'm exhausted and need a break from the intensity of life, work and play all being in the same headspace
c) because I'm hoping that some physical distance between me and Welly will do me some good.

I still love being here but my head hurts and I need time out. Summer Gathering was time away but not really time off. I need time to just be, catching up with all the gossip and news from the rest of the world I left behind me, pootling about letting someone else decide where I'm going next and what to do with my day along with a good supply of hugs. Couldn't have picked a better couple for it. However I'm in a better state than last time we holidayed in New Zealand together 2 yrs ago (for starters you don't get jetlag from an intercity coach journey and I'm better used to the weather!) and that trip was just what I needed, I'm sure this will be too.

The downside of going away is how much I now need to get done before I get the coach, ouch - ho hum, every silver lining has a cloud an' all that....