15 06 2015


The rainbow came out while my back was toward it.

Of course.

Actually, by the time I reached the edge of the bay, the tide limiting our onward path, and turned back towards where the rainbow had been, it was gone.

Fortunately there was dog poop.  As I turned from picking up after Charlie, I saw the rainbow.

It seemed, in that moment, so true.  That the rainbow comes out while our back is turned.

I thought about what to write.

There might be a poem, if there wasn’t an essay due tomorrow.  Some finely crafted piece of writing, if I didn’t need to hastily garden before the green waste collection service comes in the morning.  I would work that metaphor for its truth about walking down the beach in a bad mood, or about the graces I don’t or won’t see…  Or something.

But there is an essay due tomorrow (and it isn’t finished yet).

And the garden does need weeding and the bathrooms need cleaning.  And the dinner needs making. And that essay, even when it has all the words and ideas it needs, will need editing.

So let it simply be said: the rainbow came out while my back was turned.

Also: thank goodness for dog’s doing their business.

There’s a Woman in the Pulpit

5 05 2015
A woman in the pulpit with "A Woman in the Pulpit"

A woman in the pulpit with “A Woman in the Pulpit”

It began for me in 2009.  I was awarded a sabbatical scholarship and began to write a blog as a way of sharing the fruits of my study.  I had enjoyed reading other blogs – and found a community of women clergy (and their friends) from around the world who were also publishing their words on the web.  I found company in their writing: challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  And when I moved to China where there weren’t many English-speaking, liturgical ordained women, the virtual friendships became even more important.

Now there’s a book.  And it’s a great book.  And I’m not just saying that because it includes a story about the community I was a pastor with when I lived in China.  I’m saying that because in it you will experience challenge and friendship and words of hope and grace.  It is full of women writing with warmth and wit and wisdom about what it is like to be a woman in the pulpit, and a woman in the home, the hospital, the baptistry, the paddock, the graveyard and all the other places our ministries take us.

When you enter ministry you don’t really know what it will be like.  You cobble together some impressions and you get some education and you take careful notes at the field education seminars.  Then they let you loose* to preside at communion and to baptise; to sit with the dying and to show up for the bereaved; to be invited into the moments of joy and vulnerability and ordinariness that comprise people’s lives.  What a life! (*in my tradition they less let you loose and more ordain and license you but it still feels a bit wild sometimes!)

If you would like to catch glimpses of this life, ‘There’s a Woman in the Pulpit’ is a great book to read.  If you need company in your ministry, this is a great book to read.  If someone you know is in ministry and you’d like to understand a bit more about what their life is like, this is a great book to read.  If you are interested in the diversity of women’s experiences, this is a great book to read.  If you like funny books, this is a great book to read.  If you like books that challenge and provoke, this is a great book to read.  If you want to get up close and personal with life and death and hope and love and grace and mercy; with water, word, wine or wool; with women in ministry from 5 countries and 14 denominations… with any or all of that I highly recommend this book.

All the ordering information is at the RevGals site.

You can also order it from Good Books and support Oxfam at the same time.  The price includes shipping worldwide:


25 04 2015

I’m a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and, as such, believe that the waging of war is incompatible with Christian life.  It is also true that other Christians believe differently, and, however we believe, war is an ever-present reality in our world.

I have family members who served in the war and others who were members of the Armed Forces.  They, in good conscience, believed that it was the right and good thing for them to do.  My mother served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

It is complicated.  We should remember war, those who died and those who mourn.  We should remember because war is costly and I long for the day when war is only to be remembered.

Here are some words I wrote for the beginning of worship this Sunday at All Saints in Howick.  The bit about hoping war will bring a better world is the tricky bit for me.  I’m not sure war can make the world better, but I do think that those that go to war hope that things will be better than they are.  That the tyrants and bullies will be halted.  That peace will come.

Yesterday was ANZAC Day and this year we have remembered the 100th Anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli.

Some of you are have family members who served in the First World War,

some of you served in other wars.

This morning we remember.

We remember not to glorify or sentimentalise war.

We remember because war is bloody,

war scars people and places,

even as we hope that it will bring a better world.


We remember the soldiers.

We remember the soldiers who fought,

those who died,

and those who mourned, who still mourn, their passing.


We remember the medics, the nurses, the drivers.

The code-breakers, translators and chaplains.


We remember those who would not go to war.

Those whose courage was shown in conscientious objection.


We remember all those who live with the consequences of war.


We remember because we are the people who worship the Prince of Peace.


We are called to work and pray for that day

when the lion and lamb lie down together,

when swords are beaten into ploughshares

when we do not know war anymore.

That day is not yet,

and so we keep a moment of silence together.


Amen. Come Christ Jesus come.

What a year

8 03 2015

It felt familiar.  Buildings full of academics and classrooms.  A university campus.  This last week was my first week back at university.  I’ve started a MCouns (Master of Counselling) degree at the University of Auckland.  And it feels like being in the right place, doing the right thing.  Even if its a kind of daunting thing with the hundreds of pages of reading a week, the hours of practical work and the whole matter of being filmed while counselling so that I can analyse my work.

It is about a year and two weeks since Andrew and I told the Congregation of the Good Shepherd that we would be leaving Beijing.  There are long and short versions of that story but the short one goes like this: we do not live in China any more.  There are good things and hard things about that.

We live in New Zealand now.  There are good things and hard things about that too. Andrew has been the Vicar of All Saints, Howick for nine months now and since October I have been the Priest Associate working with children, young people and their families in the same parish.

Some things that are true about the past year:

Reverse culture shock is a real thing.

I still sometimes rehearse conversations about utilities and other things in Mandarin before I make a phone call.  This is not actually necessary.  Old habits die hard! I do it less than I did six months ago.

We are very glad to see friends and family.  We can read all the ingredients on labels in supermarkets.  The air is clean.  The sea is beautiful.

Beijing was large and lively and flat and easy to bicycle around.  Good friends live there.  I loved being a pastor at the Congregation of the Good Shepherd.

When leaving New Zealand four years ago we did not know if we would make our home here again.

I am homesick, sometimes, for Beijing.

I am making my home here in this new place.

A friend gave me the tile pictured below.  It is helping me make sense of this season of transition.  Home is this place, where I put things on the wall and vacuum the carpet and chop the vegetables.

We share our home with Mike Crudge.  He’s smart and thoughtful and we’re glad to have an ecumenical vicarage.  You might enjoy his blog.

I got accepted in the MCouns programme and the St Johns Trust gave me some scholarship money and I am studying counselling and that feels good and right.

We got a dog a week ago.  His name is Charlie.  He came from the Humane Society.  He is scared of hands and feet if they move suddenly or belong to strangers.  We are helping him grow in confidence and trust.  We love him already.

It is hard to imagine that a year ago it was spring in Beijing and we were emerging from freezing temperatures and two weeks of fireworks and didn’t know what or where was next.  It has been quite the year.

The Little White Box tile


The Long Silence

28 02 2014

In May, Andrew and I will be leaving China.

It’s a long story, and the most immediate chapter began just when I would have been writing about Advent.  It coloured our home leave.  It required long silences as we waited to see what there would be to say.

Leaving China wasn’t the plan.  But it became clearer that it was how it was going to go.

One of the graces of the situation is that our need to leave coincided with a vacancy in a New Zealand church that Andrew was very excited about.  He applied for that position, and has been appointed to be the new Vicar of All Saints, Howick.  I’m not exactly sure what I will be doing, but some study is on the agenda.  And I’ll need some income so some kind of work.  I’m hoping for the kind of work that I’m passionate about: work that connects spirituality and context, meaning-making, liturgy-loving, multigenerational community kind of work.  But that’s in the wait and see category!

I have loved China.

Well, more accurately I have loved living in China.  I have especially loved being the Co-Pastor of the Congregation of the Good Shepherd.

Leaving is hard.  Not just the work of sorting and filing and planning and packing.  Leaving this community, these people, this place.  In twelve weeks time, we will no longer live in China.  In twelve weeks time, we will live in Howick.


For All the Saints

2 11 2013

We’re in a remembering season in the church.  Yesterday was All Saints Day, and today All Souls, when we remember those who have gone before us, that we belong to a community that is larger than just those who are now living.  Tomorrow at church we will have an opportunity to say the names of those that we love and see no longer – to remember and give thanks for them.

Sometimes this remembering is confined to those who have died in the past year.  In our congregation we invite people to remember anyone who they wish to hold close at this time. This year I’m particularly thinking of some of the women in my life who helped me grow into faith.

Mrs Brown, as I respectfully called her, was my next door neighbour.  When I turned five she asked my mother if she could take me to Sunday School.  This seemed very exciting to me, it involved dressing in my “good clothes” and going off to a place with red carpet and beautiful stained glass.  I got to hold a hymnal of my own, and then go over to the church hall for Sunday School classes.  While at first I’m pretty sure it was the aesthetically appealing environment that drew me in, it was the beginning of a faith that has shaped my life.  Thank you Mrs Brown (Gladys).  Your hospitality and care set the course of my life in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

Mrs Flyger.  Ev, as I came to call her, was someone else that Mrs Brown drove to church.  She had a dog called Minka, loved to knit and crochet, and lived just around the corner from our house.  Once I was old enough I would go to visit on a Saturday afternoon.  Ev taught me to cook, to craft, and she had absolute faith in my ability to do anything I set my mind to.  Staying overnight at her house was always a treat – there was always pudding and late-night television and all the love and care a surrogate grandmother could offer.  Ev gave me the celtic cross she had worn on her wedding day for my 21st birthday.  I wear it still for special occasions and when I’m doing things that I’m not sure I’m really capable of!  Thank you Ev.  Your love sustained me through adolescent angst, my cooking and crafting is the better for having known you and I have no idea what you’d make of my living in China but it sure would be fun to tell you the stories!

Grandmother.  She was Andrew’s grandmother actually, but invited me after we were married to no longer call her Mrs Caswell but to refer to her as grandmother too.  It wasn’t ever shortened – that wasn’t the kind of woman she was.  If you gave her a gift she really liked, it was pronounced “most acceptable”.  She didn’t really support the ordination of women, but, ever-gracious, she was at my ordination both as a deacon and a priest.  She apologised in advance that she wouldn’t be able to receive Communion from me but at my ordination it would be alright to bring her Communion in her seat as the Bishop would have consecrated it and that was therefore acceptable.  The following day I presided at Communion for the first time, and to my surprise, she came to the altar rail and received bread into her hands.  It wasn’t proper to challenge the Bishop’s authority – he had ordained me so I was a priest!  I keep a little wooden carved St Francis by my desk that had belonged to her.  It reminds me to be gracious.  It reminds me that it is possible to think about things in a different way, to come to a different conclusion.  Thank you Grandmother.  You were a faithful example of a woman who loved God and served others.  Your strength and determination shone.

May they rest in peace and rise in glory

and may God give us the grace to follow the saints in faith and hope and love…

Lessons the Sabbatical Dog is teaching me

14 09 2013


We currently have the great joy of looking after a congregational dog while her owner is back in the United Stated for six months.  Here are some of the things I’ve learnt in the first month with her…

I definitely still have a New Zealand accent.  

[In Chinese] “What is the dog’s name?”


“Tiddy” (no Australian/Canadian mocking of the NZ vowels, just an earnest effort to say exactly what I said)

“Yes, Teddy”

“She’s very beautiful”

My Chinese is okay.  

I went to the pet shop to buy Teddy a new brush.  Being brushed is not her favourite thing, but I was worried about the knots she was getting behind her ears (don’t want the groomer to report my negligence to her owner!).  With a little bit of miming (I didn’t know the word for brush) I managed to ask for a dog brush.  They showed me the options

“Do you have a smaller one?”

“This one?”

“Do you have something a little smaller?”

“Oh, an especially small one.  We have this.  But it is for a cat”

“She is not a cat.”

“Well, this one then?”

“Okay.  But she doesn’t like this thing.  I will also need small snacks” (yep, went to the pet shop without the word for “brush” or “treats”.

“These ones are especially good tasting”

“I’ll take both” (and the accompanying small sense of triumph about getting by in Chinese in this conversation)

My Chinese is really awful.

There are too many examples to mention.  But the very day I triumphantly bought the brush I failed to understand at least half a dozen questions asked about the dog while walking her.  I can say she is a girl (after the first week I learned that there are different words for the sex of humans and animals), that she’s seven years old, that she belongs to a friend who is working in America for a few months, that she has been spayed, that I don’t know the Chinese name for her breed (half schnauzer, half poodle, conveniently a schnoodle in English) but then my conversation pretty much runs out…

There are advantages to not understanding Chinese.  

About the only time I enjoy not understanding the many many things I fail to understand on a daily basis is when the old woman shouts at me as I walk Teddy in the garden in the compound.  She shouts and wags her finger.  Teddy is a very well-behaved dog, walks politely, I pick up the poop so I really have no idea what her problem is.  I am glad that of the many ways I know to say “I don’t understand” I can very politely explain that I am terribly sorry that I speak Chinese so poorly!  It is one of my most grammatically sophisticated sentences and I really enjoy the irony of rolling it out in the face of a situation where I am not comprehending a word!  There is also something about having no idea why you are being berated that makes it especially easy to let go of…

Dogs bring joy and perspective

Walks, breaks from writing to throw the ball, toilet breaks… dogs are good reminders not to take it all so seriously.

her ball and mine - time for fun!


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