Heritage is a valuable thing. The Jews looked back to the Exodus, as well as the Mesopotamian man of Chaldean Ur, Abram, whose father was a pagan, for their sense of origin and being. Abraham was therefore an ‘Iraqi.’ “Hebrews” –descendants of Eber.
We look back to 1852 when St Paul’s was built inside and from the timber stand that was Papanui Bush (basically where Northlands is now over to Greers Rd, thus “Sawyers Arms Rd”), cut down to heat, build and cook emerging Christchurch, by about 1853. Papanui Rd is the ox track down which that timber was hauled to Christchurch, which took a day through the bogs. Much of that timber is inside our church. I wrote this poem (below) on the occasion of our 2018 special meeting, and it reflects somewhat on that heritage.
Perhaps many of us look back to the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 as the beginnings of our nationhood. Maori look back much further, to perhaps the 1200s~, and to the Islands: Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, the Cooks, the Society Islands.
There is an unusual verse in Hebrews (11:15) that says, “If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.”
Keith Green sings about this in his hilarious but poignant song and album “So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt?” You can hear that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_No9sI69oQ.
Keith Green is also the writer of There Is A Redeemer, Jesus God’s own Son, that we often sing together in church.
The Hebrews verse is not so much about geography as attitude; wanting to return to the comfort and similarity of before; to “Golden Weather;” perhaps a halcyon childhood or perhaps past relationships, jobs, status, contexts. But God was calling Israel into deserts, wastelands, Marah: Bitter Waters and then, and only then, a land
of Milk and Honey.
This is an exemplar of our sojourn on this earth. For a time we endure trouble and frustration (wastelands) before the Kingdom comes fully (Promised Land). Jesus promised his disciples in Matthew 24: 9, 10 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other.”
St Paul’s, Papanui
by John Stringer
Beautifully fitted wooden beams and buttresses from trees cut down in 1850, soaring still above worshipful bowed heads, murmured prayers through the branches of life.
The gravestones of the faithful who have gone before clustered round the church as a phalanx of limestone warriors, a sacred ring of standing stones.
Fallen leaves patter down each autumn to accompany Wednesday and Sunday pealing bells of the wooden-clothed carillon, ringing out “the Past is Here.”
Cups of tea, Christmas tree, moral-ity, in the lee, of a gone nuts over sex and identity, self verse community, service verse vice, and vice-versity.
St Paul stares down with the Pre-Raphaelite austerity, lit by light from nature’s glow through the win-dow of this sanctuary, positing slivers of colour on each sacred face.
Springing child, hoary head, man in prime, woman aglow, the community of saints gathered in song, in prayer, in liturgy illuminated via lithium glow screen.
Weathered pews of oiled wood, worn smooth by generations of passing holy hands, a nest around eggs: a blue hymnal, a bible, a prayer book, keys, a cellphone.
St Paul’s “Papa-nui.” Gathering place of spiritus sanctus doves of flight, light and love amidst trees long gone, a forest of faith soaring up as the cathedral of this place.
St Paul’s, special AGM, 9 September 2018.