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Love and faithfulness

A while ago I read parts of a book on the parish of St Mary’s in Timaru, called “Love and Faithfulness”. There are some inspirational stories of faithful people in the book, but also aspects of the Parish’s history that show only too plainly human failings. In fact, ecclesiastical matters did not start off well in Timaru. The Rev George Foster arrived in Timaru in December 1859 as the first vicar. Initially, services were held in homes, but under the direction of their vicar, settlers soon turned their mind to building a church. The foundation stone was laid in April 1860 and the building was dedicated April 1861.

Rev Foster was not only responsible for Timaru, but also travelled throughout South Canterbury to hold services. The Parish had built a vicarage, but Rev Foster did not stay there for long, instead moving just outside of Timaru to farm there and supplement his income. The fact that he lived outside of Timaru and sometimes seemed distracted from pastoral duties meant that many parishioners were discontent with their Vicar. From 1870 onwards, some parishioners tried to get the Rev Foster to leave. While the disagreements initially did not seem that significant, the way in which both Vicar and Parish dealt with them aggravated the situation. In 1875 the Parish requested the Bishop to appoint a commission to look into the state of the Parish. No commission was appointed, but the Bishop asked Rev Foster to resign. Rev Foster resisted that. He wanted a payout and an annual amount for several years. After agreeing to arbitration, Rev Foster abruptly withdrew from that. Indeed, the Vicar obstructed any investigation, arbitration, or resolution. He also did not submit to a tribunal established by General Synod. In the end in late 1875 the Bishop cancelled his licence. Rev Foster left Timaru and settled at Hilton, near Geraldine, where he continued farming.

Reading that account made it clear that even in the good old days human failings all too frequently made church life difficult. Just like today, clergy were all too human, protecting their own patch and even their financial interests. Despite that, the light of Christ shines through. That is always something to be grateful for.