At the height of his spending addiction, Wellington's new Anglican dean Digby Wilkinson was "in a black hole" and didn't know if he would ever get out.
In 2003, the pastor was 37 years old and addicted to spending, going as far as committing insurance fraud and stealing from members of his church to fuel his need.
Now he is the senior pastor at Palmerston North's Central Baptist Church, and preparing for a relocation to Wellington after being named the dean of Wellington's Anglican Cathedral of St Paul.
Speaking to The Dominion Post before he takes up the position in January, Mr Wilkinson said that he had been battling depression and anxiety when the addiction began to worsen while he worked as a minister in Tauranga.
"I enjoyed my role but developed an addiction to spending. It was an incessant need to own mountain bikes - but they were not the problem, just the symptom. I lived in the space between loathing myself and not feeling happy in life. It became clear soon enough that I couldn't keep it going."
Over almost two years, he fraudulently claimed almost $8000 in insurance on items such as cameras, and stole a $5400 laptop from a church office before selling it back to the church. "I was in a black hole for quite a long time."
The addiction came to a head when Mr Wilkinson made the "childish decision" to hide one of the mountain bikes under the church. He was arrested and later sentenced to 175 hours' community service on charges of fraud, theft and burglary.
The arrest started him on the long path to redemption, with the church and his wife Jane helping him through. "It makes you understand a little bit of what people go through. We all have a theory of what grace and forgiveness looks like and the concept of a sin. We all have chapters which we would rather have go unpublished, but when you are suddenly confronted with your own wrongdoing you go from being a theological sinner to a real one."
In time, the church encouraged him to become ordained and to use his experiences to help others in the community. He is looking forward to using those experiences to connect with his new congregation in Wellington. "Something like this, it's part of your life that becomes a chapter. You can't undo your history but you can remove the power of your history over your future. My story is one of difficulty, but it's also one of redemption and recovery."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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