Seven years on for bishop

22:19, Dec 18 2013
Bishop of Nelson, Richard Ellena
SING-A-LONG: The Bishop of Nelson, Richard Ellena, tries to get people at the Christmas Eve Carols on the Church Hill to sing louder.

It is almost seven years since Richard Ellena moved over from Blenheim to become Anglican Bishop of Nelson. At this important time of the year he took two minutes from a busy schedule to chat with The Leader.

We're told life stages follow seven-year cycles. What are three noteworthy things in your life since moving here in the new year of 2007?

1. Making the decision in 2009 to walk the boundaries of the diocese - 1000km in 40 days. At the time someone in the diocesan office asked, quite properly I guess, whether this was a good use of the bishop's time. In retrospect I can't think of a better use of my time during the past seven years.

2. Walking the breast cancer journey with my wife during 2012.

3. Making the decision to live communally this year with our son and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren

Do you have any special plans for the next seven years?

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We have developed a long-term strategic plan for the church but personally my plans are to take every opportunity to grow deeper in my faith, simpler in my life, more loving with others, more honest with myself.

What do you like most about living in Nelson? And if you had the power to make one change, what would it be?

Nelson is a stunning city and I think we take it for granted. Every single time I fly back into the city (even after a day away) and drive around Rocks Rd, I am so aware of the privilege of living here and wonder what I have done to deserve such a privilege. If I could change one thing it would be to have less division and more unity when it comes to a vision for the city. I get so disappointed when great ideas come to nothing because of the "knockers."

We're told that nationally church numbers are in decline. What is the state of the church you lead in Nelson?

We're holding our own - certainly over the last two or three years. Within Nelson City itself we have four Anglican parishes that are being led by a new generation of leaders and we are seeing families coming, asking questions about faith. Young people are probably more spiritual than my generation (the baby boomers) were at the same age, but are not drawn to institutionalised religion. This is an exciting challenge - particularly for a church like ours that is clearly institutional!

What is one thing about you that few people would know?

That my name is really Victor Richard Ellena - a family name that has been handed down. Would have originally been Vittorio (my Italian roots).

I can't think of anything really - I try and live my life totally transparently. My wife would say I'm an open book . . .

What would be the most common thing people ask you when meeting you for the first time?

What does a bishop do? - still trying to find a good answer to that!

What is the single most important message you would like to communicate to the people of Nelson, regardless of where they stand on matters of faith?

That acceptance and forgiveness are foundational to the creation of a healthy society. Nelson Mandela certainly lived this axiom - paramount in the teaching of Jesus.

How will you spend Christmas Day?

Going to church - three times (and loving every moment of it). Having a nice chilled chardonnay at lunchtime while ringing our daughter and son-in-law overseas. And then spend the evening with close friends.

If in other circumstances your sole task on Christmas Day was to cook a splendid family dinner, what would be on the menu?

I love to do a chicken on the rotisserie with roast spuds (heaps of them).

Nelson