Archbishop 'overwhelmed' by appointment

FAMILY FAITH: New archbishop Philip Richardson with his wife Belinda, daughter Clare, 20, and son Josh, 23, at their New Plymouth home.
FAMILY FAITH: New archbishop Philip Richardson with his wife Belinda, daughter Clare, 20, and son Josh, 23, at their New Plymouth home.

When Taranaki's Philip Richardson was named the new archbishop for New Zealand's 500,000 strong Anglican community, he said it was like being hit by a bus.

"Well, perhaps that's not the best way to put it," he said at his New Plymouth home yesterday, less than 24 hours after getting the top job. "What was overwhelming was the strong sense of people's confidence in what I would bring to the role."

At 55, the father of two is young for an archbishop, which he jokes is usually the last job you get before retirement. But having been the Bishop of Taranaki since 1999 and a priest since 1982, his relative lack of mortal years do not leave him short of experience.

From May 1, Archbishop Richardson will jointly head the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia with two other archbishops. He will also continue his work as the Bishop of Taranaki.

"They say it's about 50/50. So half the time I might be attending archbishop business and the other half I will be here," he said.

During his seven years at the head of the church, he will deal with the debate on whether to allow gay marriage. It was too early in his tenure yet to say where the church stands but its stance on the matter should be ready by next year, he told Radio New Zealand.

But right now he wants to ensure better collaboration among the country's Anglicans and focus on helping society's most vulnerable members.

"God's deepest concern is for the most at risk, the most vulnerable, most marginalised; those hurting the most. If that is God's deepest concern, that should the church's deepest concerns.

"The gap between rich and poor is growing. We are seeing that evidence among our most vulnerable. This is our children. There is an unacceptable level of malnutrition in our children. We have an unacceptably high rate of violence against women and children and we have an appalling record of recidivism. We have to shift the debate on crime and punishment," he said.

He is already behind such a shift. His condemnation of the closure of New Plymouth Prison and the impact it would have on prisoners' chances of rehabilitation put pressure on Corrections to commit to a world-leading reintegration centre in the city.

His church's Bishop Action Foundation also offers a variety of services, including afterschool care, elderly care and even emergency management.

It was the church's responsibility to make a difference, he said.

With the Anglican Church having New Zealand's largest Christian denomination, at 554,925 in the last count in 2006, Archbishop Richardson is nonetheless expecting a decline in numbers when the results of the latest census come out.

"But actual worship attendance has stayed fairly constant. About 80 per cent of New Zealanders believe in a higher power. It's not that we are moving into an atheistic environment. It's just there are a whole range of spiritualities in the market place.

As archbishop, he will work alongside Archbishop Brown Turei, who leads Tikanga Maori, and Archbishop Winston Halapua, who is the Bishop of Polynesia.

Taranaki Daily News