Lead role a sign of 'God's humour'

Last updated 05:00 27/12/2013
Philip Richardson
ANDY JACKSON/FAIRFAX NZ
TEAM LEADER: Philip Richardson, the Archbishop of New Zealand’s 500,000 strong Anglican community, was named to the top job in March.

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Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson is under the watchful gaze of his boss 24 hours a day.

He doesn't mind the surveillance as he's always had a good relationship with the "boss upstairs". However, he hasn't always looked as fondly on the institution that worships Him.

He openly talks of the times he was on the edge of the church, involved with academia, and fervently pointing the finger at those at the centre of the institution.

"I often think it's God's humour that I am where I am now.

"I've always had a love-hate relationship with the church, especially after returning from India," he said.

On his early overseas travels he was confronted with poverty unlike any he knew and when he came back to St John's theological college in Auckland he was disillusioned with the church.

"It was difficult coming back to a land I saw as incredibly, outrageously privileged. I always thought the church should somehow be the counter culture to all of that privilege," he said.

Archbishop Richardson is now at the heart of the very institution he once dismissed for not knowing how to serve the most vulnerable and marginalised of the community.

In March he was named the new Archbishop of New Zealand's half-a-million strong Anglican community, jointly heading the church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

He has also continued as the Bishop of Taranaki, a role he has had since 1999.

It is through immersing himself in the culture of the Anglican community that he has begun to see the work being done by the church.

The Anglican Church is the second-largest provider of social services in New Zealand, running organisations like the Auckland City Mission and leaving the archbishop describing church volunteers across the country as "heroes".

"The reality of my role is that it is all about the team. It's about how you can support the whole community and those folk on the ground who are doing the work.

"As it turns out, there is more of the church in the margin than I expected to find.

"Not all of the institution is flash clothes and pounamu crosses," he says gesturing to his garb as if he'd rather sell his greenstone cross to clothe the poor.

Sometimes Archbishop Richardson, who was also the founder of Taranaki's Bishop's Action Foundation, feels he has taken the reins of a job that is never-ending.

In a recent 60-day period he spent a mere five nights at home with his wife Belinda and his children Clare, 21, and Josh, 23.

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With a relentless schedule, dotted across the globe, he has learnt to appreciate the quiet moments.

Driving from Hamilton to New Plymouth means he is in patchy cellphone reception.

He describes that as the only time he ever truly gets to himself, and he uses it to listen to music.

Life has been almost too busy since he was lauded after the announcement of his appointment.

Many believed he would be a liberal leader and help the church deal with the growing controversy around the Marriage Amendment Bill. That bill is now legislation and the Anglican Church is looking at the possible outcome for the institution.

The views within the parishes are as varied as those across society, with many people reading the same piece of scripture and interpreting it differently, he said.

That's why the Anglican Church is awaiting the completion of two major commissions.

At next year's synod the church's position on marriage will be discussed in great detail and Archbishop Richardson hoped it would help lead to a consensus.

"We have been working as a church to pray together, study those scriptures together and understand human sexuality together," he said.

Despite the challenging nature of his role the archbishop considers himself lucky. "I am so blessed to have such a loving family and such a great team of people around me.

"To see members of our church doing good around the country is humbling. It all goes back to the team, everything goes back to them."

- Taranaki Daily News

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