Scholarly Dean a brilliant preacher

01:00, Jul 26 2014
lynda patterson

Lynda Patterson clung to the hope that a start would be made on a new cathedral for Christchurch within her second 10 years in the city. She did not live to see this hope realised. Not a stone had been laid when she died at home last Sunday after a short illness.

Her second 10 years in the city had barely started. Just seven months had passed since she was installed as Dean at the Transitional Cathedral. She was 40.

Inspiring preacher, caring pastor, scholarly theologian, Patterson remained a cheerful, down-to-earth soul. In her short time in Christchurch, she made an impression as great as her considerable physical stature.

Friend and colleague the Rev Dr Peter Carrell of Theology House, Upper Riccarton, says Patterson was "wonderful to work with".

"We co-ordinated two Lenten Bible study books. She brought a keen intellect, a wealth of Biblical knowledge and a great deal of humour to the task. She was a brilliant writer and a brilliant speaker. A friend to everyone, she was very popular. She had amazing acceptance of people. She took them as she found them and coped with their diversity," Carrell says.

Patterson was appointed director of Theology House (then in Merivale) in 2006 and assistant to Dean Peter Beck at the cathedral. She became theologian in residence in 2008. When Beck resigned in 2011, Patterson took the role of acting dean. She was appointed dean last November and ceremonially installed in December.


It was a rapid progression for a woman cleric in the Church of England, more so as she had been ordained a priest as late as 2005.

The farm girl from County Down, Northern Ireland, had her first inkling of a religious vocation at a communion service in Dromore as a 6-year-old. Speaking to The Press last year she described feeling the "sense of the priest in the service binding the people together" in the liturgical rite. The inkling developed into a sense of purpose at her confirmation seven years later. "I got this overwhelming sense of love of God and of calling," she said of this ceremony.

She studied theology at Oxford and lectured there from the age of 23. She had intended doing a doctorate but her classes were so popular and she enjoyed the teaching so much she never got around to it.

"It (Oxford) was a highly entertaining place to be. I got a sense of call to ministry there," she says. She began as a lay chaplain in her non-conformist college but soon found herself drawn more strongly to the high-church Anglican traditions, liturgies and sacraments that she came to love.

"This shaped my sense of vocation," she said.

She applied to do a course towards ministry in the church but was advised to take a sabbatical first and do some travel. She had been fascinated by New Zealand since, as a child, she had seen an old Mercator-projection world map which showed New Zealand at both ends. Surely a country that appeared twice on the map must be worth visiting, she thought. And so she travelled here.

As the plane descended over the Southern Alps, Patterson caught her first sight of New Zealand. She said, from the moment she spotted the snow-covered mountains, she knew Canterbury would one day be her home.

In her six-week stay she made lifelong friends in Christchurch and was taken around much of the South Island. It reinforced her feeling this was where she belonged.

Meanwhile, though, she had to return to England. There, new friends from New Zealand called and visited her. They urged her to come back.

Patterson's reply was: "Find me a sympathetic bishop and I would come back tomorrow." So one of her friends put her in touch with then Christchurch Bishop, David Coles. He said if she were accepted for the ministry, he would give her a year's trial. That was all the assurance Patterson needed and, in 2003, she packed her bags and returned to Christchurch.

Her first year in New Zealand involved becoming "acclimatised to New Zealand culture", as she expressed it. This included learning Maori and studying for church ministry, in Christchurch and Auckland. Coles ordained her as a deacon in 2004 and a priest one year later.

Patterson saw the Anglican community of Christchurch as a "huge well of talent, much of it self- effacing, (with a) commitment to quietly get on and get things done, with no great self-promotion".

This was "one of the most appealing attributes of many New Zealanders", she added. She was "excited" by the church's recognition of cultural differences and its determination to find ways for diverse groups to work together.

She enjoyed living alone in the lower socio-economic environment of Linwood and among parishioners of St John's, Latimer Square, where the Transitional Cathedral would later rise. She recognised a dual role for the church. She believed it must honour its responsibility to "the least, the last and the lost" by ministering to the material, as well as spiritual, needs of the poor and oppressed.

Describing herself as "liturgically fairly catholic and theologically fairly liberal - a liberal catholic", she acknowledged a duty also to provide a beautiful and inspiring setting dedicated to the glory of God and upholding traditional rituals and liturgies "in all their theatrical wonder".

While aware of being Christchurch's first woman dean, she said she had left the issue of gender in the church ministry behind when she moved to New Zealand.

Patterson combined her ministry with her leisure interests in running monthly theology discussion sessions at Christchurch's Goodbye Blue Monday bar. Joint owner Garry Moore says the discussions attracted a wide range of people, many of them regulars but also some notable visitors from overseas.

"People used to queue up to hear her. She was incapable of delivering anything other than spiritually uplifting and hilariously funny homilies," Moore says.

She lived simply and she liked a drink. She was not interested in material things. However, the more he got to know her, the more he felt she was shy and a little sad.

"I think she used bonhomie as a cover," Moore says.

Bishop Victoria Matthews said Patterson was "highly respected" for her extraordinary preaching and teaching. She was a great pastor who brought compassion and appropriate humour to every situation.

Beck described her as "a treasure, an amazing theologian, and probably the finest preacher I've ever heard".

The Press