It was very humbling to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato in New Zealand the other day, shared with my old friend and confrere Bishop Denis Browne Bishop emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Hamilton. We were both made a doctor of the local university, partly on the basis of our shared ministry in the area over a twenty year period. The University news described the lead up to the graduation as follows:
Both have supported the chaplaincy at the University of Waikato, and have often led their communities in joint liturgical services – a practice that still continues with their respective successors.
University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley says their honour is well-deserved.
“Both David and Denis have worked tirelessly in pursuit of church and community wellness, in the Waikato region in particular, so it’s fitting they both receive Honorary Doctorates together.”
I value this unexpected recognition by a secular university without a theology faculty, because it signals once again that Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops can cooperate together for the common good in in depth and long term ways, in ways that the community need and appreciate.
The work that engaged us most as bishops early on and throughout our time together was support for the creation of a Christian social service village in the city of Hamilton, out of a Roman Catholic retreat and conference centre. The Catholic diocese graciously made the transition possible, from their compound to a community facility. The new village, called “Te Ara Hou; the new way” was the original dream child of Karen Morrison Hume, the Anglican Action Missioner, and sought to be a one stop shop for people in need of advocacy and enablement. Over 7 agencies came together in the village in the end , both faith based and NGO groups It quickly grew to a community of over 150 community workers serving over 5,000 people. An Anglican friary moved into the heart of the village occupying the previous Catholic bishop's house which had also been Karen’s home for a time. The ancient maori roots of the land were re-identified and bicultural and multicultural protocols governed much of the life of the village. The Catholic chapel at the centre of the village, dedicated to St Peter Chanel, became a sacred space for everyone.
The Anglican office for the Waikato area also built there and identified the bishopric of Waikato with this missional village community. Bishop Denis and I were also pleased to be involved in other community facing initiatives around housing, mutual support through St Vincent De Paul street mission and a care for the environment over the 20 years we shared together in the region. We opposed the building of a casino in the city as well as the aerial spraying of the city with an insecticide.
Underling this partnership was prayer and we enjoyed, including shared ash Wednesday liturgies for nearly all of the 20 years in each other’s cathedrals and churches. We also shared many meals in each other’s houses.
This kind of partnership, by the grace of God, is precisely the point of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM), to foster partnerships of this kind all over the world. At least 15 pairs of such bishops will be coming to Rome in early October as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, to be blessed and commissioned by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the ancient monastery of San Gregorio, from where Pope St Gregory sent St Augustine to England in 595.
The more we share the stronger we are: “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together” .
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