The cost of living

One of the first things you notice about New Zealand, apart from the small population, absence of traffic jams and clarity of the sky (no pollution), is how much things cost: and they cost a lot.

The cheap food culture of the UK and indeed the EU, lulls you into a false sense of security in some ways, but New Zealand prices are a shock.

A small shop of 32 items came to $139.66. Take off $28 for two bottles of wine (at the cheap end of the spectrum I can assure you) and it is still over $110 (£59.45 at today’s exchange rate) for 30 items. Here are a few snapshots and remember that all the fruit and veg I bought was New Zealand grown and it is the height of the production season (drought permitting). Prices are in £ equivalents based on the current exchange rate of $1.85 to £1 (the NZ dollar is strong currently so exchange rates are poor).

  • small Lettuce – £1.70
  • Tomatoes 250g, – £2.00
  • 200g hummus – £1.50
  • milk, 1L – £1.60
  • red pepper – £1 each
  • ordinary tights, one pair – £3.90
  • small loaf ciabatta bread – £2.30
  • six bread roles – £1.70
  • plain yoghurt, 1kg – £3.80


A very good and clearly well researched article in the excellent NZ magazine ‘North and South’ did not offer many conclusions. De-regulation, the absence of competition and the inability of consumers to complain is blamed for high costs of water, energy and broadband. Milk, butter, meat, veg and fruit are above world market prices as is wine in NZ.

The article also quoted one apple grower from Otago (South Island) who said apples were sold in the supermarket at 800% more than the price he received.  A familiar tale from the UK / EU supermarket approach, and we all know the impact of unrealistically priced milk on UK dairy farmers.  The article concluded that the prices are inflated at some point in the supply chain but no one is sure where. At least the UK now has the Groceries Code Adjudicator in place (ombudsman) to tackle abuses, even if she won’t be able to ensure a fair market price is paid.

Now I am not advocating for unrealistically low food prices but merely commenting that in some parts of the developed world feeding yourself and your family is hard, and getting harder, particularly for those on low, or fixed incomes. There is another lesson here too for those who think the UK will do much better out of the EU. One small independent country is much more likely to see prices rise than fall, as it tries to trade individually on the international market.

One of the few benefits of expensive food and goods – you don’t waste anything and you only buy it if you really need it… maybe there are some benefits after all.


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What is the definition of a successful church?

During one day of my travels I overheard the following statement made by a clergy-person.

A successful church is one that:

  • is 80% full
  • has several generations in it
  • is able to pay for its priest
  • can pay its other bills and costs.


Where I asked was the kingdom of God in all this, worship, discipleship, serving the community? “Oh yes that as well”…  Where has a church got to when a senior clergy-person is only able to define the contribution of a church to the life individuals, the community and wider society in (almost) purely quantitative terms. The response was purely inward facing and self-serving and was incredible depressing. If this is our attitude we do indeed deserve to fail.

Other conversations with clergy and lay people alike have produced different understandings of a ‘successful church’ – if it is ever appropriate to define such a thing, after all where one or two are gathered together…

See what you think of these points – amalgamated from several sources and in no particular order:

  • one where the members relate more to those on the outside than those on the inside
  • loving and just
  • there for the benefit of those who are not its members (a la William Temple)
  • Christ centered
  • church and community are one and the same thing
  • a healthy and functional community that allows movement in and out and doesn’t jump on new people to do things on their first visit
  • faithfully passing on the Gospel to the next generation(s).

One person made a point very strongly: “you earn your right to speak by being part of the community – so they learn to trust you and are then prepared to listen to anything you might say”. There were, and indeed are, many other phrases one might use to describe a church fulfilling its purpose, but they should not just be related to finance, age range or bums on seats.

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Success at last

Very late in the day but still just within time the UN Commission on the Status of Women 57 has agreed its final conclusions. This is very good news, and it is to be hoped that the prevention of violence against women and girls and other appalling practices of female genital mutilation and early marriage to name but two, are now taken more seriously by the international community as a whole.

We need changes at all levels and in all parts of society, and national governments to take this seriously, taking a lead to help make change. It is a shocking statistic that in the UK alone one quarter of all women will experience some form of domestic violence during their life time.

I had the privilege of attending UN CSW 56 where the focus was on rural women. It is so exciting and heartening to hear that this year the impasse in negotiations was got round and good steps forward were taken in the agreed conclusions. One of the most inspiring parts of any UN CSW is hearing the experiences and work of women across the world. I want to pay tribute to the hundreds of women who have represented their countries at UN CSW in this and previous years. Many face danger, hardship and resentment day in day out in the work they are doing in their own countries, but the work continues. Thank you sisters [and brothers] for the stand you make to improve the rights of women, men and children everywhere.

Read the official statement from the UN Secretary General on the completion of UN CSW 57 and from UN Women.

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Who really is in charge?

Last Friday, 8 March was International Women’s Day. It is a day when the rights, expertise, skills and insights of women are celebrated across the world. One of the privileges of spending an extended period of time in another county and a different culture is that you get a different perspective on issues of interested or concern.

Take for instance the current hot topic of women’s ministry, especially in the Church of England. In NZ the Diocese of Dunedin has already had the first female diocesan Bishop, +Penny Jamieson and the Diocese of Christchurch currently has +Victoria Matthews. The presence of a woman in  senior diocesan roles did not seem to be a point of contention at all. I have met several female Archdeacons, a Vicar-General and women with senior lay positions in a diocese.

During my stay in North Canterbury I contributed to a day on rural ministry for lay and ordained working out in the deeply rural parts of Canterbury. It was an ecumenical gathering with a Methodist local preacher, several members of Presbyterian congregations but mostly Anglicans. 25 people attended – 20 of them were women. All the priests present were women with the exception of the Archdeacon Missioner who was male.

Here in NZ the rural church is pretty much run by women, seemingly very effectively. Some priests covering group of 5-9 churches that extended over several hundred kilometers and one in particular where it took over 6 hours to drive to the furthest flung of the churches. These women were impressive in their commitment to equip and enable others to be church in deeply rural and often remote places. They were enthusiastic and enthusing and despite all the difficulties, did not seem downcast or depressed, and saw hope where others could only see failure. All the lay people present had positive stories to tell, a couple of the men gently telling how they had been able to make links to other men in their communities who did not go to church. It was impressive and humbling.

Now this is not a bed of roses and these few short comments make it sound easy – it is not, be under no illusions. However, a focus on equipping and enabling others whilst letting go of the usual Sunday dash from service to service has clearly played to the strengths of this inspiring group of female priests. We have much to learn from these inspiring women – lay and ordained who together are doing much much more than just keeping the show on the road.

And for those of you who would like to see a few pictures of where I have been in the last two weeks – the link below should take you there (whether you are a facebook user or not) – otherwise copy and paste it into your browser.

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A few pics of the area

This gallery contains 3 photos.

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Black sand and hot feet

Its now almost 12 months since I had the privilege of attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. I’m sad to say that this blog has not been touched since but now is a good time to dust it off and share a bit about the work I’m doing here in New Zealand.

New Plymouth is on the west coast of North Island, towards the south end, and is a popular place for surfing. The Taranaki region is mostly rural, dairy farming and small settlements and contains Mount Taranaki and Egmont National Park. The Bishop’s Action Foundation is an independent initiative of the Diocese of Taranaki, focusing on capacity building, problem solving and economic development for the churches of the Taranaki region. It has a very wide range of work programmes – take a look at

BAF as it is abbreviated to, is exploring options around expanding its research capacity on rural issues and ability to speak on rural policy in regional and national governance. They have asked me to act as a consultant to the process which is going to be challenging to achieve in the time we have available. Today we had an intensive session unpicking the ideas to their bare bones, even to the extent of defining what we mean by rural and delving into what research might mean. Its good to be stretching the brain!

For those in chillier northern climes, you will be disconcerted to know that it is full summer here. 24C today, clear blue skies and sunshine quite a contrast from grey clouds, snow and cold winds of the UK. The past few days have all involved long and lovely walks along the beach. As Taranaki is a volcanic region (Mt Taranaki last errupted 350 years ago), the sand is black, with paler grains from crushed shells.

So idyllic summer afternoon, waves breaking on the sand which is soft and hard going. I take my sandals off to make it easier to walk and after two minutes the under-soles of my feet were getting warm. How funny I thought, warm sand, lovely. Another two minutes the soles were really hot and a minute after that, just like a cat on a hot tin rough, I made a break for the dunes. Ouch!


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The reason why…

Take a look at these pictures  of the food crisis being played out in West Africa now. This is sad and distressing example of the perfect storm of lack of food, lack of water and limited access to fuel that Prof John Beddington refered to in his now famous speech of 2009. The people of the Sahel, and particularly pregnant women and children are at grave risk.

This is the reason why the world desperately needed UN CSW to agree conclusions this year – to take action for the most vulnerable rural people. It remains a scandle that this did not happen – a major missed opportunity.

At the end of the first weekof CSW56 on 2 March – worship in the Church Centre by the UN was led by the Methodists. The close of the worship was a group of around 80 women of all nationalities singing ‘We shall overcome’  – and really believing that one day we would: ‘we will overcome some day’. Those of us from a more staid tradition of worship were swept up in the joy, movement and dancing that came with this heartfelt singing – led by the women from Africa. Women from Mali, Niger, Burkino Faso – the places suffering now. Very humbling.  

Please let that day come now.

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Comfort and hope

I came across this via facebook and a blog by Pastor David a Lutheran minister in rural Texas. This lovely piece was on his ‘about’ page and just summed things up nicely for me today.

The Gospel is not a pat on the back for good people.
It is comfort for grieving people.
Hope for broken people.
Love for hated and lonely people.

You can read more of his writings via his blog: Called to Passion

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There must be dialogue – or there will be no development

This quotation was passed on to me by a participant on the Arthur Rank Centre rural ministry course last week. It is from Gilbert Shaw (1886 – 1967) an Anglican priest working in the East end of London from 1940. For many years he was also a respected spiritual director and the Church of England’s leading exorcist.

These words really ring true and give an interesting take on leadership.

 “The Holy Spirit will never give you stuff on a plate – you’ve got to work for it.

Your work is listening – taking the situation you’re in and holding it in courage, not being beaten down by it.

Your work is standing – holding things without being deflected by your own desires or the desires of other people round you. Then things work out just through patience. How things alter we don’t know, but the situation alters.

There must be dialogue in patience and charity – then something seems to turn up that wasn’t there before.

We must take people as they are and where they are – not going too far ahead or too fast for them, but listening to their needs and supporting them in their following.

The Holy Spirit brings things new and old out of the treasure.

Intercessors bring the ‘deaf and dumb’ to Christ, that is their part.

Seek for points of unity and stand on those rather than on principles.

Have the patience that refuses to be pushed out; the patience that refuses to be disillusioned.

There must be dialogue – or there will be no development.”

If only the UN Member states had been prepared to look for points of unity and continue with dialogue the outcome of UN CSW56 would have been very different.

There are quite a few rural congregations and rural vicars who could also bear these points in mind – dialogue, communicate and work together or it will be far more difficult than it need be.

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More on why the argeed conclusions were not agreed

Regular readers of this blog will know that UN CSW56 (Commission on the Status of Women) failed to reach agreed conclusions. We have been receiving bits and pieces of information as to why this happended. The text that follows attempts to give a bit more information on why…

The following comes from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) within the Home Office and shows the clear and helpful stance that the EU and UK were prepared to take to protect existing rights.

The EU engaged constructively in the discussions on the text with the aim of reaching a consensus on a draft which would be of concrete relevance to rural women around the world. It believed that was essential if States truly wished to empower rural women and girls and therefore achieve the MDGs agreed in 2000, and deliver the commitments that States all made through their agreement to the Beijing Platform for Action.

Unfortunately, regional groups and some other States sort to significantly weaken the internationally agreed agreements on gender equality and women’s rights set forth in the Beijing Declaration and Programme for Action and other international instruments. The EU agreed that weaker language would undermine and run counter against its common goals to promote and protect the rights and situation of women. The UK, working within the EU, strongly rejected the attempts to dilute these agreements.

 This is a very sad outcome but I think that it is the right one. At least women and girls worldwide still have their existing rights and the bar has not been lowered.

Some of the main sticking points were related to sexual and reproductive rights, discrimiation related to age (including girls) and marital status, use of the phrase gender equality.

You can read more about the response of the UN, UN Women and Michelle Bachelet to this and also read what happended to the resolutions.

This whole process, already considered one of the most difficult negotiations of the UN year, will only get more difficult.

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