This weekend marks one month since the death of Bishop Barry Jones, ninth bishop of the diocese of Christchurch, in the early hours of 13 February. On Monday evening (7.00pm at St. Mary’s pro-Cathedral) we will gather for the Month’s Mind Mass.
Most of the reflections on the life and ministry of Bishop Barry that have circulated in the last four weeks speak of his leadership in Christchurch city, especially through the difficult aftermath of the devastating earthquakes.
Here I offer a perspective from the periphery of the diocese, the Chatham Islands.
In December 2014 as parish priest of the Chatham Islands I accompanied Bishop Barry on his first pastoral visitation to the most remote parish in the diocese. Over the past ten years I have grown to love the beauty of the Chathams’ island ways but I’m aware too that the Chatham Islands is often forgotten by diocesan staff and usually overlooked when people speak of the Christchurch diocese as made up of only Canterbury and Westland. Bishop Barry retained a confident hope that in the near future a priest would once again live on the Chatham Islands.
While New Zealand is spoken of as another country by the residents (“I was in New Zealand last week”) the people of the islands have a strong sense of their Christchurch diocesan identity and therefore they eagerly anticipated the bishop’s visit.
Immediately Bishop Barry landed at the Chatham’ airstrip the people embraced him as both bishop and fellow disciple. From the first welcoming call of the marae welcome, to Masses, home visits, baptisms, first communions, confirmations on both Chatham and Pitt islands, from Waitangi, to Te One, from Owenga to distant Kaingaroa, and from Flower Pot across Pitt Island to North Head, Bishop Barry delighted in serving as rural pastor without an administration office or high-altar in sight. He even insisted on getting the gates across the rugged farm tracks of Pitt Island.
In parishioners’ homes throughout the parish the bishop was at ease chatting with the locals about any local concern. With the children at Kaingaroa during the baptism in the schoolroom he played popping his mitre from flat to upright to their amazement and delight. As he finished pouring water to baptise one child he with full evangelising fervour called “anyone else?” And so two baptisms became four with a confirmation. In a parish meeting of half a dozen parishioners in the Waitangi presbytery he heard parishioners’ concerns about the difficulty of maintaining the Waitangi church which needs significant maintenance work. He asked the parishioners to gather estimates for all the work needed and he committed diocesan financial support to meeting the cost of repairs. The people were delighted. They knew that he loved them. Bishop Barry was delighting in his people.
On the one-hour mid-evening shingle-road drive from Kaingaroa back to Waitangi he said to me, “I hope you have a beer in the fridge.” I knew that I didn’t but as soon as we arrived home I knocked on the neighbours’ door to say that my friend and I were desperate for a beer and did she have any to spare. The ice-cold Lion Red was godly nectar after a long day in the vineyard and Bishop Barry often later reminded me of the beauty of the moment.
Too often we reduce the beauty and richness of our Catholic faith to catechisms, canon law and liturgical rubrics. Bishop Barry was known for regarding these as not only important but essential and he would never compromise any doctrinal detail, not even in one of Rome’s most distant peripheries. But he also know that when in the first Christian century Peter and Paul arrived in the heart of the unwelcoming Roman Empire they took no books, but only their intimate friendship with Jesus and Jesus’ law of love expressed in human friendship.
May the soul of our chief pastor, Bishop Barry Jones, rest in peace.
The Lord delights in his people.
Episcopal motto of Bishop Barry Jones.
Kaingaroa gathering above, and the bishop with Tommy Solomon below.
Our Lady of the Antipodes, Pitt Island, and below ready to leave Pitt.
Below, after Mass at St. Therese of Lisieux, Waitangi, Chatham Island