Observations of ‘new ways’ in Marlborough parish

WelCom November 2021 Fr Gerard Burns Our Lady Star of the Sea, Te Whetu o te Moana is a large parish. It was formed in 2016 with the combination of…

WelCom November 2021

Fr Gerard Burns

Our Lady Star of the Sea, Te Whetu o te Moana is a large parish. It was formed in 2016 with the combination of the former Picton, Kaikōura and Blenheim parishes so it stretches from the tips of the Marlborough Sounds to south of Kaikōura and halfway across towards Nelson. As much of it is in Te Tauihu o te Waka (the prow of Maui’s waka which is Te Waipounamu) the parish’s name is fitting. Our Lady, Star of the Sea, has been a guide for mariners. And just at the moment, Mary the mother of Jesus and Star of the Sea is getting a lot of work. 

The parish has faced a series of extra challenges in the time of its existence: the Kaikōura earthquake, the sudden death of its first parish priest (Fr John Pearce), a property review (the parish had seven churches), and the various pastoral concerns of a large and varied parish. And in the last two years the wait for a new parish priest to arrive – Fr Giltus Mathias – prevented by Covid lockdowns and the ‘reset’ of New Zealand’s immigration and visa policies. 

Fr Giltus, who has worked in the parish previously, has been waiting in Australia with another Passionist priest for two years to be able to come to Blenheim but this is not yet possible. Interim parish priest, Fr Pat McIndoe, had taken on the job when Fr John Pearce died, but had been waiting himself to return to PNG to help in formation and parish work there. Eventually Fr Pat was able to go in May of this year but that has left only one Passionist priest, Fr Jacob Kuman, in residence in the parish Sea at present when the Passionist congregation was hoping to have a community of three. 

So in the meantime, some short-term ‘patch-and-cover’ methods have had to be employed to help this wide-spread parish. Priests are being loaned from other parts of the diocese for three-week to two-month periods to assist Fr Jacob with the sacraments and parish duties. The smsm Sisters resident in Kaikōura maintain a wise presence there and a solid parish organisation in the various communities keep the waka stable.

The ‘new’ things though are that Fr Giltus, has taken up as much as can be done from afar via Zoom meetings and occasional film-clip appearances and homilies at Masses. Far from being an absentee parish priest, Giltus is ‘beaming in’ to both be as present as possible from Sydney in visual and spoken form. In this way he can also work closely with the parish leadership and administration. It is not ideal but it is more than could be done perhaps even five years ago. 

On the ground, Fr Jacob, Srs Maureen and Frances-Marie and the various lay ministers have been doing as much pastorally as possible, including a daily livestreamed weekday Mass from the presbytery during lockdown. I was privileged to be able to spend a couple of months in the parish over June and July this year as these systems were being set up and it was impressive to see the coming together of pastoral energy and technological competence. 

In the 15th century the new communications technology was the printing press and the Church had to learn how to use in its mission that technology and the new mindsets it brought. While what is happening in Our Lady Star of the Sea parish is not pastorally ideal – the kanohi-ki-kanohi, face-to-face and personal presence is still the best way to work – I could see again what might be possible if we learn how to use the new technologies well.

Covid and the various restrictions on large-scale gatherings is, of course, having a great impact on ordinary parish life. Hopefully this will lessen as time goes by, but the experiences of this time can provide much fruit.