Dunedin is an eclectic place. And it was fitting that our day ended up there because that’s the sort of day it was. Dunedin stretches out over the hills around a bay, like haphazard giants toys. There are medieval Presbyterian churches, seemingly transplanted straight from Scotland of the 1800s; there are up-market fashion shops and trendy vegetarian cafes. There are young people everywhere with their full spectrum of fashions and haircuts. The buildings are amazing. After so much natural beauty this week, this is certainly the place with man-made beauty. The old and the new blend together here and it works. Students come from all over New Zealand; it is a real university town. In fact, students come from all over the world. Yet the old world buildings give the town a certain gravitas, a certain charm. It is a place of variety and exploration and just the place for a church to have a real impact on the lives of young people.
We arrived in Dunedin in the afternoon, later than we had planned. The day started slowly, a nice breakfast in the conference house in Invercargill. We then spent some time checking out Invercargill. Jono the associate pastor showed us around, taking us for a drive on the beach and through the city. Invercargill is famous as the home of the legendary Herbert Munro. Burt, as he was known, was the subject of a recent Anthony Hopkins movie, The world’s fastest Indian. Burt loved speed and won a number of land speed motor cycle records from the 1940s to the 1970s. I found this out at the strangest of places. A hardware store.
E Hayes—“where people come first”, according to a booklet handed to me by one of the staff—is a hardware store with a difference. They sell tools, mowers, saws, power tools; you name it, they’ve got it. Yet right throughout their store, they have vintage motor bikes. Over here, a ride-on mower, on display and for sale, as you would expect at a hardware store. Next door an old Triumph. Scattered throughout their store, are shoutouts to the past. And there, in a special display, is the world’s fastest Indian, the original motorcycle that Burt Munro stripped back and made fly across an Invercargill beach. There are also replica shells of the aerodynamic frame that he made to go over it.
If it seems like a strange mix, it is. There are also displays of old tools, and, in another part of the shop, some beautifully restored cars. But somehow, E Hayes Hardware in Invercargill just works. I would never have come this far and walked into a hardware store. They are usually places I visit close to home, if I need something important that I can’t get anywhere else. The only reason I was in this store was because of it’s unique promise of something that was not to be seen anywhere else. I am not hugely into motorbikes but I loved the old cars, and I love a good story. Burt Munro was an interesting, larger than life, Invercargill personality and that is what drew me to the store.
When we eventually arrived in Dunedin, I didn’t know what to expect from the church here. But there was a great turnout and for the first time I’ve witnessed on this trip, there was a large group of young people. In fact they far outnumbered the elders. The group in Dunedin was interactive, there was lots of laughter. In the short time we fellowshipped and learned with them, the thing that stood out to me was that this was an eclectic church. There were multiple ethnicities and age groups who had come to this meeting. They seemed to get along. I was greeted by the friendly older people and had some good conversations with the younger people.
Dr Nick Kross shared, as he has all week, this statistic: that a young person needs 5-7 mentors—these are adults that take an interest, help build them up, give them skills and invest in them. Young people need this many people around them to stay in the church and also to stay away from at risk behaviour. That means it cannot be left to the pastor alone. Or the youth pastor, just the parents or even the Sabbath school leader. It takes a village to raise a child. It is a team effort! And what I saw at Dunedin reminded me of the strength of diversity.
Having a loving, multigenerational, multiethnic church is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Our God loves diversity. Look at the animal kingdom and even at the geography of our world. I’ve seen different landscapes and vistas all week, but all of them have been beautiful and all of them reflect the Creator’s handiwork.
We are stronger together. Like the hardware store, even when it doesn’t make sense, sometimes mixing old and young together can work.
Dunedin hopes to start an Adventist students club in the University. I pray that they do. The young people of this University town are important. And they will need the support of their wider church family in Dunedin. We are so different, you and I, and yet God can use us all in different ways and to reach different people. Will you be one of the 5-7 important adult influences in a young person’s life, which will make such a difference to them. Will you invest eternally?
That is a question we all must answer for ourselves.
Tomorrow we head back to Christchurch for the weekend’s meetings. If you are in Christchurch and would like to do a writing workshop with me, we will be at the Conference office on Sunday. We will be at Addington Samoan on Friday night and at Bishopdale on Sabbath. Please, get there if you can.