Slipping The Moorings: A Memoir Weaving Faith with Justice, Ethics and Community by Richard Randerson
Matai House, 2015
Review by Noel Cheer
Bishop Richard Randerson, CNZM, was Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland from 2000 to 2007. He was also Vicar-General from 1999, and Assistant Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia from 2002. In 2000 he was appointed by the NZ Government to the four-person Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, engaging in extensive consultation with the NZ public, both at open meetings as well as with Maori on marae. In 2004 he was awarded the CNZM for "services to the community". He has played a prominent role in the media, speaking and writing on issues such as poverty and justice, race relations, peace and inter-faith dialogue, and social ethics, often challenging institutional and conventional views of faith and society.
In 2011 he served as Deputy Chair on New Zealand's Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology.
Sixteen years before Richard Randerson became vicar at the Anglican church of St. Peter's in Wellington, I was married in that church to Robyn, my much-loved first wife. Like the informal religious environments in which I now move — Sea of Faith, Ephesus and The St. Andrew's Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, St. Peter's was, and still is, an outreach environment. Some readers may still remember the Catacombs on-site coffee bar — its décor even more gloomy than the originals — as a haven for the urban lonely. St Peter’s was, and is, an example of concentrating less on the institution that it represents and more on helping people in their needs. In the case of St Peter's, the needs were often homelessness, impoverishment and poverty. A current version of the contrast can been seen in the change of styles between the recent Popes Benedict and Francis.
This book is the memoir of his career, with special emphasis on religion interacting with society.
“What a gorgeous Sea of Faith metaphor”, I thought when I read the title, Slipping The Moorings. After all, many people sign up with SoF because, in one sense or another, they feel that they need to decouple from something that is holding them back and to get on with a faith better attuned to the concerns of this century. But the author, now retired Bishop Richard Randerson, was recommending that the good ship Eklay Zia (yes, a word-play!) untie from the wharf at which it has been majestically moored for so long — and actually do something. This extended metaphor (capped with a coda from the Book of Revelation) sets out his disappointments about the Anglican Church in this country — and, by extension, every country in which it operates. You can read the analysis of the Eklay Zia in the appendix to this book.
Our own Sea of Faith offers an unsystematic, nondogmatic collection of ideas and stimuli via local groups and Newsletters and Annual Conferences. Unlike a church, there is no dogma, just a heap of things for the reader to rummage through in an attempt to build a personal faith profile. Unlike a church, SoF offers a home (the late Ralph Pannett once called it “a safe place to talk about unsafe things’’), to those caught in the bewilderment of a once-confident and authoritative church — at least the mainstream and majority denominations — sliding into an insipid denial of the secular world's assessment of them as ‘irrelevant’.
Elsewhere this polarity can be seen in Don Cupitt's division into 'Church' and 'Kingdom' or into the even more challenging '‘Jesus' or 'Christ' neatly put in Cupitt's "we need to smuggle Jesus back into Christianity". See, also, the quote at the bottom of page 5 of this Newsletter.
Outreach churches are 'Kingdom' oriented but Richard sees too much ‘Church’ in his Anglican church. More than once he writes “What disappoints me about today’s church is its absence in the public square”, even though there are good works going on, as it were, in the surrounding undergrowth.
Each of us is entitled to ask, in respect of the modernday church, "What actually matters?” The responses are diverse, on a spectrum from almost total disengagement with a world hostile to traditional religious values to a characterisation of The Salvation Army as “Christianity with its sleeves rolled up.” May there be more of it!
That, as I see it, is what retired Bishop Richard Randerson is saying in this book.