by The Venerable Michael Berry, Archdeacon Southern Region, Anglican Diocese of Auckland
Good evening everyone. It’s a real a pleasure and privilege to be with you this evening as you embark on this year-long adventure. I thank you for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts, as someone who stood at the start of this path 9 years ago. Of course, you’re taking a big risk because the moment I stood up here the automatic switches started flicking as my brain naturally eased itself into ‘Sermon Mode’. However, as long as no one yells out ‘Amen Brother’, I think we’ll be fine.
Just a little about me then, by way of introduction. In case the costume didn’t give it away, I’m an Anglican priest and have been in ordained ministry for the past 14 years. I’m a true blue Aucklander, which means that I blindly support the Blues; living off our latest victory which was – now that I think of it – the same year I was ordained actually! I’ve been happily married to Rebecca for 11 years and we have two mostly charming children, Sophie and Isabel. I love Aotearoa New Zealand and am proud of my Irish heritage.
In 2008, I had the privilege to be offered a place on this Programme, and acknowledge and give thanks for the support and encouragement of the late Bishop Paul Reeves who, deeply involved himself, encouraged the church’s involvement in Leadership New Zealand.
At the time, I was the Vicar of St Heliers Bay here in Auckland, so I acknowledge also the support and encouragement of that parish in seeing value in what I was doing, in understanding the benefit for them, and in releasing me to give my full attention to the Programme.
One of the questions I was asked to address this evening was around what I got out of the Leadership Programme. In some ways, though, that’s a difficult thing to put into words. When I was a student, I remember my Vicar at the time talking one Sunday about the value of sermons. He suspected (rightly!) that, over time, people probably didn’t generally remember the content of what he said. He likened this to eating breakfast though and challenged anyone to recite what they had for breakfast each day over the last year. What he did know, though (about his breakfasts that is) was that they did feed him; they nourished him and they helped him to grow. He hoped then that it was the same case for sermons; and I think that, in part, that is the way I look back at the year 2008.
Through the people, I journeyed with that year and the relationships of trust and mutual purpose. Through the people we encountered, the narratives we heard, and the opportunities to see into the lives and experiences of people who, otherwise, we might never have met. Through the conversations around the meeting spaces and over wine and food, I look back at 2008 as a year of significant growth for me. As I widened my view on a life in leadership as I took the time to intentionally reflect on what that even means and as I made some great friends.
And just as an aside, just recently, I sat down for a meeting and looked across the table to find a fellow Alumni. I was pleased to know that I was meeting with someone who spoke something of the same language as me!
Following 2008, I continued in my role of Vicar in St Heliers, further enriched and inspired in my vocation of leadership in that community. Then in 2013, having joined as a reservist the previous year, I entered the Royal New Zealand Navy as a Chaplain and got to see what leadership in that context looked like. I had the privilege to serve overseas twice during that time; firstly in counter-piracy operations off the Coast of Somalia; then in humanitarian efforts 12 months ago, in Fiji, following the devastation of Cyclone Winston.
While I was there, though, I was called to my current role, as a Regional Archdeacon in the Diocese of Auckland. I now enjoy being a part of the Bishop’s leadership team where, funnily enough, of the 8 of us, there are 3 Leadership New Zealand Alumni.
As I conclude (and, sadly, regress into sermon preaching mode), I want to tell a short story which, for me, says something about leadership and illustrates something of the value that I found in my year on this Programme.
And this narrative takes us to a poor village, desperately affected by famine. The lack of food had led to an intense despondency amongst the people who had become jealous and suspicious. People would hide what little food they had for fear that it would be stolen.
One day a visitor wandered in and asked around for somewhere to stay. Typically, he struggled to find anywhere; until it was suggested that he simply move on. Undeterred, though, the traveller decided not to and, sitting in the middle of the village, took an iron cauldron from his wagon, filled it with water, and placed it over a freshly lit fire. With great ceremony, he took an ordinary-looking stone from a velvet bag and dropped it into the water.
By now, hearing the rumour of food, villagers peered out as they watched this man sniff his "broth". Hunger began to overcome their scepticism. "Ahh," the man said to himself rather loudly, "I do like a tasty stone soup. But you know, stone soup with cabbage – that's hard to beat." Soon a villager approached hesitantly, holding a small cabbage that he'd retrieved from its hiding place, and added it to the pot.
"Fantastic!" cried the traveller. "This will be a feast... of course, I once had stone soup with cabbage... and a bit of salt beef as well, aye… that was fit for a king." The village butcher heard this, and, finding some salt beef, threw it into the pot.
And so it went, through potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and so on, until there really was a delicious meal for all. The traveller invited the villagers to sit down and they shared the soup – the best meal any of them had had in months.
Now, one can’t take the analogy of the story too far. In my experience, though, leadership is a little like that. To recognise the value, gifts and talents of people and to bring them together to make something wonderful. To achieve a purpose that alone we cannot even begin to imagine. To recognise the value found in a diversity of gifts, contributions and ideas.
In this Programme though, I look back and remember the cauldron that Leadership New Zealand placed in front of me. I remember the things that different people brought forward; the speakers; as well as the people who shared the journey with me; the rich diversity of opinions, cultures, experiences and relationships.
I wish you well in the year ahead and pray for many blessings in your conversations, in your shared experiences, in your reflections and in what you will discover together.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this evening! And I can’t help but finish by saying – Amen.