Written by Kimberly Rees, Alumna 2013
Michael Berry was 28 years old when he did the Leadership NZ Programme. As an ordained Priest and Vicar of the St Philip’s Church in St Heliers (Auckland) at the time, he reflects and says, “I had no idea what a profound effect the Programme would have on the rest of my life.”
This is a strong statement from someone whose life and career revolve around the spiritual world. When asked to elaborate, Michael says; “The Leadership NZ Programme exposed me to so many different people, viewpoints and deep conversations that I would have never had the opportunity to come across otherwise (like top business professionals and politicians). I explored new ways of being open, engaging, receptive and understanding of people’s differences in beliefs and the value of compassion at a community level in developing our nation. This has shaped how I live my life!” he emphasises.
As a young Vicar of a local parish, Michael remembers that the most immediate effect of the Leadership NZ Programme was that he was better able to work with the Parish Board whose members at the time included many senior professionals. He also says he enjoyed his role of orchestrating community events much more (often these would be highly emotional situations such as weddings or funerals) by utilising the leadership tools learned from the Leadership NZ Programme.
Michael says, “After the Leadership NZ Programme, I had a renewed self-confidence and sense of purpose, which was, servant leadership - working towards empowering others.”
True to the servant theme, in 2012 Michael joined the Royal New Zealand Navy Volunteer Reserve as the reserve unit’s Chaplain. A year later, he left the local parish Vicar role when appointed as Base Chaplain for HMNZ Naval Base Devonport. Over the four years that Michael has been with the Navy he’s been the Ship Chaplain on two major overseas Navy Operations; a six-month counter-piracy mission in the Somali Basin / Gulf of Aiden, and three months conducting humanitarian aid and disaster relief to Fiji following Cyclone Winston.
When commenting on how different a navy ship’s Chaplain role must be compared to a local parish Vicar, Michael says, “Both serve a diverse community, but perhaps the ship’s community is a bit smaller with more people who have not had any engagement with Church,” he adds with a smile.
When asked how he, as Chaplain, serves such people outside the church, Michael says in a slow and careful tone; “It’s all about respect and me being present and mindful; providing reflection and support to an individual in need, and creating that environment across the collective group (e.g. the ship’s crew) at all different levels.” He also adds; “Everyone benefits from pausing, reflecting and thinking outside of yourself for the greater good.” Michael states; “I’ve been among numerous people who are experiencing the most stressful situation in their life – whether I am conducting a funeral or giving individual trauma counselling – my advice is always to take deep connecting breaths and focus on the here and now.
It helps take someone out of their own negative head space of worrying about what has happened in the past or what is going to happen in the future, and gives the mind a break so it is restored and thinking clearly.”
Michael has recently taken up the ministry role of Archdeacon Southern Region for the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, a senior level position and as of 1 September 2016 holds the title The Venerable Michael Berry. This will be a big change and once again, work in a different environment for Michael. Although he has moved out of Devonport, Michael still maintains his ties with the Navy as part of the volunteer reserve, continuing with this aspect of his servitude leadership.
When asked what he is most looking forward to in his new role, Michael says; “Having a wider opportunity to create, support, and encourage reflection and meaning in the life of individuals and communities.”
This is an aspirational goal that perhaps we all (even the most atheist among us), can adopt and strive for. Peace be with you.