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February 2018

This month’s letter comes from Rev’d John Lees:

Visiting St Andrew’s Colyton – in New Zealand

It feels like some time ago now, but in October Jan and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in New Zealand. Before we set out we were delighted to receive an invitation to visit St Andrew’s church in Colyton. Colyton NZ is a small farming community on North Island, some way north of Wellington. The nearest big town is Feilding. The area was turned into farmland in the late 19th century and it’s clear that the area was mapped out by someone with a ruler. The roads are in a grid system, many of them long and entirely straight. Colyton sits around one of the rural crossroads, with a village hall, a few houses, and a pretty wooden church. The big Scottish influence in NZ means that there are many St Andrew’s churches over there, but this one was founded by an East Devon family.

Colyton NZ is a quiet, rural parish, with a small but thriving community supporting its life. Bryan and Joanne Guy gave us supper and overnight accommodation and gave us a real insight into life into this farming community, dominated by large dairy farms.

We were given a huge welcome by Graham Conlon, a local secondary school teacher who serves as worship leader, and by the Ven Wendy Scott, who not only looks after a large group of churches centred on Feilding but also acts as Rural Dean and Archdeacon.

Jan and I were invited to talk about life in our Mission Community, so we said something about all of our churches, talking about the Harvest Festival services going on the same weekend we were overseas. I showed photographs of all five churches, and our audience was delighted to see that we have a painting of our NZ counterpart church here in Devon – look for it in the bookshop corner in Colyton.

We also showed images from the ‘God at Work’ exhibition from last June, telling them how the event came together. Jan told the congregation one of the stories told at the exhibition – with plenty of sound effects and actions to join in with.

I closed the service by talking about the Royal British Legion badge I was wearing, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Passchendaele. I’d been given it in September to take with me, but I hadn’t realised that Passchendaele means such a great deal to New Zealanders, who suffered more casualties on 12th October 1917 than any other day of the first world war. That day fell close to the time of our visit.

We may have left two ideas behind us. Wendy was very keen to try the God at Work idea in one of her churches. And Colyton NZ may be hosting its very first tractor run…. We await developments.

We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome, both in terms of our overnight accommodation and in church. Our hosts kindly allowed us to disrupt their normal Sunday morning service entirely, and then very kindly organised a big parish lunch to celebrate the visit.

We also couldn’t fail to notice how pride of place has been given to the stained glass cross sent over from St Andrew’s here in Devon in 2013. The cross is made from glass saved from our west window. It now sits on an internal wall, illuminated by light coming into the parish rooms. Like our visit and the warm welcome we received, a firm reminder of a strong connection between churches many thousands of miles apart.

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