I am leading an icon painting course starting January 2017. It will be held in the recently renovated Emmanuel Church West Hampstead which now has wonderful new community space and underfloor heating!The class begins the 28th January 2017 and is for adults with any artistic ability or none! Cost is £250 with all materials included.Book your place by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Map to Emmanuel Church West Hampstead.
On my first Sunday at Trinity - St John Church, in the Diocese of Long Island a little girl from the congregation gave me a dandelion after the morning service. It was a simple and beautiful gesture one which I found rather moving.This little act of kindness reminded me of a sermon preached by a Methodist Minister friend on hospitality. She recalled a situation witnessed years previously when a young woman passing a church had been drawn inside by the activity of people taking their Harvest offerings up to the altar. The young woman looked around for something to offer. Having no produce or foodstuffs she plucked some dandelions from the edge of the pavement, entered the church, walked to the altar and lay her offering down on the altar steps. The minister and his helpers continued to receive the congregation’s offerings creating a lovely display in front of the altar. The dandelions were ignored and left on the steps.A sad tale reminding us that a failure to give thanks for even the smallest of offerings can sometimes be caused by a lack of empathy, creativity or hospitality.Back in London after three months in Long Island I reflected on my time in the U.S. It had been a busy residency with lots of travelling, workshops, collaborative art projects, preaching, finally concluding with an exhibition. One of the most memorable experiences was being invited to the Annual gathering of the Unkechaug Tribe. The Chief Harry Wallace asked that I open the ceremony with a prayer/invocation, a great honour. I witnessed on the Poospatuck reservation an openness and acceptance of people which crossed boundaries of race, creed, and social status. A wonderful example of hospitality. Indeed during my time in Long Island I experienced much goodwill, hospitality and enthusiasm. I also felt supported in the ministry I led. The Diocese and the Mercer School of Theology along with the parish of Trinity - St John supported and funded the residency. My flights, my accomodation, studio space, expenses, materials were all provided and I received an honorarium. Similar to my residency in the Diocese of Ontario in 2014 I felt appreciated. People respected what I did, they understood it as ministry and responded positively.It isn’t always like this though. Self employed I seek commissions, work and funding to support myself in what I am called to – an art ministry. For me, being an artist and a priest is intrinscally linked, they are one and the same thing. Understandably not all people appreciate or respect this but there have been times unfortunately when I have come up against fellow clergy who have not only been openly dismissive and negative but also sometimes blatantly undermining. For example a fellow priest who commissioned me to write an icon for their parish became extremely indignant when contacted about payment particularly when asked why this was going to take six to seven weeks even though the finished (discounted) icon had been delivered two weeks previously. The same priest who also knew I sometimes live off each cheque and who in delaying payment was ultimately denying me the ability to pay my rent and buy food. Sadly this is not my only negative experience with regards payment! Thankfully though there is a law which protects the self employed which states invoices for work done must be paid in 30 days. However this still doesn't stop it happening. I have come to learn that when a poisonous dart is directed my way, a lack of professionalism or simple common courtesy, it motivates me to strive and move forward rather than be downtrodden and impacted by toxic behaviour particularly when it comes from other priests.Canon Mark Oakley once said to me, priesthood is not defined by parish ministry and he is right and yet I wonder if some parish clergy are not just creating their own little kingdoms where they can feel safe and wanted and in some cases superior. It is well known that some parish priests are highly dismissive of self-supporting priests like myself and that our ministries in their eyes are not valid. Bishop Richard upon hearing my musings responded, “of course some priests do make idols out of their parishes.”To temper all this I thank goodness for colleagues who have shown collegiality and encouragement over the years. The Bishop of London has been a wonderful support both morally and practically, directing commissions my way, writing references and letters of support, giving grants and even offering studio space in his home! Most of all it has been his words of encouragement that have meant the most. Then there are the colleauges and friends who have opened up their homes asking only for affordable sometimes, nominal rent. The priests and teachers, who have invited me to their parishes, Diocese, and schools to lead art workshops and residencies. I am incredibly grateful.In a months time I am flying to Australia where I have been invited by the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, The Reverend Dr Andreas Loewe to lead an art residency as part of the Cathedral’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Part of the residency will be the chance to exhibit artwork I have created over the years, a little retrospective in a way. This will also be an opportunity to reflect on a ministry that has granted opportunities and taken me to places I would never have imagined. May I always be thankful for these opportunities, the hospitality and generosity I experience and for the spirit which these things are given, including the simple things, the little gifts, the dandelions.Episcopal Journal articleLiving Church article
The 9th June 2014 I am surrounded by 90 school children. We are visiting Hinemihi a Maori Meeting House in Clandon Park, Surrey, U.K. For the past year I have been artist in-residence at a Church of England Primary in West London leading an religious education and art project to build new prayer stations for their school. The project started with the children looking at examples of houses of prayer which included East London Mosque, Saint Paul's Cathedral, Bevis Marks Synagogue, Neasden Temple, Buddhapadippa Temple, and Hinemihi. I wanted to expand the children's perceptions of sacred and religious space. The children were particularly intrigued by Hinemihi.
I shared the story of Hinemihi and how she had sheltered people during the Tarawera eruption in 1886 including my great great grandmother Taima Te Ngahue and my great great Uncle Tene Waitere who had been one of the men who had carved Hinemihi. I described how Lord Onslow had bought Hinemihi from Te Wairoa, New Zealand back to Clandon Park his country estate in England as a memento of his time in Aotearoa as Governor General. As I swiftly moved through her history the children listened intently as I described how Hinemihi had been used as a garden shed and a children's play house. How when she first arrived at Clandon she had been reassembled incorrectly but was put back together by Maori soldiers recuperating at Clandon which had become a military hospital during the 1st World War. Moving into the present the children were pleased to hear that Hinemihi had not been forgotten and that many expat New Zealanders often made a pilgrimage to Hinemihi and that for Maori she is incredibly important and loved. Believed a living presence Hinemihi stands as a symbol of the old and the new world. She is an ancestress.
After the children had left Clandon Park my time with Hinemihi continued. I had visited her a number of times in the past but this night which was the 128th anniversary of the eruption I would be staying, sleeping alone within her embrace. It wasn't going to be a comfortable night though as there was no electricity, no flooring just a compact dirt floor and she leaked when it rained. Also as instructed by my cousin it was traditional to sleep on the left hand side which meant my sleeping mat was right near a small green box which fed poison to poor unsuspecting rodents. However to counter the uncomfortable night before me I would also be part of a dawn ceremony organised by people from Massey University which would involve a light installation and a recording of the dawn chorus from New Zealand. I settled down for the night.
I awoke to the sound of people moving and talking. I got up and opened the door to see a woman and a large group behind her, all maori. The woman appeared friendly and inquisitive. She looked at me and then with a movement of her head gestured as to who else was inside.
I was expecting to have dreams while at Hinemihi but this dream was something different. I had experienced it as if I was actually there. I could see the walls and details of the carvings and the interior of the wharenui. When I opened the door the view was the same as if awake. Nothing was different except the crowd of people and woman who appeared. Timeless, other, different and yet present.
I awoke to lights flickering inside the wharenui and singing. Awake or dreaming? I got up and headed outside. Figures moved in the dawn light. Still groggy with sleep I wandered across the lawn of Clandon towards Stuart and Kura. It was Kura singing. She was sending a karanga (a call, a summons) to the dawn, to Hinemihi, to space and to me. A karanga to pierce through dimensions physical and spiritual. Awake I watched the sun rise and listened to the dawn chorus.
Whakarongo ake au As I listen
Ki te tangi a te manu nei To the message of the bird called
A te matui the Tui
Tui Tui Tui
Tuia Tuia I runga I listen with intent
Tuia I raro To the spiritual elements of the
Tuia I roto message (runga)
Tuia I waho To the worldly (raro) *
to the elusive (roto) inner space *
to the physical (waho) outer space
Tuia ke te here tangata connecting to our origins 
Ka rongo te Pō The message is relevant throughout
Ka rongo te ao the universe
Tihei Mauri ora behold the essence of life
Outer space: physical world innerspace : metaphysical knowing
Tuia : a weaving term: stitching
Fantastic day and dreamlike night at Hinemihi, Clandon Park.Light and sound installation at Hinemihi by Kura Puke and Stuart Foster, Massey University, New Zealand. 2014.photos and video Regan O'Callaghan
In the weeks before she died my grandmother saw a Ruru in her room, an owl I believed this was a good omen a messenger. My grandmother also saw lots of people come to visit her, people that most others didn't see. But it was the Tuis heard by my sister around our grandmother's house and in the trees that seemed to have the clearest of messages. Waking before dawn still adjusting to a new time zone and re-awkening to an old world I too would hear them call. Their song a melodic chorus reminded me of their visits to the Kowhai tree which grew outside my childhood home. An iridescent blue black with a white tuff around its neck it is easy to see why the early european settlers called the Tui the Parson Bird. The Tui though has much more to offer than religious platitudes. My grandmother was going blind so hearing their dawn chorus must have been a comfort and a soothing sound to wake to.
The Tui is endemic to New Zealand. Other native song-birds include the Kokako, the Piopio and the Huia the latter two both now extinct. The story goes the Huia was the first to sing the dawn chorus. Once it had called out to the rising sun the other birds would join in. We can only imagine what the sound must have been like. Today we hear a fraction of this song and it is the Tui which has taken the role the Huia once claimed.
My grandmother was impatient to die declaring that neither God nor the devil wanted her but she still had things to do and tasks to complete so she lingered longer than anyone imagined. People from the past and present sought her company knowing that the old woman would soon be travelling on. Before I returned to New Zealand she came to visit in my dreams. In one she called out in fear of the dark but was soon comforted by a beautiful light and the arrival of a large ship. In another we sat in my great grandmother Rongoheikume's wharenui while my grandmother sat reminiscing with my grandfather who had passed many years previously. In the last she came just before I woke to say goodbye.
My grandmother was superstitious. Once when we gathered in her dining room upon hearing of the death of a family member a Piwakawaka flew in and circled above us chatting before flitting out. She didn't like this. Nor did she like peacock feathers as she believed they brought bad luck. And as she got older her home became a place of memories of people who had died and she became a little afraid. Afraid of the dark.
The Tui's call at dawn must have been a heart warming sound for a woman whose world was becoming smaller and darker as her eyesight failed her. Refusing to move out of her home, she dwelt in a place which must have felt desolate at times but for the blessing of her carer a devoted and loving woman and the visits of family and friends. My grandmother persevered.
When I visited earlier in the year I could see she was getting ready to travel light. Letting go of hurts and giving thanks for life my grandmother was ready to die. Philosophical and with a wicked sense of humour she had journeyed through a life at times treacherous and dark but she carried on. She was tough, her mind and heart ticking over with a steady beat. Even close to death she requested she be woken if a visitor came to see her. She loved people and in her last few months she had a steady stream of visitors. I believe she also found the visits of the Ruru and Tui a blessing but more than anything it was the song of the Huia I hoped and imagined she would wake to. The song of a gatekeeper to the seventh heaven the Huia would be the guardian which when the time came would carry my grandmother up through the trees and beyond to a place where she would rest and laugh and be.
On an overcast day we gathered. The women of the family carried her coffin out of the house and the men carried her into the chapel. I stood before them as a priest and a grandson. Family spoke and sang, cousins offered beautiful words and prayers in maori, a poem written by my brother inspired and an Irish blessing was shared. And as we lowered the coffin into the grave on the day that was also my birthday I imagined her, glint in eye with a glass of vodka in one hand regaling all with rude stories and naughty jokes and I smiled.
BEANNACHT (Irish for blessing) by John O'Donohue
On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you.
And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, greenAnd azure blue, Come to awaken in you A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours, May the clarity of light be yours, May the fluency of the ocean be yours, May the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow Wind work these words Of love around you, An invisible cloak To mind your life.
Photo of Lake Taupo by Hana Ransfield.
"Do you hear the Tui call the Huia in the Trees" Words from the Song "Reconnect" by Maisey Rika.
Wharenui - House
Piwakawaka - Faintail (type of bird)
It is not often you get called a degenerate, disgusting, unholy and unchristian all in one go but that is what happened to me a few weeks ago after I had given a talk about my art and its connection with my faith. Seems some people don't like difference of experience or opinion or have a sense of humour which were all important parts of my talk. But then you can't please everyone!
I certainly stopped trying along time ago. Identity or my search for one has fuelled and inspired all of my art. Later in life learning to write religious icons was a way to try and integrate my religion, faith and priesthood with my creativity and artistic calling. I felt as if I needed to bridge a gap or rather a huge chasm that was increasing in size after I had been ordained into the Church of England.
Art has always been my way of coping with and exploring the who, why, where and what questions that emerge throughout life. There have been times when my creativity has challenged other people as it indeed challenges me but to try and suppress the creative itch let alone try and exist without art has never been worth thinking about. I once showed the first icon I had painted to an area Bishop. His response was so sniffy so dismissive and negative I realised very quickly I needed to protect the creative spirit within. At the same time I also knew I mustn't shut this integral part of me off from the world. Personally I doubt if I would have been able to remain in the Church of England if it wasn't for art and creativity.
Take The Poisonous Purple Pinching Plant which was inspired by some purple robe wearers. Religion and status can easily be a smoke screen for ones own weaknesses and failures if not more blatantly their bigotry and hatred. Power does indeed corrupt.
But of course art too can also be a mode of propaganda. It is this which makes the path of an artist/priest sometimes a little treacherous.
I know of one priest who had himself commissioned in a Station of the Cross series of paintings as Joseph of Arimathea holding the body of Jesus and ultimately having himself portrayed in the most intimate of circumstances with the divine. I can only think this priest was hoping to express his closer and more elevated relationship to God than the mere mortals who sat in the pews every sunday.
I guess when you want to blow your own trumpet art has its benefits. Personally I would rather some kept their sounding off to the pulpit or maybe the privacy of their own homes. But on the other hand listening to drivel or looking at dross can also be a good training ground to discern what is worthy and what is not. My sounding off is definitely through art though. I have never been any good at preaching verbally but instead have found a voice (perhaps more a croak) through painting and making. I find inspiration in the story of Saint Francis of Assisi who proclaimed to his religious brothers to 'go out and share the gospel and use words if you have to!'
Less talking more 'being' were in part the inspiration for Te Waiata o te Piopio (Song of the Piopio). In this painting a figure emerges out of a dense forest and approaches the edge of a cliff. He waits, listening for the call of the Piopio a songbird from Aotearoa. Sadly he doesn't know that the Piopio has become extinct and the song he seeks has been silenced. But he continues to listen waiting to jump out either into the golden realm of the heavens or the swirling mass in the canyon below.
Is this a story of faith or perhaps a lack of it or even the loss of? Or maybe it is more to do with a willingness to listen to the song of something we can only dream about and hope for, and ultimately in faith take a leap out into the unknown to try and find? Ultimately it is about the need to be listened to which at times far outweighs the barrage of unasked for opinions or grandiose statements directed ones way. Our own inner voice can often be silenced by the incessant carping or inane chat of the multitude or those pushy individuals who have found a platform. You don't need to go far into the day to hear the barbs of condemnation and yet if you wake early you may be lucky enough to hear the sound of another dawn chorus. A sound far more natural and in tune with the world. This song soothes the soul. This song is eternal.