Welcoming a new kaitiaki - Regional News | Connecting Wellington
 Issue 215

Photo by Andrew Empson

Welcoming a new kaitiaki by Alessia Belsito-Riera

“For me, there’s never a static sense of waiting. We’re formed our whole life long in our character, gifts, and abilities,” says Katie Lawrence, who just stepped into the role of dean at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. This follows her position as canon precentor, which she’s held since moving to Aotearoa in September 2019. Born in Cyprus, dean Katie pursued dance from the age of 13, touring around the world. As she got older, she found herself feeling increasingly connected to her spirituality. Today, dean Katie says that every day brings something new, from hosting breakfasts for parliament members to helping refugees, sitting in on board meetings to organising Wellington Cathedral of St Paul’s lunchtime concerts. I caught up with her about everything she’s done, what she’s working on now, and her plans for the future.

How does it feel to be the first woman dean of Wellington Cathedral of St Paul?

It feels like a total privilege. I’m standing on the shoulders of all those who have come before me and those great unsung, unseen heroes. Those amazing male and female role models who have given their life to serve and minister. It feels like a blessing and a responsibility that I don’t bear lightly.

What does the role entail?

You’re the spiritual kaitiaki of your cathedral community. Our cathedral is also a parish, so we have a geographical boundary that we minister within. We have a broader role to serve the city and beyond across the motu. Part of the joy is to be available as a space for all people, whatever your faith or if you have no faith, for people who are just curious or interested in the architecture, who want a quiet space to reflect or to come in and enjoy some music.

Being dean weaves together; you’re gathering and welcoming, you’re facilitating worship, connecting with the transcendent and the mysterious, and the up-close and personal of the creative force that we would call God. You’re serving outwards. We have this three-directional ministry where we love, we live, and we serve. We do that in milestone moments of celebrating new life, being woven together in relationships through marriage, or farewelling and acknowledging people’s lives when they pass beyond our current tangible physicality. We are open every day and available for taxi drivers who come in for coffee, for tourists, for regulars, for people who might not even know why they’re in the building.

Do you have any goals you’d like to achieve as dean?

First and foremost, for me personally, is having the courage to be still and listen well. Developing a vision and mission for a community of faith that has a broad responsibility within the city is quite a multifaceted task, something to grow into. There are many voices that compete for our attention and our time. I’d like to create a space where people know that they’re welcome and safe. Where people can grow in their faith journey wherever they may find themselves. Where people can be fed and watered spiritually and emotionally so that we grow as a people in our character and in how we reflect love and light. Humans are the most beautifully diverse gift – we reflect so much beauty and diversity that sometimes it can get lost just through hard times in life, through circumstances, or perhaps choices. I’d like people to know how profoundly loved they are, because if you know who you are, where your identity lies, then you can be strengthened to love others better. It’s easy to overcomplicate things, but for me, it’s about loving God, others, and ourselves.

I was told that you have 20 years’ experience in dance. What was that part of your life like and how did it lead you here?

I lived in a ballet school full-time from the age of 13 to 19 and I trained every day. When I left, I worked professionally, mainly in contemporary dance with some very small-scale dance companies and then on tour across Europe, the States, China, and some more unusual places, working collaboratively with artists from different disciplines. Then I ended up working as an animateur, which is a word that means to bring to life, for Random Dance Company – the flagship contemporary dance company in the UK. That was when I started making more sense of who I was as a physical being who was also a spiritual being. I found I couldn't disconnect the two. My professional life was hard work, a lot of traveling, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, a total joy to be immersed in movement, music, art, film, and architecture. I ended up working with asylum seekers and former refugees, working with site-specific pieces in quite unusual locations in London and in Europe. I started trying to think more deeply about one of the unique aspects of the Christian faith, which is this thing called the incarnation: when God, as a spiritual being, became flesh and took on humanity in order for us to see who God is in an easy way we can relate to. We can relate to God as mountain, as river, as the lifeforce the runs through all living beings. Christians see God in the person of Jesus. As a woman, thinking about making space in your physical being for God – in the way that Mary made space in her womb for God – God stopped being this mysterious beyond and was literally birthed out, bloodied and screaming, and grew and identifies with everything that we go through in life. As a dancer, it was so liberating to make those connections. When someone started saying, ‘Oh, have you ever discerned a vocation to priestly ministry’, I just thought it was a joke. I couldn’t see that for myself because I had never seen someone like me represented in the church. I hadn’t had a female priest as a role model, and I didn’t feel like I could measure up to what my experience or understanding of a priestly ministry was. But it turns out that God needs all kinds of different people because we live among all kinds of different people.

What is your day-to-day life within the ministry like?

It’s underpinned by a rhythm of prayer. So that’s first thing in the morning; 12:15pm, where we also celebrate communion, which in the Christian faith is recognising God’s presence in bread and wine as we remember the sacrifice of Jesus. Then we have prayer again at 5:15pm. Those anchor points create a framework which reminds us of our spiritual touchstone points and helps us structure the day. Our everyday is totally different. It’s very broad and varied. It’s a privilege to spend time with people, to understand the breadth and richness of our amazing, diverse community here in Aotearoa.

What can people look forward to with Easter around the corner?

During Holy Week, which is the lead-up to Easter, we will be marking the journey towards death and resurrection. There’s a whole range of services which begin on Palm Sunday, when we look at what it means to celebrate. Maundy Thursday marks the last night before Jesus died. Good Friday we focus on what it is to face death and not shy away from confronting darkness. Saturday night there will be a special vigil at 9pm. On Sunday, Bishop Justin will be with us at 10am. We’ll have an 8am and 4pm service too where we recognise that new life follows death.

What quote or verse inspires you?

It’s Saint Augustine, I think: “You are to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed so that the work of the incarnation can continue”. It recognises that action of the Divine Spirit that dwells in us, that calls us, draws us in. We’re taken, we’re held, we’re blessed by God. Broken sounds awful but it’s not a violent breaking, it’s a multiplication so that there’s more love to share with others. That’s quite foundational for me.

Is there anything else that you would like included?

I just want people to know that they’re welcome. I would also want to say the church has made a lot of mistakes, because the church is made up of people like me who are imperfect. If the church had a more profound understanding of who God is as the author of love, if we knew ourselves loved, we would look on others with so much more compassion.

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