Published on 27th June 2014
As the Anglican Church’s representative in Rome, Archbishop Sir David Moxon moves in exalted circles. But he credits his first foray into the wider world as a Volunteer Service Abroad school leaver in 1970 for the path his life has taken.
Archbishop Sir David Moxon, who was knighted in the 2014 New Year’s Honours, says his year in Fiji, establishing the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme there (it’s still running), was due to “a little bit of late adolescent altruism combined with excitement and a bit of gung-ho derring-do… We were really inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary”, VSA’s founding President.
Sir David grew up in Palmerston North, and after his year in Fiji went on to study at the University of Canterbury, Massey University and the University of Oxford Honours School of Theology. He was ordained in 1979 and became the youngest Bishop in New Zealand in 1993.
He has continued to work for youth and humanitarian causes – now, in Rome, he works with an NGO to prevent human trafficking. In New Zealand, he worked with troubled youth and young offenders.
He says now “If I hadn’t been on a VSA assignment I wouldn’t have been as oriented to community-facing issues. I think the church would have helped me, but I think the visceral, experiential engagement wouldn’t have been as strong.
“I would say that VSA completely reoriented my approach to culture, and to bicultural and multicultural development and realities, sensitivities. It also developed a healthy respect for other faiths, because of the Muslim and Hindu communities in Fiji. I hadn’t had any experience of that before I left NZ. That turned out to be really valuable.
“Those things have stayed with me all my life since then.”
Bi-culturalism has played a role in his personal life: Sir David’s wife, Tureiti, has Nga¯ti Kahungunu and Nga¯ti Tahu links, and is currently the Managing Director of Hamilton primary health provider Te Kohao Health. With Sir David in Rome, they’re a “global wha¯nau”, and he jokes his appointment has made him very popular with their four adult children, who are happy to have a handy base for European travel.
VSA, of course, has no religious affiliation. But while Sir David’s subsequent work has been in faith-based organisations, he says there can be a real benefit to working together towards a common cause. “The non-religious NGO and the faith-based NGO can find ways to support one another and collaborate. But I think the personal skills and the dynamics – the structural analysis, methodologies, are very similar.
“It’s just a question of which base you want to mobilise from. And sometimes it helps to work from a faith base, because the spirituality of the people you’re with is faith-based.”
Whichever background you come from, he says, there’s something special about Kiwi volunteers, though “it is hard to define.” He says coming from a small, multicultural country with a pioneer heritage means “we’re curious about the world. We like travelling. Comparatively speaking, we have quite a lot of resilience, endurance and we work hard. We’re pretty down to earth, we don’t have ideas above our station when it comes to other cultures, or people, or classes.
“With one or two exceptions there’s a latent sort of humility, not too proud or arrogant, by and large, not too loud and I think that helps you segue in and do your best and make a go of it. A fair go – that’s another thing – egalitarianism. I think that helps.”