6 December 2020
Almost three thousand years ago - about 750 BC the Prophet Micah sees the people of Israel returned to their land after exile. they oppress the poor, fight with each other and do not not build a community which everyone had the right to be a part of. "You are rebellious people" says the Prophet. "Well, What does God require?" they asked "We can give lots of money, we can bring flocks of rams, pay our way",
"No!" says Micah, "God is not interested in those things, God requires that you act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God valuing one another and all in your community".
If you worship God you will be just and kind. Justice in the Bible is not only the legal system, it is ensuring that there are no members of the community who are deprived of the basic needs and rights that would allow them to function as part of the community.
David McNair Dingwall was a man who worshipped God and followed Jesus. He was a member of St Andrews then St Lukes church all his life and his living out his Christian faith went beyond his death.
According to the Dingwall history David was born in Auckland in 1846, He came from a Scots background, David lived out his Christian faith in his integrity in all matters of business, his kindness to those in need and his focus on doing what he was determined to do. Some apparently called David mean, as he lived frugally and he and his sister Sarah saved all their lives, but this was for a goal which was to be revealed after his death.
He never turned away any in genuine need, when he died it was discovered that during the twelve months before his death, he had given away over one thousand pounds - a large sum in those days - to help others.
But why would a single man with no children have this focus?
The story goes, apocryphal or otherwise, that David called on a friend whose wife had just died, leaving him with young children to care for. The friend had to leave to go back to his job at sea. "What can I do David? I have to work to support them, How can I care for them? What will happen to my children?". There was no DPB in those days.
David saw the need.
His long term response of compassion which was practical and loving, was determining how to care for needy children. When he died in 1927 his will said that the money and property he had built up over the years was to be used, after he had cared for his sister's needs, for the formation of an "Institution to be located within 50 miles of the Auckland General Post Office, to be called the Dingwall Presbyterian Orphanage and the trustees were to be the current ministers and a lay person from the four City Presbyterian churches, St Andrews, St James , St Lukes and St Davids and the three executors from Jackson, Ryburn and Buttle".
This was focused on the needs of children , "for the maintenance, upbringing and education for children, born or domiciled in New Zealand, of any race or creed, who should be orphans or destitute, or whose parent should be in strained circumstances".
The homes were established in Papatoetoe. Today the Dingwall Trust has a simple clear focus a summary of David's will, "to step in where parents are unable."
The trust is respected by welfare agencies who had removed the word institution from their vocabularies. Because it is an institution and has some financial independence Dingwall can challenge, inform and change policies which affect the care of all children and their parents.
The words of the prophet Micah.: What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (8:6)
Leads us to ask is this justice or just charity?
What was David Dingwall setting up? Maybe Dingwall is still here because those who have been its trustees and its employees have developed over the years a clear sense of the difference between giving charity in the accepted sense of the word and the charitable Bodies Act and doing justice.
There is an important difference between justice and charity.
Biblical Justice has to do with fairness, with what people deserve. It results from social structures that guarantee moral rights and do not give some rights as the expense of others.
Charity has to do with benevolence or generosity. It results from people's good will and can be withdrawn whenever they choose. [basic moral arguments about paying school fees at present is about the right to an adequate education.]
Charity often develops and an expectation that the recipients should be grateful, and sometimes slides into assuming ownership of the recipients. Charity at its worst was experienced in a difficult time at the beginning of Dingwall. Early on there was conflict between St Johns Church and the first Dingwall superintendant. The children from the Homes attended St Johns as the local Presbyterian church. In February 1936, St Johns Session challenged the first Superintendant about his attitude and harsh discipline, many of the boys who were punished taking days to recover among other things. Parents who did not meet their financial requirements were required to work in the Dingwall grounds during the weekends. An almost Dickensian picture which David Dingwall certainly did not intend. The Trustees investigated and the superintendant resigned during the investigation.
Someone has to speak out for justice for children.
Justice would say that children have a right to shelter , food education and being valued and loved and to be safe.
The next superintendant, Mr Vic French had a long and fruitful term and entirely different attitude over the next 18 years. Leon Pitcher writes He was a great "role model" for the boys he devoted long hours and worked hard to keep the boys from getting into trouble. "
The most recent two superintendants, Fraser Falknor and Tracie Shipton have been seen to be people of integrity who place the interests of the children first.
The measure of Dingwall or any institution is, is it a place where mercy loving kindness and justice go hand in hand?
Charity in the modern sense can easily go sour and in fact can prevent justice being done. Politically people can think the problem is being solved by benevolent activity. Charity applied to children can give deep wounds if they are expected to be grateful to the agency for what is their God given birthright.
However, loving kindness and generosity combined with justice brings life for everyone.
Charities such as food banks and shelters start as emergency responses, merciful responses --to help ensure that people do not starve, or die from the elements. These services are never intended as permanent solutions to the problems.
We all get satisfaction from helping out where there is need. But we risk forgetting what a scandal it is that the foodbank, or even an appeal for a new scanner at the hospital is needed in the first place. When people rely on charity what happens in an area where no-one is interested or funds are needed for people who are shunned by society . Justice always asks the question while helping the immediate needs, why is this happening, what in our society is producing this problem?
The Dingwall trust has within it the basic understanding of justice which Micah and Jesus is talking about. Today they work faithfully understanding each person is valuable and so are their parents and families. They work for justice in their advocacy and their small degree of financial independence gives them a chance to be agents of change in children's care.
Leon tells me that in his day when they came to go to work, each young man and women were each given a new clothes and suitcase, a job to go to, a place to stay had been sorted and a person , often someone in the local church to whom they could go a friend and advisor. And they came back and visited their old home. Isn't that what a parent does, equip the child to go into the world?
The cold cutting off when a child is 17 has not been Dingwall's understanding of what to "step in when parents are unable" means. At present Dingwall is piloting a scheme for the government to allow children in State care to be helped into adulthood. Policies which abruptly put vulnerable young people out into the world will change as a result of this.
We give thanks to God today for David Dingwall's foresight inspired by Jesus who included childrren when others tried to pass them off as non persons. let the little children come to me" is on the founders plaque.
We give thanks for the staff of Dingwall for the faithful work that has happened in the past.
We give thanks for the long years of association with the people of this parish, and most of all for the many fine men and women who have called Dingwall home at times in their childhood which were sad or confused. People have gone on to live fully as part of the community.
What does God require? Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with God.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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