Thomas Alan McKenzie was born in 1928 in Ashburton. His father was a sheet metal worker and his mother took in washing. As a boy, Alan helped care for his father who suffered Post Traumatic Shock Disorder after World War One and died when Alan was only 13.
After finishing school, Alan left home to work in the Forestry as a labourer. But having received from his mother — a voracious reader of Dickens — a love of learning, he headed to Wellington where he graduated from Teachers’ College. He was seconded to Maori schools in the North Island. Maoritanga and mauri broadened Alan’s outlook. It was at Nuhaka that he was challenged by the Maori pastor to enter the ministry.
Alan trained for ordination at College House in Christchurch, living alongside students from many disciplines. During vacations, he worked as a labourer for Mid-Canterbury Transport. In 1954 — following curacy at St Mary’s, Merivale — he married Pamela Smith, a primary school teacher from the farming settlement of Russell’s Flat near Springfield.
Alan and Pamela’s first parishes were centred in Okains Bay; Pleasant Point; and Riccarton, Christchurch. In 1966, their empathy for people from other walks of life led them to travel to Singapore with their four young children. Serving with the Church Missionary Society, Alan was chaplain to St Andrew’s Anglican Mission School and vicar of its associated parish. Singapore was a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities, faiths and flavours. Separated recently from Malaya, it was beset by political turmoil and racial riots — while, under the increasingly firm governance of new Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, it was also a city-state in accelerated transformation. For Alan and Pamela, the experience transformed their lives and shaped their outlook.
It was an equally profound culture shock then for the McKenzie family to return from the tropical heat and ceiling fans of their small Singapore apartment to the large drafty vicarage of St Mary’s, Geraldine. Although this was an unexpected adjustment, it was also exciting and rewarding. John 14, Kathryn 12, Alastair 10 and Stuart 5, thrived in this new, wide-open world.
From coastal plains up to Mesopotamia, in the headwaters of the Rangitata river, the natural beauty of the parish soaked into Alan’s soul and shaped his understanding of divinity. When he suffered health problems later in life, he called upon this perspective and his deep love of family for strength. In 1975 he was one of the very first people in NZ to undergo open-heart surgery.
It was with sadness in 1974 that the McKenzie family left Geraldine, their only New Zealand home lived in and remembered by the whole family. Following a NZ traveling position for CMS, Alan’s diocesan responsibilities increased. While vicar of St Matthew’s, St Albans, he was elected a Cathedral Canon; representative on the Maori Bi-Cultural Committee; member of General Synod; and Archdeacon of Christchurch and the West Coast. Sabbatical took Alan & Pamela back to Asia, traveling in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Malaysia, studying the interaction of Christianity with Eastern religions. Between 1985 and 1989, Alan was full time Assistant to the Bishop. On retirement, Standing Committee conferred on him the title of Archdeacon Emeritus. Alan McKenzie died in Christchurch in 2011. He is remembered as a man of strong and humble faith and deep compassion.