Carl Tanner, my father, was studying in Dunedin to become a mining engineer when he “heard the call” at a service in Knox College Chapel. He completed his degree in Auckland, added a degree in theology, and became a clergyman in 1930. He served as a curate in St Mary’s Cathedral in Auckland and St Matthew’s Church in Hastings, and was vicar of Reefton, Amuri and St James’ Riccarton before going to Geraldine, accompanied by his wife Kathleen, and the youngest two of their four sons, Philip and Joseph.
We liked Geraldine and the friendly people. Some parishioners followed the tradition of “looking after the vicar,” and brought gifts of food. Vegetables and fruit came to our door, along with eggs, cream and honey, and homemade produce such as cottage loaves, cakes, scones, jam, bottled fruit and ginger beer. We were given meat, and even salmon caught at the Rangitata mouth. We received invitations to visit and met many lovely and interesting people. The parish put on the occasional bazaar in the church hall with competitions for produce, cooking and flower arranging, in which my mother competed, while smaller centres nearby held A and P shows, with similar competitions, as well as displays of animals, farm machinery, brass bands, pipe bands and dancing competitions.
On the other hand, life in the vicarage was often stressful for Carl and Kathleen – they were sometimes called on at all hours, seven days a week, to deal with matters that were often humdrum or personal but were occasionally disturbing or alarming. Many people came to the vicarage. Mostly they were ordinary decent folk, with a sprinkling of saints, con artists, lame ducks, sado-Christians and some with psychiatric disorders. Carl was once threatened with a rifle when visiting a parishioner who seemed to be having problems.
The family bought an old wooden road-mender’s hut with wooden wheels, designed to be towed by a tractor or traction engine, which a kind farmer at Woodbury allowed us to place on his land. We stayed there most holidays - with no telephone! Although Carl was not naturally gregarious, he worked hard to serve the parish and support parishioners. He liked to push ahead with projects and threw his weight behind a fund-raising campaign in the parish, so that the church could be completed, and an administration block built.
Carl gave doctrinal matters much thought. He had a keen interest in science that made him uneasy about the supposed contradiction between the Bible and evolution, for example, but he often said that nature was a wonderful demonstration of God’s power and creativity.