Sharing the cake: Vicar Mark Beale

The first knock on the church office door comes 30 minutes into the interview. The next before the hour is out. The first is a problem that needs solving, the second a family that needs feeding.

They say the Lord provides, but for the lost souls of South Auckland’s Clendon, His name is Mark Beale.

It’s been this way for nearly 30 years, since Beale was sent to plant a church and vicarage in place of the cowshed and the weeds in a muddy paddock on the brow of a hill in Finlayson Ave.

He held the first service there in August 1988 for a congregation of nine. Five of them – his wife Barbara and their four children – had the surname Beale. Up to 250 turn up each Sunday these days.

But a new vicar, Glenn Paddison, is taking over at St Elizabeth’s Anglican Church, ministering to one of the country’s poorest parishes. About 40% of the 10,000-odd people who live here are on a benefit; around a third of those are on the dole.

A quarter of the households are solo parent families, and on the New Zealand Deprivation Index, which measures socio-economic status, Clendon scores a 10 – the maximum. Handing out food parcels is one of the church’s biggest tasks.

At 65, Beale says it’s time someone younger took over this flock. He hasn’t stopped caring and his passion is undimmed, but you get the feeling he’s beyond tired.

“I don’t lose hope, but you can become worn out to the point where you know you have to quit.”

Later, he qualifies that, saying he doesn’t feel burnt out, just that he doesn’t have the capacity he once did to do the job.

He reckons he’s seen it all during his time here. They’ve had a tinny house next door and one across the road.

He’s had his car bricked and egged after turning down a family who wanted a food parcel – they’d been selling them on – and stepped in to protect a child from assault. He’s spoken up for South Auckland during a spate of five murders in 2008, one of them a few hundred metres from the church. Continue reading

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