The Vaughan Park Scholarship emerged from a rare moment of clarity. At the time the Centre had a growing reputation as a conference venue yet was experiencing more limited success as a retreat centre. As the, then, director I was concerned to ensure Vaughan Park also further develop its original ministry purpose as a retreat centre.

The moment of clarity came in the very early hours of a morning in 2004. The seemingly simple idea of a residential scholarship dawned. As day lit, the idea remained clear. Over the following days the idea took shape and survived efforts to find any significant fault that might prevent development.

Christian ministry, like education, has a primary purpose to facilitate the best from people for their benefit and the benefit of others. Personal experience of educational institutions had long fostered a concern for those who might find it difficult, for any number of reasons, to secure space for reading, thinking, conversation and writing. Here was an opportunity to do something about that concern.

The idea presented Vaughan Park an additional useful ministry standing between the academy and wider community by offering an accessible, well-resourced learning environment. The scholarship programme was envisaged as a single three-month residency.

Fortunately, Vaughan Park has always been blessed with a Governance Board receptive to creative ideas and development. In 2004 the Board was approached with the scheme for offering full hospitality and accommodation to an applicant for a period of three consecutive months. The proposal found approval and became a plan to progress.

In 2005 The Rev Dr Jeff Whittaker, a Baptist pastor, took up residence as the inaugural scholar. Jeff has been followed by many and the programme continued to evolve as enquiries and applications grew. The first of many international scholars arrived in 2006, Dr Nicola Slee from Queens Theological Foundation in Birmingham UK has been followed by others from Australia, Malaysia, USA, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In order to better meet the key objective of an accessible learning environment it became apparent the programme needed to offer more places. While retaining the three-month scholarship, up to three one-month scholarships per year were added. The programme flourished.

In early 2015 a scholars’ reunion was held at the Centre. Former scholars attended from within Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas. Toward the end of that year The Rev Dr Peter Francis, Director of Gladstone’s Library in Wales, and I convened a conference, at the Library. The conference was a gathering of retreat centre leaders from around the Anglican Communion. The purpose was to strengthen the ministry we all shared and offer the concept of developing a shared scholarship programme.

The scholarship was always earthed with the purpose of providing a hospitable, accessible space for reading, thinking, conversation and writing. The programme has merely sought to provide a peaceful, life-giving environment in which that is possible.

John Fairbrother

Director 2003-2015