Morris was a Christian chaplain who championed gay rights at a time when homosexuality was still illegal. Here’s ANDREW JOHNSTONE’s moving tribute.
“I fell asleep in a trench in the Burmese jungle and woke up to find myself surrounded by Japanese soldiers. They must have thought I was dead because they were taking no notice of me so I stayed dead for a few hours. Suddenly, there were shots and two Japs fell down about me, and the rest fled. A moment later members of my unit piled into the trench and one said ‘we got about five miles down the line and we realised we had lost you, Padre’. They fixed me some food and a hot drink and off we went.”
About two months before he died he grabbed my hand and said he had a confession to make and needed absolution. I looked about like a startled hare and wondered if I was the right person for the job, but he wasn’t hearing any of it. “I have never told anyone this but I need to get it off my chest. I had two affairs during the war. Once with an Indian nurse while on leave in India and once with a Chinese schoolteacher while on leave in South Africa. You have to understand I was young and lonely and sure that I was going to die out there and I was looking for warmth and connection.” He paused for a moment then asked me if I thought he was a bad man? I didn’t and told him so. He seemed relieved.
Morris was an Anglican vicar who had felt the call to serve ‘the loving Jesus’ since he was a child. “I never rose through the ranks because I refused to play the game.” The game he was referring to was politics. Morris didn’t care about being seen to do the right thing, he did as he felt and this included tending to the needs of homosexual parishioners in a time when homosexuality was not only a mortal sin but also illegal with it. This did not make him popular with his peers nor did his acceptance of other faiths including Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. “At their best they are all paths to love,” he confirmed.
It was his open-mindedness that brought him and his wife to New Zealand; that, and a daughter who had married a Kiwi and had moved out here several years earlier. She sent him a clipping from the New Zealand Herald about an iconic Anglican church in the heart of a major NZ city that was falling on hard times and in need of a vicar who could make a difference. Morris got the job and in 1967 he and his wife made the big move and began life afresh.
I wish I had asked him more about these times because as I am writing I am only beginning to realise how spare my knowledge of him is. I am recalling snippets about how he revitalized the parish by organising dances for single Christians wanting to meet other single Christians, and putting on special services for gay Christians. They retired in 1979 and moved to the Central Waikato to be near their daughter.
Morris flirted with my then wife, a pretty and vibrant young woman of considerable charm, while reassuring me that it was all a game. “I am a eunuch old boy so I am no competition to you.” He had contracted testicular cancer a few years before I met him and they had been removed. Not long after, he lost his beloved wife to illness. This last one was a real blow and he staggered back to life determined to find new meaning. “I lost interest in the Church of England. It was moribund and had forgotten the essential Christian message of love.” Like me, his searching had brought him to the Rosicrucian Lectorium, a Gnostic Christian sect based at Karapiro just outside of Cambridge.
The Rosicrucians suited Morris to a tee. They were Christian but they also borrowed heavily from the Eastern spirituality that had long impressed him. He liked their egalitarian attitude and enjoyed their fellowship though he couldn’t cope with their vegetarianism. He was part Basque, and carried that peculiar Basque genetic profile that meant his body could not absorb iron from plant food. He needed flesh.
Otherwise, he saw through their more pretentious allusions and made a great deal of fun at their expense. These Rosicrucians (or as he liked to call them, the Rosy Crustaceans) were of Dutch origin and being typically dour were ripe for the picking. He referred to their founding figure Jan van Rijckenborgh as J. Rickenfuhrer or Rickenburger as the mood took him, all in honor of Rijckenborgh’s instruction that the leader should never be exalted. Of course they exalted him, at every turn, but Morris was always there waving the satirical flag to remind them of their obligations.
In this context he referred to their bi-monthly magazine The Pentagram as The Penthouse. To their credit they put up with up with it, possibly because he was creakingly old and to protest would just be wrong-headed. Still, for those of us less inclined toward unswerving fealty he was fresh air blowing out the bull dust.
Once he decided to surprise his daughter and her husband by going out to their farm with the idea of completing the renovations underway on their house while they were on holiday. He managed to pull the roof in on their living room while inadvertently setting their entire winter’s wood supply alight. That story followed him about like a bad smell and any mention of it were the only times I ever saw him look displeased.
Halfway through his 93rd year his body shut down and he went fast. It was a peaceful death at home in his own bed surrounded by friends and family. The Anglican Bishop of the Waikato officiated at the funeral and stood before us all in his finery and waxed lyrical about Morris’s eccentricities (his Gnostic faith) and suggested that God would take into account all Morris’s good work and forgive him for his aberrations. Seriously, I wanted to kick the smug bastard where it hurt the most, and regret that I didn’t. I have seldom before or since met a person with a truer heart than Morris’s. A man who judged no one but himself, he didn’t deserve to go out on a snipe like that.