When Malcolm French and his wife Jan return to Canada next week, it will be with a measure of quiet acceptance and some sadness at the way their New Zealand adventure ended.
The couple is taking a demonstrably Christian approach to a government decision not to renew their visa. Many have gone into bat to have that decision overturned, and for that Malcolm is deeply grateful.
“But at the end of the day, God calls us to be where God calls us to be. It’s not what we wanted, but it will be fine.”
Nonetheless, his Christian charity has been tested. “I am a bit grumpy with the PM… I will probably write her a letter in which I will reference the ‘Yes Prime Minister’ segment suggesting that there could be something amiss when politicians feel they cannot overrule bureaucrats. Then again, she may be too young to know the series.”
It was the 61-year-old’s age that finally scuppered him, but he said the government’s stance was based on regulation, not law, and those in the know were surprised an exception could not have been made, particularly in view of how difficult it is to fill church positions.
“I have worked in government … I understand the tension between bureaucrats and politicians. At the end of the day, bureaucrats recommend, politicians decide.”
Malcolm came to St Andrew’s in late 2017, on two-year religious work visa. “Normally, the process allows us to apply for permanent residency halfway through the second two-year term. In our case, that came up in late 2019. We didn’t apply until just before lockdown last year, then nothing happened for a while.”
He wonders whether the outcome might have been different if he had applied when he was first able, months before the first lockdown and the surge of kiwis abroad seeking to return could have impacted the decision.
He will take over his new ministry at St Simon’s Anglican Church in Oakville, in the Diocese of Niagara, on September 15. It’s a city of almost 200,000 and six Anglican parishes. “Here, I saw myself not just as the vicar of St Andrew’s, but as the vicar of Cambridge. It will be different in Oakville.”
Malcolm and Jan have become part of the fabric of Cambridge life. Jan was on the board at the Cambridge Community Marae and also co-ordinated the Selwyn Centre, he was both chairman and chaplain at Cambridge St John. They were both learning Te Reo Māori; a letter from the office of the Māori monarch, Tūheitia Paki, expressed gratitude for the way Malcolm had respected Māori tikanga. They love Cambridge and had hoped to retire here.
While the big stuff hasn’t gone their way, the minutiae of moving has been gentler. Their beloved dog Megwich, given a native Canadian Cree name, has been happily re-homed, they have found accommodation in Oakville and have cast their ballots for the September 20 Canadian Federal election.
Malcolm had been offered two positions – one in England, the other in Oakville, near Toronto. He managed to get his original start date extended so as to celebrate the St Andrew’s Parish sesquicentennial with the community.
“Covid put an end to that,” he said wryly. “We had planned for my farewell service on Sunday. Now, instead of going out with a bang, I’ll be going out with a whimper.”