Sixty years in the priesthood was celebrated in December 2015 by the Very Revd Michael Bent, a former vicar of St Mary’s and archdeacon of Taranaki, who still lives in the city.
Michael has experienced eventful assignments in the United Kingdom, Fiji and Papua New guinea, and also worked in New Zealand parishes.
Born in England, he aimed to be a solicitor but during a court sitting, “I saw all these shady characters standing in the dock, and I thought, with the romanticism of adolescence, ‘I can do something with these people!’”
Michael studied at Kelham Theological College, then became curate at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.
Called to Fiji, he brought Indian people into the Christian community, and took the ministry of worship and fellowship to the descendants of Solomon Islanders who had been blackbirded (kidnapped to work as slaves). He also helped deliver babies in the middle of the night, and used a blow torch to destroy bed bugs.
After serving as general secretary of the Anglican Board of Missions in Wellington, where he met his wife Rosemary, Michael became vicar of St Mary’s, New Plymouth, and archdeacon of Taranaki. Here he and “a great group of lay people” worked well together. The 17-room vicarage became a centre for social gatherings, and archbishops stayed there when visiting Taranaki.
After 10 years he became dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva. He was there for the first two coups, and while taking the sacraments to hospital he was almost stoned by Fijians because they considered him an intrusive palagi.
After serving as vicar of Te Awamutu, he worked in Papua New guinea as vicar general of Popondota diocese, provincial director of clergy in service training, and lecturer at Newton Theological College. On one occasion, a rifle was poked through the window of the Bents’ home “and there was a demand to let the raskols (members of criminal gangs) in. Rosemary moved slowly across the room. She was told to sit down. But she said ‘No, this is my house, I am not sitting down,’ and switched on an alarm.”
On another occasion a rifle was fired at their car, but the home-made bullet didn’t penetrate the windscreen.
Michael still conducts services and does parish work at Oakura, Okato, Inglewood, Patea and Stratford, and Brooklands in New Plymouth.
“Visiting people, getting to know people, has always been a priority,” he said, “and you can’t preach to people you don’t know.”