Wing Commander (retired) the Reverend Theo Carpenter passed away peacefully on November 16, 2017, at home surrounded by his family. He was aged 86. Theo’s wife Anne, his five children and their partners, and his nine grandchildren will sorely miss his unconditional love, laughter and entertaining chatter. A service to celebrate Theo’s life and ministry will be held at St Luke’s Anglican Church, Waikanae on Tuesday November 28 at 11am. All are welcome to attend and clergy who wish to robe may do so with a red stole (Theo’s request).
Born and raised in a large family in Auckland, Theo’s call to ministry came at the age of 12. He was trying to mow the vicarage lawns quietly as his Vicar was terminally ill. Someone called from the window that the Vicar had died, and Theo heard a distinct voice saying “And you will take his place”. He never deviated from that calling. Theo attended King’s College on a scholarship and was actively involved in many chapel activities. In 1951 he went on to St John’s Theological College, as a University student. He was involved in the rhythms of prayer, study and ‘useful industry’ (Theo tended the College vegetable garden), as his University lectures allowed.
For most of Theo’s six years at College he ministered to the Anglican Church on Waiheke Island, and was the leader of a group of students who visited the island every second weekend where they took services in at least four centres. He spent the long summer vacations on the island, living in a tent in primitive conditions beside the church in Oneroa. He conducted Sand Missions for the Auckland City Mission Children’s Camps, teaching the children songs he had learned in his Baptist Sunday school days. During his College years Bishop Simkin asked Theo to visit the Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, as no-one from the church had visited for 10 years. He travelled from Auckland by ferry, landing at one end of the island and walking over the hills and primitive roads visiting the homes of the islanders, spreading and living the word of God and taking his first baptism. At the other end of the island he caught the ferry back to Auckland. This was repeated over several summers.
In 1956 Theo gained his LTh with 1st Class Honours. 1957 was a busy year. He was made Deacon on St Mathias Day; we were married in September, and he was Ordained Priest on St Thomas’ Day, serving his curacy in Mt Roskill. To Theo’s dismay, two years later the Bishop asked him to become the first Vicar of the Parochial District of the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf – where he’d been a student in shorts and Roman sandals! We moved there in 1959 to a more civilised dwelling with electricity etc but still a 90 minute ferry ride to Auckland city so we were not often away from the island and therefore always “on duty!” After two years on Waiheke Island Theo was asked to go to the parish of Tuakau, South Auckland. Here he had seven centres of worship, five services and 100 miles of travel most Sundays in the days before Liturgical Assistants and Chalice Bearers.
In 1966 a new Anglican Chaplain was needed in the Armed Forces, from the Auckland Diocese, which had the most clergy! Theo fitted the various criteria needed and was told by his Bishop to move to RNZAF Base Woodbourne, just out of Blenheim. This was a steep learning curve for us both as we’d never had any experience of Service life. We knew no one in the South Island and two days after arrival Theo was put into uniform and whisked off to spend three months at the Officer Training School at RNZAF Base Wigram, out of Christchurch. Aged 35 he was expected to do all the PE activities the young 20 year old pilots did. A Padre in the Armed Services has to be “all things to all people” – able to mix with people regardless of rank, a real challenge, but one which Theo loved. Woodbourne was the training school for young Airmen Cadets, 16/17 year olds straight from school. Some very homesick lads visited our home, just across the road from their Barracks. Chapel each Sunday morning was compulsory for the Cadets. Off Base Theo assisted in the parish of Wairau Valley, and was involved in church activities in Blenheim and Nelson. Early in 1970 the family, now seven in total, moved to RNZAF Base Ohakea, near Bulls. After four years there our family was ‘posted’ to the ANZUK Forces in Singapore for two years where Theo was chaplain to the British Hospital in Changi, and ministered to the congregations in British built chapels on two Army Bases. At the end of 1973 we returned to NZ and Theo took up the position of Principal Air Force Chaplain at Defence Headquarters in Wellington. Living in Tawa and with no weekly Air Force chapel commitments Theo assisted Rev Ray Muller in the parish of Tawa-Linden.
After 15 years in the Air Force Theo decided it was time to get back into Parish Ministry, so in early 1981 he was appointed to the Parish of Kapiti with five churches and four services every Sunday. Theo was led to embark upon a huge project to centralise the Parish. A newspaper clipping in 1989 referred to Theo as “the vicar who closed down three churches” – an unusual occurrence in those days but one which has paid off with the building of St Paul’s Church on Kapiti Road, a beacon of Christianity and a centre for many Diocesan functions. In 1990, Theo accepted a ‘call’ to St Peter’s, Palmerston North, leaving the completion of St Paul’s Kapiti to the incoming vicar, Rev Bernard Faull. Even at St Peter’s, on the edge of the city of Palmerston North, there were still three churches having regular services so the routine of four services a Sunday continued. For 22 years of Parish Ministry Theo sang Evensong every week. St Peter’s was our last parish and we have very happy memories of our time there. Our retirement in June 1994 saw us move to Waikanae Beach. Almost immediately Theo was appointed Chaplain to the Retired Clergy in Kapiti Archdeaconry, and over the next 14 years organised many happy gatherings.
In these last few years Theo has had health issues that necessitated many visits either as an inpatient or an outpatient to Wellington Hospital. He always commented on the wonderful care he received but never seemed to realise that the respectful way he treated others was the way they responded to him. A lot of fun and laughter was always involved.
A couple of days before our Diamond Wedding Anniversary family celebration, just two months ago, we were told Theo had acute myeloid leukaemia – an aggressive form of cancer for which there is no treatment. Three weeks ago Theo came home to complete the end of his earthly journey. Our five children came home to care for their father and support me in a most loving way. Finally, last Thursday, at 6.30am Theo peacefully took his last breath and slipped into the presence of our Lord.
First and foremost Theo was a Priest. But he was also a devoted husband, father and grandfather. Our Dad was a father, but a priest as well. He was a priest, but our father as well.
Anne Carpenter and Christine Bull (daughter)
Please uphold Theo’s wife Anne and their family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.
Well done good and faithful servant
May he rest in peace and rise in glory