Dick Tripp – keeping the Christian faith

25 Jan 2023

Old Boy Dick Tripp (5627) views his life as “privileged in many ways, having been born in New Zealand of parents who had great morals, and brought up on a farm that gave me independence and practical skills”.

Now aged 90, the retired Anglican minister reflects on his wide-ranging education, having been a boarder at Waihi School and Christ’s College before heading to Cambridge University in England, and his commitment to service and helping those less fortunate.

Dick particularly recalls two life-changing events during his College years, having boarded in Flower’s House from 1947–1951.

“The most important is that I became a Christian about age 16,” he says. “During a Sunday Evening Service, the College Chaplain mentioned that a visiting preacher would speak after the service, and anyone could come along. I went out of curiosity. A Brethren from England, the speaker knew how to explain the gospel simply to boys. It must have made sense to me, so when he invited us to pray and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, I did just that.

“I knew nothing about the Holy Spirit, which you receive when you accept Christ, and it was some time before I understood that he had died for my sins, but I knew something wonderful had happened and that God was present and loved me. That was the beginning of a relationship that has been there ever since. I started to read the New Testament and it made sense, as I had the experience it talked about, and I also developed a great concern for those who suffer.”

To give an example, a College visitor spoke about a displaced person’s camp in Germany. People who were taken there by the Nazis were still living in the camp seven years after World War II ended but were being helped by the charity Corso.

“I was deeply moved and with the assistance of two others we set out to collect clothes and pack them into wool bales to be sent overseas. I don’t know how many bales we filled but it was quite a few. I was later able to visit the camp during a break from my Cambridge studies. In my ministry, I have always gravitated to folk at the bottom of the pile. I think this change in my life was the reason I was a College Prefect for two years and, in my final one, put in charge of the new boys.”

Dick’s second major moment came at age 17, when he injured his back while skiing in Queenstown, leaving his second bottom vertebrae out of position.

“I didn’t know that, and I lived with discomfort for 60 years until a very clever surgeon, James Burn, fixed it,” he says.

After years of fatigue and having to give up sport, at age 78 Dick was given new hips and James checked the MRI scan and realised he could also fix the back problem.

“Since then, I have walked both the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track in Fiordland. I think I am the second-oldest person – at 85 – to walk the Milford but I had 14 family members to cheer me on.”

Remarkably, Dick also won the Corfe Cup – a race for Old Boys held on Athletics Day at College – in 2021.

In his 60s, Dick was also belatedly diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.

“My symptoms were mainly difficulties in building deep relationships and finding it easier to take in information from reading rather than from the spoken word,” he says. “During my time at College, it meant I was a bit of a loner.”

Anxious to improve his relationship skills while still at school, Dick decided to become a Sunday hitchhiker. He had read about ways to start a conversation by showing interest in people and getting them to talk about their experiences.

“I thought I could practise this by hitchhiking. When stuck in a car with someone, you need to talk about something. I used to pick up a packed lunch and hitchhike into the country, have my lunch, and then hitchhike back in time for Evening Chapel. Once I got down to my old school, Waihi, about 130 kilometres south of Christchurch. However, I never missed Chapel and then the wife of the headmaster suggested that it would be best to end my travels, which I did.

“Altogether, I enjoyed my time at College. While I enjoyed Cricket and Rugby until I had to give them up, I was never particularly good. In those day, being in the top Rugby and Cricket teams counted more than academic achievement. I was top in maths every year and usually top of science subjects, along with winning the Corfe Prize in my last year.”

Dick also recalls success in diving for plates and shooting and “in my final year, I was in charge of boxing, but I never won a fight”.

He also discovered a love of magic during his school days.

“Magic became my favourite hobby. I am a member of the Canterbury Society of Magicians and love making people laugh,” he says.

Post-College, Dick’s father “signed me up for a Farming BA at Cambridge but it only lasted three weeks as I realised I was more interested in people than animals”.

“I knew it was either medicine or the ministry, so I did medicine for a year,” he says. “However, before starting my second year, the Lord made it plain that he wanted me to switch to some form of ministry and I ended up with an MA in theology.”

On returning to New Zealand, Dick attended Theological College and then served in several Canterbury parishes. In his first parish, he met his wife, Sally. They have been married for more than 60 years.

“She has had some problems with my Asperger’s, but she has supported my ministry and I love her dearly,” Dick says.

Dick has also written 25 booklets and five books on the Christian faith, and they can be all read on his website, Exploring Christianity. He has sold thousands of these in New Zealand and received numerous emails from people around the world who have found them helpful.

He has also written a book on his family, The Hero of Nithdale Station, covering the role of his father, Major Charles Tripp, during World War II. They are all in the College library.

“I believe that was what the Lord had in mind for me all along and he was preparing me for that role.

“I don’t know how long it will be before the Lord takes me home, but he gave me eternal life more than 60 years ago and I look forward to it.”

John says in his first letter, chapter 5, verse 13: These things are written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.