It may seem unlikely to run a national mail order business from a small town such as Otane. Even more unlikely to combine that business with a counselling service that offers support to people throughout Central Hawkes Bay and further afield.
Shirley Duthie is likely to respond that when people are called by God, unlikely things can happen. Shirley is the director of two trusts that both bear the name Pleroma, meaning ‘to make whole again’.
Pleroma Trust provides professional counselling, support, intervention and prevention programmes. Pleroma Christian Supplies is a trust set up to provide Christian resources for the local community and beyond, and to offer financial support to Pleroma Trust.
Both are in Otane and have their genesis in the conversion experience Shirley and her husband Ian had in the 1970s. Though Ian grew up in a Methodist family, the couple belonged to the local Catholic Church and felt called to offer a place of refuge for pregnant women.
"At that time there was a big push for abortion on demand. We felt a calling to set up a ministry to care for pregnant women who were under pressure.
"We offered a safe place to women who were unsupported or in violent relationships. We nurtured them until they had their babies and helped set up networks to support them where they wanted to be.
"As society changed that seemed too narrow, so we expanded the scope of the trust to offer physical, emotional, spiritual or financial support to anyone who needed it," Shirley says.
At the time the Duthies had six children and lived in an in an historic villa on a hectare of land on the outskirts of Otane. Initially the ministry was in their home but that became too taxing on the family, and a cottage was built on the property to house guests and later a counselling wing was added to the main house.
The counselling services Pleroma Trust offers have evolved through the years. At one point it ran a service in Taradale through volunteers but that has now ceased, as has the residential time-out and retreat facility. Also Ian Duthie passed away five years ago.
Today a significant part of the Pleroma’s work is with families in need. It includes relationship counselling, children and teens programmes, anger management, social work, home visiting, and stopping violence programmes tailored for rural people.
Shirley gives a lot of credit for the success and durability of the counselling programme to colleague Donna Pirini.
"Donna and I have worked together for a long time. This is somewhat unusual because there is usually a huge turnover of staff in social work. It has been wonderful, and now we are seeing the second and third generation of some families we work with.
"I do most of the work with men. This is mostly one-on-one counselling with men ordered to do a stopping violence programme by a district court or family court. Donna is very good at working with children, and with women who are the victims of violence. We both do relationship counselling.
"We offer a bi-cultural perspective and are able to talk about racial issues without hassles," Shirley says.
A recent addition to the services Pleroma offers is a day care centre with an emphasis on environmental issues. Mothers are encouraged to use cloth nappies, the centre has a worm farm, children are taught to recycle, and there are other activities that encourage them to care for the environment.
The commercial side of Pleroma has expanded significantly since it started out as the Pleroma Christian Bookshop. It too began as a calling. There was no place to buy Bibles or Christian books in the area so a trust was formed and community people worked with the Duthies to set up a shop in Waipawa.
It grew to sell other Christian products and is now based at a large warehouse in Otane. Five years ago Wellington-based Catholic Supplies needed an urgent sale and Pleroma Christian Supplies bought most of its assets. With these came a publishing operation that includes Joy Cowley’s Psalms series.
"Whereas many Christian book sellers focus on the evangelical market, we focus on the liturgical market and carry the great spiritual writers in the tradition of the mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches. We now represent 64 overseas publishers from across the denominational spectrum."