Te Pouhere Sunday
Video available on YouTube, Facebook
The circus was finally coming to town. He was nine years old and had never been inside a Big Top. Please can I go Mum, please? She knew the price of a ticket and said, We’ll have to see. But every day he persisted, and weakly, reluctantly, she said, Alright. Are you sure, he would ask. Yes, she said, I promise. It proved to be a promise she couldn’t keep. And 40 years later, he still hasn’t forgiven her.
They met one morning in 1936 in Parliament Buildings, a suitable solemn venue for a prime minister and a prophet. Being Wellington, it was probably raining and blowing a gale, just to add to the gravitas of the occasion.
Michael Joseph Savage, the popular Labour premier but not much loved by Tahupotiki Ratana. Four years before Ratana had delivered a 30,000 strong petition to Parliament to make good on the promises of the Treaty of Waitangi. It hadn’t happened so the prophet came calling.
Ratana was an important figure for Anglicans. Our bishops had praised his work as a faith healer and inspirational leader. In 1922 half the Maori Anglicans in Wellington had joined Ratana. My predecessor as the Bishop of Waiapu had seconded a priest the Rev. Piri Munro to travel with the prophet and support him. The ties were very close. Embedded in the entrance to the Ratana Temple to this day there is a broken fragment of the Marsden Cross at Rangihoua, the birthplace of our church.
So when our bishops in their wisdom, decided to excommunicate Ratana and his followers, because he was becoming too powerful and talked too much about angels, anger and alienation set in that we are yet to recover from. And when I tried to reopen a conversation with the bishops, 50 years later, about apologies and healing broken promises and reconciliation with the Ratana movement, we got nowhere.
That 1936 meeting with Savage was all about the broken promises of the Crown not the church. Ratana didn’t do a lot of talking but he did a lot of speaking symbolically.
He brought three gifts to Savage.
A kumara pierced with 3 huia feathers. A bird made extinct by predators that Pakeha had introduced and a vegetable that Maori had little land left to plant.
A greenstone tiki to speak of Maori riches and mana now being destroyed.
And a broken gold watch and chain belonging to Ratana’s father, who had no money to repair it.
Savage must have found this encounter challenging. “Brother, these things are speaking to me, I can hear them,” he said. It’s reported that Savage took the greenstone tiki to his grave.
The thing about broken promises, big or small it that they won’t ever let you go until you do something about them. Those on the receiving end of the break refuse to forget them, even if those on the delivering end suffer from amnesia, prejudice or just act dumb. Broken promises take on a life of their own. They reap a whirlwind, one that is gathering strength right now with our American friends in Washington and even in Britain as a new front builds over northern Ireland.
Every family represented in this church this morning has had a taste of that power, as we live through the aftermath of bitter divorces and relationship breakups, betrayals of friendships, violence and abuse.
The church enjoys no immunity from these consequences of promise breaking. In the marvellous film called “Calvary” an Irish priest played by Brendon Gleeson, innocent of any wrong doing, suffers the backlash of his village from the generations of child abuse covered up by church. His parishoners had come to hate the church they loved, while still saying “Yes Father, No Father.”
It is extraordinary how far we go to cover up our broken promises, perhaps because we know how powerful they are and what havoc they can wreak. Take the lengths we have gone to diminish the Treaty of Waitangi, even without Winston’s help. It started as the bedrock of our nation and only 32 years later had been declared as a legal nullity by a learned judge. We’d even managed to retranslate the words of Lt Gov Hobson that he said to each chief at the Treaty signing, ‘he iwi tahi tatou’. It doesn't translate as “we are now one people’ as Dr Brash and the One NZ Foundation claim, but rather ‘we are two peoples together in one nation’.
Thankfully, we have since the 1970’s started to redress those broken and forgotten and distorted promises our forebears made on our behalf. The kumara crop is flourishing, inroads are underway against the predators that wiped out the huia, the mana of the tiki is rising again and the Treaty settlements process makes the broken gold watch repairable.
The Treaty once forgotten, near illegible with water and rodent damage, was rehoused last month in a secure state of the art $10 million vault, earthquake proofed but still not immune from the seismic shocks of promises that wait to be honoured.
And every little step towards that honouring needs to be celebrated. Like the Crown settlement this month with the people of Parihaka, whose village was destroyed in1881 and their leaders exiled for their non violent resistance to land confiscation.
There is a long way to go before the promises made to Maori are fully honoured and we are able to all enjoy the peace that will come from that. Not only personally. It will be the sort of peace that First Testament writers describe as shalom, when the justice is restored and the social fabric that surrounds us is woven strong and wide enough to embrace both rich and poor.
It’s what today’s gospel means when it talks of building our house on a rock.
You can take that literally or symbolically. It’s best to take it both ways, when you are building in a war torn, earthquake prone country like ours. We’re getting better at acknowledging the seismic risks of living in these ‘shaky isles’ but we are still to recognise the devastation of the NZ Wars in the 1860’s. As Anglicans we should, because they destroyed overnight 40 years of missionary work and came close to discrediting the incredible achievements of our first bishop, George Selwyn.
But this Te Pouhere Sunday is not a day to end by bemoaning our failures. This is the day to celebrate a marvellous achievement that happened at the General Synod /Te Hinota Whanui in 1992 when delegates from this parish and all our churches brought a new Anglican Constitution into being that did honour the promises made in 1840 and to Maori ever since. Promises of mutual recognition and respect, shared decision making and resources. The right of each Tikanga to organise its own affairs, to choose different cultural expressions of faith, and to keep open all avenues that lead to common ground.
It was a revolutionary document that still baffles other parts of the Anglican Communion. It sets into practice and law, a model of governance that the Crown is still years away from matching. It lets Pakeha, Maori and Pacifica be themselves yet stay connected. It requires each of us to stay accountable to each other as Anglicans, and to feel incomplete without each other. It ensures the church we are building for a future Aotearoa, a country where Pakeha becomes a minority as is rapidly happening in Auckland, will be a church build on strong foundations. Built on rock.
Or to use the language of the constitution, where we will be moored to the same post.
That’s what Te Pouhere means. The mooring post. That’s what we call the central document of Anglican order.
Pity it doesn’t have clause about sexual orientation and gender as well as culture and ethnicity. But the spirit of justice and inclusion is well bedded in the document as I’m sure Maori will remind us next year once again when the General Synod comes to vote.
It’s not often in this society that Anglicans can feel ahead of the game. But when it comes to constitutions, in a country that doesn’t have one in any written form, we are the envy of most other institutions.
How well we put it into practice is another story. How eagerly we seek the common ground between and cultures that the constitution compels us to search out, is another story that we have yet to tell. Our theologians have yet to help us connect that common ground with the “new order in Christ” that this morning’s epistle talks about.
At a conference at St Johns College in October we’re going to revisit our failures along with our successes in this groundbreaking constitution and our journey towards a just society, bicultural and multicultural. St Matthews in the midst of this chaotic city, on the doorstep of the City Mission, is on the front line of that journey.
I would love to have told the story of our constitution to Savage and Ratana at that meeting long ago. It would have given them both hope, even if our bishops at the time weren’t so sure. And I’d have liked to be able to tell our bishops that their excommunication of the Ratana Church only served to add fuel to the fire of the movement that led to the election of the first Maori bishop.
Funny how things happen. Funny how God’s plans unfold. It’s a bumpy ride. Best to have a mooring post to hang onto.