A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
The Canoes and the Mooring Post
November 20, 2005
Ordinary Sunday 34 Eph 1:15-23 Matt 25:31-46
In the Anglican Prayer Book the phrase “We shall all be one in Christ” is re-expressed as “Ko te Karaiti te pou herenga waka.” The Maori text describes Christ as the one mooring post to which many canoes are tied. It is a rich image that pictures unity not as being assimilated into an undifferentiated 'one' but rather as a place where each person, or culture, can rest and meet, with a secure mooring, before and after setting out on whatever voyage they are endeavouring.
One of the traditional marks of the church is catholicity. By that we don't mean that the church is trying to build a huge uniform, everyone-think-the-same global culture. Rather the opposite. As Archbishop Rowan Williams recently said, “Catholic is about wholeness, about the wholeness of the person, the wholeness of local culture and language, therefore it's not simply opening the same fast-food shop in every village on the globe, and it's not like the global economy, in which people are drawn into somebody's story and somebody's interests which in fact makes others poor and excluded.” Catholicity recognizes the importance and integrity of each canoe tied to the mooring post.
Many years ago I mediated a dispute between an English speaking congregation and a Tongan one. Both used the same buildings. The English speaking groups, who were largely elderly, had different cleaning standards from the Tongan group and felt that they were being used. They were also afraid that the Tongan group, being younger and more numerous would take over the church. The Tongan group felt that they were being treated as second-class citizens in what they considered was equally their church. Finally the Tongans decided to buy another church down the road. The English-speaking congregation, by providing a worship home for the Tongan group for many years at minimal cost, contributed to the new building. While some might see this outcome as a failure of Christians to get along with each other and share a common resource, both groups prospered in the outcome, with morale and numbers growing. Both groups needed the security of a place of their own. However, without the friction of sharing a building the motivation to carry on a relationship with each other evaporated.
Cultural interaction can be likened to a rose bed: beautiful, full of possibilities, and prickly. When cultures meet together there is the potential for the dawning of new ideas, relationships and vision. There is also the potential for misunderstanding, mistrust and power games.
My story of the two congregations is not dissimilar to the story of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand. The first Anglican Church was Te Hahi Mihinare, the missionary church, made up almost entirely of Maori members and speaking te reo Maori. When Marsden arrived in 1814, bringing the first CMS missionaries, he already knew something of the language having been schooled in Australia and welcomed in this country by Ruatara, a Nga Puhi leader. While we may be familiar with the names and deeds of Henry and William Williams, Thomas Kendel, James Kemp, Robert Maunsell and others, there were also a number of Maori missionaries including Piripi Taumata-a-kura, Nopera Pana-kareao, Wiremu Nera Ngatai, and others. Both Maori and the CMS, while not always attuned to each other, worked hard for the establishment of this church. By 1845 it was estimated that out of a total population of 110,000 Maori, 42,000 regularly attended Anglican services.
After 1840 Te Hahi Mihinare was to find itself increasingly in competition with the second Anglican Church in this land, the Settler Church, with its different constituency, order and language. An emerging ordered English colony wanted urgently an ordered English church. Enter George Augustus Selwyn. With his prodigious energy he pioneered the establishment of church institutions in the colonial environment. The Settler Church grew and flourished. Selwyn created an ecclesiastical and management structure based on how he thought the Church in England should be, and more suited to this colony's needs. In 1857 at St. Stephen's Chapel in Judges Bay that structure was enshrined in a constitution that lasted until 1992. Not one Maori signature was on that first constitution.
Selwyn's relationship with the Maori Church changed over the 27 years of his episcopacy. Initially Maori respected him for his willingness to learn the language and travel great distances. Selwyn worked hard at trying to blend the churches together. However, with civil war in the 1860s, Selwyn's relationship with Maori Anglicans radically changed. Selwyn was seen as a bishop who sided with the Pakeha.
In 1877 the Revd Thomas S. Grace, one of my predecessors at Epsom, wrote to the CMS: “We may come to the conclusion that the Natives, as a body, if they survive will never again submit to us as they have done! Even the Native Clergy who may appear, and are very submissive owing to our holding the purse strings, are beginning to feel they ought to be treated differently. I heard lately of one who, with reference to attending the English Synod, said, “What is the use of going there to stand like a post?”… Maori have minds and tongues of their own; to have expected the native to be present at a Synod where only English is spoken was an affront, and clearly this man felt it to be so.”
Thomas espoused the views, unpopular among the Pakeha community, of Maori economic independence, opposition to the sale of Maori land, and the appointment of a Maori bishop (and the congregation at Epsom grew from 10 to 60 during his brief charge!). The appointment of a Maori bishop, and thereby recognizing the mana, status, and episcopal autonomy of the Maori Church, was struggled for over the next century. Bishop F. A. Bennett was consecrated in 1928 but as an assistant to the Bishop of Waiapu. It was not until 1986 that Te Hahi Mihinare [by now renamed Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa] had a bishop who was able to minister among Maori without first having to gain permission from the local Settler Church [or diocesan] bishop.
In the years leading up to the revised 1992 constitution attempts were made to understand this history of two canoes within the one Anglican Church. Understanding was a necessary first step in developing a constitutional arrangement that gave both Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa and the seven dioceses of the Church of the Province of New Zealand, the recognition of their own place and belonging, proper authority to provide for ministry, and a joint collective structure that expressed their unity. A strong spirit of aroha drove this process and defined what we mean by partnership.
Both canoes, moored to Christ, can now share their gifts with each other. Language is one such gift. The Anglican Church in this land has two primary languages, English and Maori. Both are for the purpose of enriching our faith and worship. Each culture is invited to use the wealth of the other's language in worship. Financial resources are another gift, which we are slowly learning to share. As a precursor to sharing we need to continue to find ways to meet and listen to each other. Places where we can tie up together for a while.
Some would like to change the canoe metaphor and put us both in the same boat. That hasn't worked so well for Maori in the past. To be inclusive, to be Christian, to value catholicity, does not mean we all have to be the same or have the same structures of governance.
I like the canoe metaphor because it infers we are still on a journey. We will leave the comfort of this mooring and set off again, sometimes separately sometimes together, until we come to a new place and a new mooring post, which again will be a Christ mooring.