Homily for Te Pouhere Sunday 2010

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

As well as being the Sunday we return to “Ordinary Time”
– although we’re reminded that no Sunday is actually “Ordinary” –
today is in this Church’s calendar “Te Pouhere Sunday”

And I have to tell you, on the face of it,
that’s not the most exciting of prospects.
Te Pouhere is the Maori title of the Constitution
of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia.

If you’ve read a Constitution lately, that’s not the kind of thing to get excited about.
But this day we are trying to celebrate the richness of the church in these islands:
the three distinct tikanga or “streams” or “ways of being” of our church:
Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika.

And well we might ask, what possible relevance does the structure of the church
have to its mission in the real world?

First, a potted history.

In June,1857 at St Stephen’s, Judges Bay,
a tiny wooden church overlooking Auckland Harbour,
Bishop Selwyn set his seal upon a remarkable piece of paper.

This was the Constitution of
A Branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand,
the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
This document not only declared this church
independent and self-governing from the English Church,
but put forward the radical and dangerous idea
that laypeople should have a clear voice in its governance and decision-making.

This tiny group of islands in the South Pacific
was the first in the Anglican world to enshrine the governance of Synods,
democratic bodies where the voices of lay people, clergy and bishops
were all guaranteed to be heard and valued.
On that day in 1857, 17 figures signed that Constitution.
All were men.  All were pakeha.
Not representative of the church in this place – not now, not then.

From the last quarter of that century onwards,
there were impassioned pleas from Maori leaders
to provide a bishop, a pihopa, to integrate and to be dedicated to work with Maori.
When finally established in 1928, it was pale shadow of what it could have been,
an assistant position, only able to act by invitation and tolerance:
not always forthcoming from the pakeha bishops.

At about the same time Polynesia was given a recognised Anglican presence.
The presence of a British administration in Fiji and very fruitful work
among the descendants of indentured labourers there from Melanesia and India
formed the basis for the Missionary Diocese of Polynesia,
a sort of outrider to the Province of New Zealand.

Back to New Zealand, and fast forward.
The journey the church was on
was also one the rest of the nation was struggling with.
In 1978 and more fully a few years later, the Bishop of Aotearoa was recognised
on a par with his pakeha colleagues,
and his ministry among Maori was by right throughout the country.
The 1980s saw a difficult appraisal of where we’d got to as a nation,
especially in terms of race relations.
The Treaty of Waitangi, resurgent Maori culture,
more and more Pacific peoples living in New Zealand…
The church was and is not immune
to the questions & concerns of wider society.

It was in this light that the Anglican Church in New Zealand
again decided to do something remarkable.

In the new Constitution of 1992,
each of the three strands of our Church: Maori, Pakeha and Polynesia,
were recognised as equal partners, each were given the right to decide
how ministry should be carried our among their communities.

Resources held by the pakeha church, sometimes originally given for use with Maori
were to be shared a little more equitably.

At General Synod, the two yearly meeting of the whole church,
decisions require agreement from the three houses of lay, clergy and bishops,
… so now all three tikanga were invited to come to a consensus.
Voices that had long gone unheard were invited to speak.

Most importantly, each part of the church was allowed to develop that unique voice,
to tackle key mission opportunities and concerns
in a way that acknowledged God and what was real in living out their faith.

It was as if the veneer of the institution, that “Church of England” transplant,
was peeled away to let us see what really lay beneath, this pakeha church included.

Like all good partnerships, the decades that followed the 1992 Constitution
have given us room each to discover ourselves, not trying to copy another culture
or generation’s identity, but to ask some key questions of ourselves.
Our conversations with each other, and our witness before God,
I pray, have been enriched by having had to re-examine who we are.

So today,
103 years after that first revolutionary Constitution was signed
that dared suggest lay people had a voice (the historic reality of the Church)
that gave us our beginnings as a Church very much in and of this land,
we celebrate our diversity, our heritage as one of these partners,
and our travelling along a road to faith and maturity
that recognises that Christian unity
doesn’t mean we must all be the same. Amen to that.


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