Taking down the fence: Waitangi Day at Rangiātea

On the beautifully sunny afternoon of Waitangi Day 2020, a crowd gathered on the grounds of Rangiātea in Ōtaki to celebrate with a church service, speeches, waiata, kai, face painting, and bouncy castles. Many locals were in attendance, and several people braved the holiday traffic and travelled up from Wellington. Jessica Falconer, co-minister in charge of the parish of Ōtaki with husband Simon, said it was an honour to be invited into the space by Rangiātea and to be in community with them. In a historic act of unity, the fence between the two Anglican churches (Rangiātea and All Saints) was taken down, and the event was co-hosted by both churches.

Rev. Dr Rangi Nicholson, assistant priest at Rangiātea, welcomed everyone onto the land, which was originally gifted by ngā hapū o Ōtaki. He explained how Te Rauparaha provided the materials and labour for the construction of Rangiātea (completed in 1851), which began a revolution of aroha (love) and rangimarie (peace) on the Kāpiti Coast. Iwi stopped fighting other iwi, kai tangata (cannibalism) and slavery ended, and an honourable way was found out of utu (vengeance). Therefore, he said, there is much to be thankful for, but “churches are flawed organisations full of flawed human beings, and we encourage churches to truly confess their historical wrongdoings”. He stressed his appreciation for the fact that New Zealand history will soon be a compulsory subject in schools. Rangi has a complex personal relationship to the Treaty – he has Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa, and Ngāi Tahu heritage, but it was a Pākehā ancestor of his who signed it.

Joy Cowley’s retelling of the story of Tārore, the girl whose death lead to the distribution of the gospel of peace, was read aloud: “Today, the tangata whenua say, ‘The missionaries brought Christianity to this country, but it was our people who gave it to each other.’ All of this happened through Tārore and the little book that she wore close to her heart.”

Rupene Waaka, nephew of a stalwart of Rangiātea, spoke about Ngāti Raukawa history. The Treaty was signed by eight chiefs in Ōtaki, but not until 19 May 1840. Rupene pointed out that it was unusual that the Treaty was not properly negotiated between peoples but presented as a finished document to be signed. Chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Whiwhi had asked for a missionary to be sent to Ōtaki, and so Henry Williams, a former naval officer and head of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), came briefly but returned to the Bay of Islands at Hobson’s request to translate the Treaty. After Williams, Octavius Hadfield, who was in poor health, lived among Ōtaki Māori as a missionary. He spoke te reo and converted them to the faith on a daily basis.

Rev. Rosie Fyfe, national director of NZCMS, spoke of the importance of learning from our history. We step into the legacy of the CMS missionaries who came to New Zealand in the nineteenth century, continuing in the confidence that the gospel is good news for all peoples. NZCMS continues to send out missionaries around the world and supports Māori evangelists. Rosie also spoke of the need to repent of actions that did not honour Te Tiriti or provide space for Māori to be Christians within their culture. She mentioned that the Anglican Church presented an official apology and signed an agreement to restore a measure of justice over the lands lost to Tauranga Moana iwi in the nineteenth century.*

In 1995, arsonists burned Rangiātea to the ground, and the church that now stands there is a replica. The man imprisoned for the arson saw the building as a symbol of the oppression and betrayal of Māori. His actions were tragic and extreme, but he is not alone in criticising the church’s entanglement with colonial power. Restorative action will involve acknowledging this history and reclaiming the gospel as good news for the oppressed. The close proximity of All Saints (built in 1930 for Pākehā) and Rangiātea also raises questions about historic conflicts and injuries that will need to be remembered, grieved and healed. What is done cannot be undone, but as we take down the fences, tell our stories, and walk together in humility and hope, God can bring beauty out of the ashes.

*For more information about the church’s apology and agreement, click here. For more information on the Māori evangelists, click here.