Oihi

It's been quite a day.

After breakfast we walked a couple of hundred metres to a conference centre where the morning Eucharist was being held. The day was warm and still and crisp and clear and the yachts lay in the mirror calm water within touching distance of the windows. We waited while the people gathered and then Tikanga Maori led us in a celebration of Jesus' presence amongst us. Bishop Kito Pikaahu preached, a bunch of teenagers taught us a  action song in about half a dozen languages and the singing reechoed around the rafters. It was by turns raucous, funny, reverent, casual, ordered, loud and prayerful. It lasted around two hours and i loved every minute of it.

Following church there was time (just) to nip back to my room and change out of my purple shirt before grabbing a packed lunch from the foyer and heading down to the wharf. All members of the synod along with the members of the Ma Whea Commission boarded a couple of boats and headed out for a leisurely cruise across the Bay of Islands. We were accompanied for a while by a pod of dolphins who had obviously just had a good Sunday lunch because they weren't in a jumping out of the water mood, but preferred to causally surf the wake of the boat instead. An hour of cruising on the clear flat blue water, oohing and ahhing over the scenery continually opening up new and fresh on every side brought us to Oihi Bay. We disembarked at the Jetty of a very stylish indeed development a couple of bays around and were transported by coach to the hill overlooking Oihi.

At the top of the hill, looking down the valley is the new interpretive centre. This is a great hi-tech winged roof set on metal poles above rammed earth walls. It is entered through a passage, curved like a koru, and opens up to a view down to the spot where 200 yeas ago, Samuel Marsden and Ruatara first proclaimed the Christian Gospel on New Zealand soil. Alan Davidson presented his new book on the early mission station to the archbishops, speeches were made and a short service was held, and then we walked the kilometre or so down the brand new path to the bay.

I first learned of the doings in Oihi Bay when, back in 1976 as a student at St. John's College, I wrote an essay on the first CMS mission. Since then I have been fascinated by the story of Hall, King and Kendall and their fraught, flawed and ultimately failed missionary endeavour. It is such a human story, full of weakness and temptation and ignorance and pride; but also of courage and faith, passion and intelligence, perseverance and diligence. It was the first time that the two cultures, Maori and Pakeha had been brought into sustained cohabiting contact, and it is thus the very cradle not just of the Anglican church, but of modern Aotearoa/ New Zealand. The bush has been largely cleared, the formidable pa is now just a few terraces and the mission buildings have vanished but the bay and Rangihoua, the district surrounding it have changed little in the intervening 200 years. I walked down the track to this place which had figured so large in my imagination, but which, until today, I had never laid eyes on. It was much as I had pictured it. But standing there, and looking at the impossible swampland and the steep thinly soiled hillsides under the shadow of the mighty pa,  the mission and its failure all made sense. I walked up the track thinking of those who had made this journey before me and of all that has grown out of this beautiful, lonely place.

We arrived back at the hotel with enough time, just, to change and walk, briskly, across the river bridge to Te Tii marae. For the second time in two days I participated in the casual formality of a powhiri. We heard the speeches and the waiata, greeted and were greeted and then moved into the whare kai for a hangi meal that astonished for its variety, size and quality. I sat with friends, ate and talked. There were, of course, more speeches and more songs before I walked in the dark back across the river. I have spent the day on the edge between the two cultures whose treaty partnership was the foundation of our nation. It is a challenging and empowering and beautiful place to dwell.

Comments

Thank you for these most eloquent words that reflect what must have been a sublime Sunday. Our prayers are with you.