Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Rites of Passage

On February 20th, 1860, one of New Zealand's first indigenous Maori Anglican vicars - Reverend Raniera Kawhia - was ordained at Whareponga Marae in the remote eastern village of Ruatoria.

I was privileged to be in that exact spot, 147 years later to the date, as Raniera's great-great-great-granddaughter, Pane Kawhia, followed in his footsteps.

About 30 of us from theSanctuary congregation journeyed to the East Cape this weekend to celebrate with Pane, who until recently was among our congregation before "going Anglican".

After a traditional liturgical service in English and Maori, hundreds of people gathered for a massive banquet in the town centre of Ruatoria. As people stepped up to the mic to share their thoughts and best wishes for Pane, I marvelled at how much influence just one person can have.

The whole weekend also got me thinking about rites of passage. Pane was in a unique and privileged position to hear what people were saying about her. Normally those words are saved for eulogies, where they - sadly - can't encourage the people they speak of.

Both the traditional Anglican service and the Maori protocol of being welcomed onto a marae have traditional roots that somehow reach the heart, even if you're neither Maori nor Anglican. If I were thinking about efficiency - as we Westerners are prone to do - both of these traditions seem outdated and long-winded. But what purpose do they serve?

Maybe they create space for reflection. As my eyes glazed over during the Maori sermon (although I tried to pick up as many words as I knew), I noticed wild mountain goats climbing on the rock face above. Amazing.

The weekend also brought home to me the amazing power of community. By being in each other's space for three days, we got to know each other, warts and all. Thankfully our trademark is "being real" and there were no surprises - except perhaps for the odd standout performance on the karaoke floor.

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