Of A.J. Seamer, Michael King, in his biography, Te Puea, says: "In Maori eyes, Seamer was perhaps the last European missionary to acquire heroic status". A bold opinion, but not unjustified. Arthur John Seamer deserves a full-scale biography, but in its absence it is good to have this searching and sensitive study of Seamer's relationship with Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, and of the coincident reaction of the Methodist Church to the emerging Ratana Movement. Garth Cant has done this important subject significant service by exploring in detail not only the historical and theological background of this major religious development of the 1 920s, but also by offering some insight into the character of these two men.
Behind this fascinating account lies exemplary research. The chief elements in the family background of Ratana are outlined - the family members who influenced his development, for example. His spiritual pilgrimage is traced, and his vision for his people is described. The transition from movement to church is set out in some detail, and this is an important part of the essay. Garth writes without obvious bias, but he is thorough, and as far as,it is possible for personal study to be so, this is, at the same time, both scholarly and humane. He has made a notable contribution to the growing body of writing on this very significant leader among Maori.
In reading this account we have always to remember that in the 1 920s an authentic Mãori voice within the Church's Councils, was rarely heard. Policy was decided by the Pakeha leadership, Mãori aspirations were expressed, in English, by the General Superintendent and the term 'Maori spirituality' had little contemporary relevance. Seamer was a man of his time and, as a Methodist, committed to the language of Wesleyan Evangelical Christianity.
What marked him out, however, was his ability to hear the unspoken word in te reo. This gift may well have been developed through his association with Hapeta Renata when the two of them were working side by side at Kaeo from 1907 to 1909. Renata was among the first to align himself with Ratana, and he did so with Seamer's quiet encouragement. That was his preferred way in this delicate matter.
Official denominational pronouncements and popular caricatures were for others. Seamer, to his credit, preferred to work behind the scenes, establishing personal friendships, and keeping lines of communication, however tenuous, open. Garth's study traces this process in detail, with 1925 as his focus. While the founding of a separate Ratana Church was not Seamer's wish, he lived with it. In different ways Seamer sought to maintain a sense of family between Ratana and Weteriana, not least through the setting up and maintenance of a school within the Ratana community.
This is a Seamer legacy. He was a masterful man - paternalistic we might say today. But he was respectful, too. Garth Cant reminds us that within the astonishing variety of the Christian faith doors are made for opening, rather than closing.