Kawhia Methodists remember the past, look to the future
Kawhia Harbour is a notable place in the history of both Maori and Methodists in Waikato.
It is held to be the resting place of the Tainui waka, one of many waka that brought Maori to Aotearoa in the 14th century. It is also the place where, in 1834, Rev William White established the first Methodist mission in the Waikato region.
Some leading figures in New Zealand Methodism – both Maori and Pakeha – have been associated with Kawhia. Today the town is not large, and the small congregation of Methodists there is heir to that legacy.
Their inheritance includes the church and parsonage built in 1934 to commemorate the centenary of the mission. Lay preacher (kaikarakia) Thomas Waaka is training to be a minita-a-iwi. He leads worship at the church one Sunday a month and serves the local community and surrounding marae by conducting services and funerals when called upon.
“We have a shared ministry in Kawhia. There are several churches – Anglican, Mormon, Catholic, Presbyterian, and Baptist – but none of them is big. We attend the Baptist and Presbyterian services and they attend ours. We are one family under Christ,” Thomas says.
This month the Maori Queen’s consultative poukai will be at Maketu, the large marae built near the resting place of the Tainui canoe. Thomas will lead worship when the Queen’s flag is raised in the morning and lowered in the evening.
In the church are several items that evoke the congregation’s links with Maoridom. The carvings on the pulpit incorporate the symbols of the Kingitanga movement and on the walls are carvings of the Tainui canoe and the Aotea canoe, which gave its name to neighbouring Aotea Harbour.
The church building itself has seen better days and is in need of renovation. Kawhia resident Nick Tuwhangai has committed himself to organise the restoration.
“I don’t go to church very often,” Nick says, “but I have heard stories about the church from my father and my wife’s grandfather, who was one of those who built it. It is important to the community and I think I can pull people together and motivate them to have it restored by its 75th anniversary in 2009.”
Currently Nick and his crew are dismantling the old parsonage and salvaging the materials to earn funds for the restoration. Ultimately they would like to raise enough money to build a hall with toilets and a kitchen in its place.
Recently the Kawhia congregation has had an infusion of fresh blood. Karen Bishop recently returned to her home town, where she grew up, after spending seven ears in Auckland.
While in Auckland Karen attended a Vineyard Church, worked in the health sector, and did tertiary studies. Now that she has returned to Kawhia she has rediscovered her Methodist roots and has started to train as a minita-a-iwi.
Karen is keen to be of service to the community. She is involved with the local health centre, she has begun to put together some Maori language material for the Bible in Schools programme, and each fortnight she drives Kawhia kaumatua in a marae van to Te Awamutu to do their shopping.