Waikato rohe central to life of Taha Maori
Geographically, the Waikato rohe is central to the regions where Methodism has traditionally been strong among Maori. Methodism has had close relationships with the Kingitanga movement, an important centralizing force for many Maori. Hamilton is the location of Te Rahui Centre, a special place in the hearts of many Methodists.
The liason person for Waikato rohe (circuit) is Pari Waaka. Pari lives in Hamilton, and along with Evelyn (Tuss) Kingi she plays an important role on the boards and committees that organize the life of Taha Maori and link it to the wider church. These include Council of Conference and Taha Maori’s decision-making body Hui Poari.
The unsung heroes of Waikato rohe are the minita-a-iwi (lay ministers) who provide pastoral care to people, often in isolated rural communities.
There are four minita-a-iwi in the Waikato rohe. Sunnah Thompson (Raglan), John Kopa (Hamilton), Mara Tupaea (Tuakau), and Barney Winikerei (Te Kuiti). Retired minita-a-iwi Henare Grey continues to help out as well.
“Minita-a-iwi are voluntary, they are not paid. They are usually chosen by their local people who support them. They serve the people in many ways,” Pari says.
“They are authorised to perform the sacraments and they lead Sunday worship services, conduct weddings and tangi, bless buildings, and make hospital visits. Basically they go where the people ask them to go.”
Sunnah says tangi last three days. During this time the minita-a-iwi accompanies the family back home once the burial has been completed to bless the house. Sometimes this can mean travelling to other parts of the country. This can be difficult if the minita-a-iwi is not from there. A year after the burial the minita-a-iwi will probably be called back to unveil the headstone.
“Sometimes we have requests to help when bodies are disinterred. We had one case of a man who lived a fairly wild life. He ended up with the Salvation Army in Auckland and was buried in a pauper’s grave. His family later found him and wanted his remains returned to Taupo where he was from.”
Along with supporting themselves, many minita-a-iwi have other community roles in addition to their church work. For example, Sunnah’s work includes research on Maori interests in resource consent applications. He is also an elder at Aramrio, where he lives, and he is active on the trust board of his iwi, Ngati Mahanga.
The Methodist Church is well regarded among Waikato people because of the work of people such as Revs AJ Seamer and George Laurenson and deaconesses such as Sister Heni Wharemaru.
Their development projects included two hostels, Te Rahui Tane and Te Rahui Wahine, in Hamilton. The hostels were built in the 1950s to accommodate young men and women from rural areas who came to the city to learn trades.
Though neither of the buildings now serves its original function Taha Maori retains the men’s hostel, Te Rahui Tane (Centre). It has a large kitchen, dining hall, and accommodation facilities and provides a space that can be used for meetings, conferences, or other functions.
Council of Conference currently holds it meetings at Te Rahui and the Waikato rohe holds a monthly worship service there. Minita-a-iwi generally attend these services, which are followed by a training course on different aspects of ministry.
Recently retired presbyter Rev Morehu (Buddy) Te Whare has taken on the responsibility to lead these training sessions. He is developing a new set of resources for the task.
“The monthly training course is covers different aspects of ministry and Bible study. Training has to cover the ceremonies minita-a-iwi will do and the appropriate readings and structures that assist that.
“For us the question is how to relate the stories of the Middle East with its particular peoples and desert landscape to Aotearoa and our rivers and mountains. Genealogy is a key concept for Maori. This includes genealogy at a personal and family but also at a spiritual level. We can talk of our genealogical ties to our church, Jesus Christ and the holy spirit.”
Buddy says it is essential Waikato Methodists are conscious of the place of Kingitanga in the region. Each year the queen and/or her representatives attend a series of 28 hui – called poukai – on marae throughout the region. Methodist minita-a-iwi join with representatives from other faiths to conduct morning and evening services at poukai and provide pastoral support for those attending.
Taha Maori Tumuaki Rev Diana Tana served as a presbyter in the Waikato rohe for 20 years. She says the Waikato rohe values the way the Waikato-Waiaraiki synod takes seriously its bi-cultural partnership obligations.
“Superintendent Rev John Murray is very aware of the partnership between Maori and Tauiwi. He makes opportunities for us to be consulted. For example Te Taha Maori has a representative on the synod executive. Not all districts do this.”