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February 2010

New life for Kawhia Church


A church with roots in Maori Methodism and the Kingi movement has had a remarkable rebirth in time for its 75th anniversary.

According to the Waikato Times, the Kawhia Methodist Memorial Church was built to honour the establishment of the first Methodist mission in the area in 1843. The foundation for the building was laid by the Maori King Koroki in 1934 and it was officially opened by Princess Te Puea Herangi in 1935.

Key figures in its construction were Pikohaua Hikuroa and Inia and Maharia Te Wiata.

The decorations in the church display its many historical connections. There is a plaque commemorating the early Methodist missionaries – the Revs Woon, Whitely and Schnackenberg – and the pulpit is adorned by the Kingitanga crest carved by Inia te Wiata.

Other decorations convey Kawhia’s deeper historical links. On the northern wall is a carving of the Tainui waka, which is said to rest in Kawhia harbour. And on the southern wall is a carving of the Aotea waka, which landed in Kawhia before travelling south to Taranaki.

After many years of disuse, the church fell into disrepair. The roof leaked, ceiling panels were ruined and the wooden pews were marked and stained.

Kawhia resident Hinga Ormsby says in May 2009 a major clean up and restoration of the church began. Kaumatua Nick Tuwhangai served as project manager, and a small band of local people pitched in.

"The roof was repaired, the pews were stripped and cleaned, the floors were sanded and polished, the walls were painted, the bell tower was fixed, and the organ was restored," Hinga says.

"One of the things that made the church look really sad and neglected was the state of the grounds, which were full of weeds and long grass. A group of men from the Te Ao Marama Unit of Waikeria Prison put in several days work and the transformation was magic."

The core group behind the restoration did a lot of travelling to pick up supplies, prepare food for the workers, and attend meetings. Other local people provided help and koha for the effort.

While the work was going on original mission boxes and a collection box that held pennies were found and now hold pride of place behind the altar.

On November 22nd two services was at the church as part of its official reopening. A large delegation of Te Taha Maori was present, including tumuaki Rev Diana Tana. Former MCNZ president Rev Jill van de Geer and Rev Bob Short also attended as did Maharia Paki Maori King Tuheitia’s brother and a group of Tainui elders.

Taha Maori member Lesley Utting says at the early service new tukutuku panels depicting the Tainui and Aotea wakas were unveiled and blessed. Following this there was the blessing of new bibles, hymn books, communion trays and glasses as well as the refurbished baptismal font. Later a full communion service was held that drew 180 people.

Hinga says since the church was restored the Kawhia congregation held a Christmas service as well as the baptisms of her sister’s two children.

She says the congregation is grateful for all the help received in the restoration project and to the ladies he says "Kia ora koutou tino aatahua e to mahi".


Nick and Linda Tuawhangai Tainui elders at the service to open Kawhia Methodist Church


Church leaders present for the opening were (from left) Sylvia Tongotongo, Jill van der Geer, Lana Lazarus,
Alitasi Salisa, Diana Tana, Thomas Waaka, Susan Thompson, and Bob Short.