Anniversary chance to celebrate bicultural, ecumenical teamwork
Hone Wetere Church sits on the shore of Lake Ellesmere. It is not a large building but it embodies the best traditions of cooperation between Maori and Pakeha and between different Christian denominations.
The church is close to Ngati Moki marae in the rural community of Taumutu. The community’s Christian roots go back to the early Maori Wesleyan evangelist Tawao, who brought the gospel to the area before European missionaries arrived.
Hone Wetere Church, Taumutu has a long history of cooperation
between people of different cultures and faiths.
On May 1st and 2nd local people and Methodist Church leaders gathered to mark the 125th anniversary of Hone Wetere Church. (Hone Wetere is the Maori pronunciation of John Wesley). On hand were Methodist president and vice president Rev Alan Upson and Lana Lazarus as well as Taha Maori tumuaki Rev Diana Tana.
The weekend included a welcoming powhiri, a bus trip to local sites of historical interest, a bicultural workshop, and an evening gathering where people told stories of their connections to Taumutu. On Sunday there was a church service and, of course, on both days there were many cups of tea, lots of food, and plenty of hospitality.
The event itself was organised by a committee made up of people from the Ngati Moki marae and from the Ellesmere Cooperating Parish. Key individuals on the committee included convenor Garth Cant, kaumatua Denise Streat and Rosaline Brown, and Rev Paul Eden.
Rosaline is a member of the Ellesmere Historical Society and she prepared a history of the church for the occasion.
She says an important figure in developing the church was Ngai Tahu leader and MP HK Taiaroa. He and his family moved to Taumutu in the late 1870s. He was one of the group that selected the site for church and raised the £400 required to build it from local Maori and Pakeha.
"The Maori communities at Kaiapoi and Little River were supportive as were the Pakeha communities at Sedgemere and Lakeside. Architect TS Lambert designed the church, and the German carpenter Herman Kamura was the builder. The church was completed in 1885 and the opening service was held on Easter Tuesday.
"Over the years there were close relations between the Anglicans at Sedgemere and the Methodists at Taumutu. Others joined in to lead worship over the decades, in particular, Presbyterians and the Salvation Army," Rosaline says.
Hone Wetere Church is now owned and maintained by Ngati Moki marae in cooperation with Ellesmere Cooperating Parish.
The church is occasionally used for weddings, and services are held at Christmas and on the last Sunday of January. These are occasions when people who have left Taumutu to live in other parts of Canterbury and further afield return.
A trust made up of representatives of the marae looks after the church building. Recently they re-oiled the building and gave it a new Coloursteel roof approved by the Historic Places Trust.
Lana and Alan preached a sermon together during the Sunday worship service. They say their experience is that community spirit at Taumutu is very strong, as is the sense of sharing between Maori and Pakeha.
"The iwi of Taumutu have real mission of hospitality. I felt it is a very welcoming community and a very peaceful place," Alan says.
Ellesmere Co-operating Parish minister Rev Paul Eden says preparing for the 125 anniversary heightened the partnership between the parish and the marae.
"The journey of preparation for the celebrations was one of personal growth for me as I learned more about how Maori and Pakeha have different cultural starting points, but with perseverance and mutual kindness can achieve greater understanding," Paul says.
"The outcome was a great time of celebrating the history of the church, enjoying the richness of two people working together with the blessing of God, and a very real hope for the future."