Today is Te Pouhere Sunday, Constitution Sunday, the day on which we celebrate and reflect on the life of our Three Tikanga Church. The day is appropriately set following both Pentecost Day which we sometimes talk of as being the birth of the Church, and Trinity Sunday which speaks to us of the nature of God who exists as a complex community of persons.
Our Anglican Church started as a missionary Church, with CMS missionaries committed to a Maori Church through the establishment of the gospel among Maori people. It is what gave rise to the Maori name for the Anglican Church of Te Hahi Mihinare, the Missionary Church. But the signing of the Treaty, the arrival of Bishop Selwyn, and the growing numbers of European settlers had a dramatic impact on those early efforts. The missionary church quickly morphed into a settler church, and the work of CMS was gradually displaced as it became a full branch of the Church of England. So what had begun with the hope and intention of being an indigenous church had become a settler church into which Maori were invited to participate to a lesser or greater extent.
In 1857 Bishop Selwyn called the first General Synod of the Church. As a result on the 13th of June that year the first constitution of our church was signed. It was a progressive document in its day. Selwyn had a vision for the place of laity in the church and so the constitution allowed for equal involvement of the three houses of laity, clergy and bishops in decision-making processes. It was unheard of in the Church of England at that time, and there were significant ripples in England as a result.
We have journeyed 153 years since then, and with those early tensions of indigenous and settler ministry always present to one extent or another. In 1928 the Church took the first effective step to address the issue with the appointment of Frederick Augustus Bennett as the first Maori Bishop and Bishop of Aotearoa. But his position's authority was limited to lending understanding and assistance to the Archbishops and other Bishop's in New Zealand and he could not act in their parishes without their permission. Still it was a bold step in the right direction for the Church.
So the decision at the General Synod/te Hinota Whanui of 1992 to ratify a new constitution forming us into one church made up by Three Tikanga of Maori, Pakeha and Pasefika was not a sudden and dramatic change. It is this constitution and ongoing partnership that we remember and celebrate today. The Three Tikanga of the church are cultural streams not racial ones. They give expression to cultural forms of worship and of leadership and organisation within the Church and thus contextualise the gospel. People are free to belong and to worship within whatever Tikanga they choose, and there is crossover among them. It is hoped that shared contact between the 3 will foster greater understanding and we pray then that together we may be effective agents of the gospel of love, and in all of our relationships within the church and beyond it that we may be ministers of the reconciliation that we have found in Christ.- Excerpts adapted from a sermon by Bishop Ross
St James Kerikeri
Sunday 6th June 2010.