Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Where to partner? It's 2024

Bishop John Bluck reflects on where our Church stands in the political climate of Māori-Pākehā relations in 2024 – especially with our own co-governance journey already 33 years in the making.

John Bluck  |  08 Jan 2024

As we shake ourselves awake from the holiday slumber, what does 2023 promise for Anglicans in Aotearoa? How will the new government’s rollback of things Māori affect us?

There is no doubt how negatively the new policies are seen by those whose language and culture and Te Tiriti based rights are under review. Māori Anglicans will have much to say about that. Listen to the voices of leaders like Archdeacon Ngira Simmonds at the Kingitanga hui in Ngaruawahia and Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu at Waitangi.

But what does the rollback mean for Tikanga Pākehā and its bicultural journey? Should we be too bothered? Only if we ignore the last 50 years of our Anglican life.

Before then we were pretty much a Church of England. But the post war era saw us slowly become a church that belonged to these islands. We elected New Zealanders rather than Englishmen as bishops, started work in 1964 on a prayer book of our own, even designing churches and cathedrals better suited to the Pacific rather than Piccadilly. And ever so slowly Māori won the right to govern their own affairs under a bishop, then bishops and an archbishop with full authority. Ironically, at the time of writing the only unretired archbishop in New Zealand is Māori.

The biggest milestone on the bicultural journey for Pākehā was the revision of the church’s constitution Te Pouhere in 1992 which transformed us into a three tikanga, cogoverning body, way ahead of any other institution at the time. So confident of our achievement, we set about telling the nation about it with suggestions for a cogoverning model for Parliament. They didn’t go down well with Prime Minister Shipley. Archbishop Sir Paul Reeves chaired a Constitutional Conference that canvassed the cogoverance options and  ended up, he said, in pleasing and upsetting people in about equal numbers.

The constitutional reform agenda isn’t going to disappear. The He Puapua report in 2019 revived it, until it was  sidelined again and finally put to rest by the new government. Meantime Anglicans go on cogoverning themselves and wait for a favourable time to tell the country about it again.

The political climate waxes and wanes, but like global warming, keeps heating up. What doesn’t waver is the liturgy enshrined in He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, the NZ Prayer Book. That publication says more about the Anglican bicultural journey than any other, and it sets a course that no government policy can divert.   

Work began on it 60 years ago. Te reo was a late entry in its formation, much of it back translated back from the English, but there are still  distinctive rhythms in the Maori text and in some places it breaks out into beautiful imagery that is untranslated into Maori. The blessing that invokes “a sea shimmering like greenstone” is hard to forget.

And when you end the eucharistic prayer with a plea to be bound together,  you’re left  in no doubt that the future of your church is a bicultural one.

Tui, tui, tuituia matou.  Weave, weave, weave us together
Tuia ki te mamae.   pain
Tuia ki te tumanako. hope
Tui, tui, tuia ki te ora life

If we’re praying and singing our way into a future together, we’re also looking back over our shoulder at a shared history of saints and martyrs. Essential companion piece to the prayer book is For All the Saints that tells brief stories of the builders of the church in Aotearoa. The missionaries who brought the Gospel here and the catechists and teachers who spread the Word around the motu, the priests and bishops, the church builders, pastors and the prophets who transformed  the faith from an overseas import to something indigenous, rooted in this soil.

The new constitution anchored all of that on the twin pillars of Gospel and Te Tiriti.  It’s called Te Pouhere, the mooring post to which all the canoes can tie up.

There’s just such a post in the estuary at Maketu, outside Tauranga. The boats that tie there pump gently in the current, but their common mooring is secure.

The Anglican church in Aotearoa faces all sorts of shame, shortcomings, subdued and conflicting voices and failures to adapt. But the  rock of faith on which it stands, the covenant it made with Māori, the treaty it promoted and honoured again in its constitution; all of that binds us together, whatever the political weather. What’s more, this rich legacy puts us in a good place to help the country find a future that is hopeful and just.

And we need that, like never before.


John Bluck is the retired Bishop of Waiapu and the author of Becoming Pakeha – a journey between two cultures (HarperCollins 2022)