The Church On The Hill
‘The faith which raised the Church at Whatuwhiwhi is surely a pledge and promise of still greater things to come. We thank God and take courage.’
So spoke the Primate of New Zealand. At the northern end of Doubtless Bay is the Rangiawhia Peninsula, where some twenty Maori families have lived in a very close-knit community for many generations. Until the last few years very few pakehas visited there, as the peninsula was accessible only by beach road or by sea. Those who did come returned year after year, as friends coming home.
But, on one great occasion a truly august company travelled as far as beautiful, lonely Merita Bay, three miles beyond the end of Tokerau Beach. This was May 2, 1946, when all Saints Church was consecrated by the Primate and Archbishop of New Zealand, who was at that date the Most Rev. Campbell West-Watson. With him were the Bishops of Auckland and Aotearoa, the Chancellor, the Archdeacon and numerous other clergy and laymen interested in the church and its people.
For weeks beforehand, everyone had been busy with the preparations for the biggest hui ever held there. The grounds round the newly erected building were cleared and fenced, lawns and gardens were carefully laid out. The marquees were in place, the hangis prepared and lavish food stores accumulated. Even the smallest children were involved, working on their concert items, running messages, and getting in or out of someone's way. All was ready for the great day.
Then the storm came. Tremendous waves broke high over the beach, right up the sand dunes. They left behind a great slimy mess of dark-brown sea-weed, strewn for miles over the dirty-grey sand. The clay road leading up to the church was a quagmire. On May 1 when the ceremonies were due to take place it was quite impossible for any vehicle to negotiate the angry beach or the sullen road. Even the next day, the journey was extremely hazardous—a memorable one for all who dared it.
He who dared most was Simon Urlich, a black-bearded giant direct descendant of Hiione, one of the first Maori teachers trained by the Rev. Joseph Matthews, and a greatgrandson of the first Maori priest. It was at
4 a.m. and still pitch-black, bitterly cold and raining heavily when Simon drove his lime-works truck to the end of the beach to pick up the Primate and his company. Following his directions they all piled in or on the truck and set off, trying to ignore the crested waves washing round the wheels. Many of them kept their eyes closed the whole four miles, in prayer no doubt.
The consecration of the church was a very impressive ceremony. All the priests were decked in full regalia, and as many people as possible crowded into the church to participate. The altar, the font, the chancel and the sanctuary, the altar book and the service book were blessed each in turn by the Archbishop. Then the Bishop of Auckland, assisted by the late Rev. Paki Tipene, celebrated the Holy Communion. The Archbishop's sermon was translated by the late Bishop Bennett. The Maori Bishop then gave a Maori address which was much appreciated. Deeply moved the congregation filed in procession right round the church, both inside and out.
Traditional feasting and oration followed, and these would have lasted much longer if the weather had been kinder. As it was there was much anxiety over the continued deterioration of the weather and the dismal prospect of the return journey. These important visitors had other engagements so after many warm farewell speeches they had to go. Apart from a few minor mishaps the return journey was uneventful.
In earlier days the Maori teachers travelled regularly each Saturday to receive spiritual guidance and instruction from Rev. Matthews at Kaitaia. He helped them prepare their sermon, advised them on methods of teaching, and solved many practical problems for them. Then the assistants returned immediately to take Sunday services on their own isolated communities.
In the 1891 list of Maori teachers, Rangiawhia was served by Reihana Ngatote and Raharuhi Ihaia, and the Maori clergy taught by Joseph Matthews includes the Rev. Meinata Te Haara, Reihana Ngatote, Renata Tangata, Reihand Paora Kamioi, all of whom have direct descendants living in the same place today.
Since those early mission days the people have been loyal to the Anglican faith. It was no easy task to build this church on the hill. Over nearly forty years, money was slowly accumulated and held in trust by members of the Reihana family. The fine site commanding Merita Bay and Cape Karekare was given by the Reihana family and the church itself can be seen from miles away.
In 1946, under the direction of Ruki Stevens, with the freely given labour of all the men on the peninsula the church began to take shape. It was constructed in conventional style, with native timbers and it measures approximately 60 £ 40. A very large mat, woven in sections by the women, completely covers the sanctuary. When build the church was entirely free of debt — no mean feat — and no wonder the people are proud of their work.
Today, the church on the hill is in good heart. It has indeed become the symbol of progress and vitality in that small but now prosperous community.
A Maori farming incorporation in the Puha Gisborne, is currently the top supplier to the Kia Ora Co-operative Dairy Company's factory. In one month recently the block achieved an output of 6,850lbs. of butterfat.
Comprising the personal estate of the late Mr Mahaki Brown, the block—known as Tapui—was incorporated some time ago with 10 beneficiaries and is operated by a commitee of management on their behalf. It conducts dairying operations on two portions of the block of a combined area of 266 acres, with 100 acres of hill-country run-off for dry stock.
This season the incorporation is running 160 cows, milked in two sheds, and uses the labour of beneficiaries and their families.
The memory of the late Mr Puataata Alfred Grace, O.B.E., has been perpetuated by the unveiling at Hirangi Pa, situated between Tokaanu and Turangi, of a memorial tombstone and flagpole. Mr Grace, who died in 1959, was a man of outstanding gifts who served the Maori people faithfully for many years.
In the presence of a large gathering of people from many parts of the North Island, the memorial was unveiled by the Associate-Minister of Finance, Mr D. C. Seath, and dedicated by the Bishop of Aotearoa, the Rt. Rev. W. N. Panapa.