Loving God, sanctifier, redeemer and giver of all life, may my words, thoughts and deeds be always acceptable unto you. Amen.
E oku tino rangatira nga pou o te Hahi, nga kaiarahi, kaitonotono, rangatahi, kaiwawao me te katoa o te whanau whanui o te Hahi, nga mihi, nga mihi, nga mihi tino aroha pau te kaha!
I cannot begin to express just how incredibly humbled I am to be with you all in this moment of long-awaited and so richly deserved celebration, in this sacramental moment of thanksgiving for all in God’s creation that has been and is yet to be in all of our lives.
E toku Pihopa (tatangia!), toku Pirihi rongonui, I tenei to ra, nui ake te aroha ki a koe me to whanau. A week or so ago I wrote to ask you how you were coping in the lead up to this day. I did so as one so conscious of the pioneering burden, the weight of expectation, the overwhelming sense of anticipation, the incredulity – the wondering - Is this really happening? Why me Lord? . . . but you responded so very simply and eloquently when you said to me, “I have this incredible calmness that I have carried since the Electoral college. I believe the Holy Spirit is surrounding and uplifting me on this journey. And I am so grateful for the positive people around me as well”.
It is for that spontaneous warm, gentle, serenity you so readily convey that you are so loved and respected. It is your humble, faith filled certainty of being always enfolded and guided by the Holy Spirit that is so inspirational to those looking to you for guidance. And it is your ever generous loving acknowledgment and support of your co-workers in the Upoko mission vineyard and beyond in Te Pīhopatanga whānui which make you the perfectly rightful chosen one for this precious work of leading, of nurturing, of shepherding those who from this day onward will call you their beloved Pīhopa Waitohiariki.
You stand proudly now at the helm of a metaphoric waka wāhine which has been navigating its way across this church for many, many years – for it is in this moment that each one of us can recall with abundant aroha those women whose relentless struggles – and very occasional triumphs – in ministry have finally culminated in this amazing day. I have no doubt that here and now we are surrounded on all sides by that great cloud of bold and beautiful witnesses – nga wahine toa, nga wahine whakapono humarie o Te Pihopatanga, me te Hahi puta noa ki Aotearoa me Poronehia. Their names are too many, their memories too precious, their incredible legacy now so perfectly safely entrusted to you.
What we have always known, is “He moana pukepuke e ekengia e te waka.” A choppy sea can be navigated. And so now it is that we celebrate your determination, your perseverance and your resilience as the new captain of te waka o te Upoko o te Ika, responsible for assessing and neutralising the risks, responsible for setting the right direction as you now guide this Amorangi through challenging waters into what we pray will always be safe harbour for your people.
Last week someone said to me, “Isn’t it fabulous to have the first Maori woman, the first New Zealand born woman consecrated as Bishop and I said ae marika, yes, absolutely, alleluia!”
BUT… then I also said that I along with many other women have actually heard God saying to the Church for the longest time, what on earth is taking you so long to get what I meant when I told you I created all of humanity in my own image, ‘in the image of God I created them; male and female I created them’.
We here in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have been a Church once globally known for our bold innovations, our visionary leadership, our prophetic courage, including our stance on women bishops (providing of course they were not homegrown), but the current reality is that of late we have slid somewhat down the index on all three counts.
However, this day represents for many of us an inspiring sign of renewed hope, of encouragement and of new possibilities. But there is a caveat to my observation and it is that the responsibility for fulfilling that hope, for sustaining that encouragement or for imagining and realising those new possibilities is not simply on Waitohiariki’s shoulders but is rather a responsibility to be newly shared among us all.
Firstly, therefore I want to urge us all not only across Te Pihopatanga but across the whole Church here represented to let this spirit-filled decision of Te Upoko o Te Ika, to choose a good woman, one who in accord with Timothy is, ‘above reproach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money’, [to let this decision] resonate across this Church as future leadership decisions are being made.
This Church is not to place an intolerable burden of expectation upon the strong and capable shoulders of one woman, and nor is it to become inappropriately self-congratulatory, rather it is now our collective responsibility to not only applaud and uplift our beautiful new bishop, but it is to work unceasingly to replicate such appointments from here on in. Waitohiariki needs and deserves our ongoing solidarity not just our momentary salute.
For surely the leadership of women at all levels is so desperately needed now more than ever.
It is my contention that we cannot with any credibility continue to justify, excuse or indeed any longer tolerate the deeply embedded gender imbalance in the leadership of this church. As [Roman Catholic feminist theologian, Dr Elisabeth Schüssler] Fiorenza reminds us, ‘for as long as actual power relationships and status privileges are not changed, a theological paradigm of service is merely moralistic sentiment and a dangerous rhetorical appeal which simply mystifies and entrenches structures of domination’.
It is with urgency therefore that we need more women to take their rightful places as shepherds and chief pastors, as leaders of us all. We need the particularly feminine gifts of equally holy wisdom, of equally merciful theological insight, of equally kind pastoral nurture, of humility and of intuitive creativity, which women possess in unique form and have long been willing to offer in abundance into the life and the leadership of the Church. Our gifts are complementary not competitive, they are alternative not ulterior and they are sorely needed in these increasingly strange and challenging political times in the life of our nation and thus in the lives of those most vulnerable, most marginalized in our communities.
Such is the seriousness of the plight of the poor in Aotearoa New Zealand that what is required is for the whole Church to turn with deeply impassioned and well-informed urgency toward the pressing needs of those who are the least among us – those structurally and attitudinally denied the ability to lead decent or dignified lives, those afflicted by what George Bernard Shaw described as the greatest of evils and the worst of crimes imaginable – that of poverty.
For here and now in our shared homeland is the undeniable evidence – nearly 25 % or one quarter of our children struggle for lives of decency and dignity, and what about our shameful record of domestic violence where daily countless women are being battered, their happiness stifled, creativity destroyed, freedom eradicated, their dignity crushed and their spirituality derided.
Today’s tragic reality is that none of us need look far before we bear witness to these examples of needless human suffering, which are the very antithesis to dignity and decency.
This reality then, as Waitohiariki knows only too well, is the occupational vineyard for those in ministry, the public square, the sphere within which she and indeed all of us in different ways must give expression to our daily call to serve the Christ we seek to emulate, the Christ we promise to follow.
How then are we to most effectively leverage ministries of light and life when so much is pressing in from the dark side? It is for this reason I chose today’s readings especially the Gospel.
I once heard John’s Gospel described as ‘a paean or song of praise to the unlimited beauty, eternal creativity, and to the breathtaking presence of Christ in this world’.
Isn’t that at once a superbly uplifting image, ‘the breathtaking presence of Christ in the world’ . . . for here in John’s Gospel is the solemn promise that what is going on when Jesus shows up on earth is somehow mysteriously part of what is and was always true about God. Before we meet Jesus in Galilee or in Bethlehem, we meet him ‘in the beginning . . . with God’. John is showing us that Jesus Christ is the embodied plan of God that existed from before his birth.
We also learn the basic plot of the gospel: creation no longer knows its Creator and is in darkness. But the Light has arrived in the world. The Light will make the Father known to the world, as the divine Word of God. All of this is matching and expanding what was revealed in the Old Testament, though now, God has been ever more gracious.
John is reassuring us that nothing at all therefore can make a difference to the eternal truth about God. God’s welcome, God’s joy, God’s light – all of this is eternal, not fixed in time or space but eternally occurring, eternally seeking, eternally knowing and therefore there is theoretically no way that the darkness can ever, could ever, completely overwhelm or overthrow God’s people.
The challenge therefore before each one of us really is quite simple. We have no option but to be courageous; we have no need to fear the dark. Rather we are to endeavour in all we say and all we do to exemplify what we really mean when we confess to believing in Him in whom we live and move and have our being.
It is in this way that we are called inexorably to prophetic action, to be unafraid in public witness, to be unbowed in the pursuit of justice for the downcast and the marginalized, to continue to act always with compassion and kindness, to learn anew how to temper our outrage with critical analysis and strategic action, and crucially to continue to practice the art of patience with others and with ourselves.
After all each of us has a whole lifetime of selfless, sacrificial ministry ahead of us . . . yes there is urgency, but so too is there time, God’s time for you and for me to be continually blessed by knowing, by ever more deeply knowing, that because we believe, we too have become the children of God, entrusted, empowered, enlightened.
Toku rangatira e Waitohiariki, I have intentionally spoken both to you and then about you to the Church, for while it is you alone who is about to assume the mantle of leadership for which you have been set aside, it is your sister and brother bishops who also now have an ongoing and very specific duty of care for you as well as the people of your Amorangi.
You deserve to be nurtured, encouraged and freed to grow into this new role. There will doubtless be challenges, none insurmountable, as equally there will be times of immeasurable blessing. Be gentle with yourself, learn how to say, I need time to think about that! Enjoy all that lies ahead and know you are dearly loved.
In closing, I want to return now to your own words to me, words I quoted earlier on. But what I did not say then was what I immediately intuited from your response to me because when I asked you how you were feeling what I really heard you say in replying to me was this: [I feel]
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
Because this is the exemplary priest you have always been and this is the even more grace-filled bishop you have now become – a bishop of the Church and one we are all so richly blessed to call our very own. Amen.