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

How do we live as 3 Tikanga?

Derek Tovey and Moeawa Callaghan offer their reviews of 'Te Awa Rerenga Maha: Braided River' a new book investigating the first 25 years of this Church's life expressed in three-Tikanga form.

Derek Tovey | Moeawa Callaghan  |  04 Sep 2019  |  1 Comment  




Te Awa Rerenga Maha: Braided River, a new book edited by Dr Don Moffat, has been released as the official publication of a theological colloquium held at St. John’s College in 2017 on ‘The Three Tikanga Church: Reflecting Theologically.’

Don Moffat introduces Te Awa Rerenga Maha’s as a collection of writings that investigate the culturally three-stranded structure reshaped the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia over the 25 years since 1992 – through the lenses of scripture, history, systematic and contextual theology.

A key question these papers ask is whether Māori-Pākehā-Pasifika partnerships established in the Revised Constitution ‘Te Pouhere’ fostered or hindered good relationships across Tikanga, or resulted in a three-way divided Anglican church.

One common theme is the need to foster better relationships across Tikanga. Bishop John Bluck praises good cross-Tikanga relationships, particularly amongst youth, and proposes the church develop these further.

Rev Anashuya Fletcher picks up the same theme, advocating for clergy and laity to share hospitality and intentionally build interdependent relationships, while missiologist Dr Cathy Ross stresses the importance of cooperation and focuses on eating together to forge friendships across Tikanga.

Rev Dr Frank Smith offers four Samoan “theo-cultural” concepts for a relational way forward, premised on a relational God. He speaks of aiga as a community of blood relations akin to Paul’s “Body of Christ,” where each member works under Christ the matai (head/chief) for the good of the whole.

Rev Laiseni Liava’a offers “Felupe Theology” as a way to achieve the hoped-for common life Te Pouhere has not yet delivered. The Tongan word, felupe, means “holding things together or carrying everything together” (222). It relates strongly to a Tongan mother’s central role of holding together care for children and wider family and community obligations.

Both Bishop Peter Carrell and Rev Dr Christopher Holmes critique the three -Tikanga structure based on views of Ephesians. Peter Carrell reaches the conclusion that “we should consider bringing the three Tikanga structure of our church to an end.” (40). He goes on to argue that for a new godly society to flourish, our Church’s three strands must work harder to do more together.

Holmes’s chapter is puzzling, as he appears to judge the three-Tikanga structure as contrary to God’s intention for the church, so we should repent of our divisions. But reference to the three Tikanga structure is oblique and the critique somewhat general.

Editor Don Moffat looks at the divorce of foreign wives in Ezra 9 -10, to highlight the Israelite exiles’ need to strengthen identity as a minority within a dominant majority. He connects this with Māori desires to develop identity in a way that has required differentiation and separation for the purpose of autonomy and cultural revival.

Rev Robert Kereopa emphasises how the three-Tikanga church has enabled uniquely Māori mission and ministry initiatives. He cites positive examples in Minita-a-Iwi, Wānanga and Taapapa training programmes, work strengthening te reo Māori, mission within the Anglican Indigenous Network, and the Minita-a-Whanau initiative. Kereopa lays out how each of these Māori mission priorities have stood on the foundation of equal partnership, self-governance and control over resource allocation.

Rev Dr Rangi Nicholson’s chapter focuses on the mixed Tikanga responses to the 1986 General Synod’s four Standing Resolutions on Māori cultural regenesis.

He finds that while Tikanga Māori supports cultural regenesis, it is hampered by lack of resources, Tikanga Pākehā has not prioritised Māori cultural regenesis, and Tikanga Pasefika does not identify cultural regenesis as its issue.

Nicholson proposes nine ways the church could bolster Māori language regenesis, including: preserving the voices of elderly Anglican Māori native speakers, resourcing Māori theological education and ministry formation, and allocating resources to this aim.

Rev Dr Edward Prebble argues the three Tikanga structure is best understood from an incarnational perspective. He praises the incarnational roots of the English parochial system, with its strong community focus, then explains how transferring that model to New Zealand brought both benefits and harm.

Patricia Harvey offers a “theology of cooperation” based on a circular structure that she sees moves beyond ‘Pākehā/Māori dualism’. Her model places Eucharist and baptism at the centre, encircled by the ethos of cooperation and leading out into mission.

Rev Dr Jenny Dawson draws on the image of water and braided rivers to raise the question of how the waters of baptism shape our Christian life and witness as a three-Tikanga Church.

One issue the authors raise for Tikanga Pākehā, with its diverse ethnic mix, is whether its name is still fit for purpose. Bluck advocates both retaining and redefining the term “Pākehā” as an identifier. Fletcher claims that “Pākehā” is now understood as a relational term, not an ethnic or cultural one, which recognises Māori as the tangata whenua with whom all immigrants must live in relationship.

Overall this book invites dialogue and reflection. It offers great insights and images that help illuminate the issues as they stand, while the authors offer valuable future challenges for the church.

Apart from the inevitable unevenness of a collection, the only minor criticism of the book is that it lacks a clear description of what the 1992 Constitution-Te Pouhere aimed to achieve, and how the church now operates within that structure.

Critics of the three Tikanga structure might heed Anashuya Fletcher’s observation that “to suggest that the three Tikanga structure is the cause of division within the church is to ignore the state of the church prior to revision” (196). 

This is a useful book for anyone engaging with what it means to be Anglican in these islands and deserves a wide readership. 

Rev Dr Derek Tovey is a retired St John’s College lecturer in Biblical Studies.



My first appreciation of the value of this collection is that it acts as a resource on the history of cross-Tikanga interactions in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia since the 1992 Constitution.

This history is presented through the lenses of mission, scripture, systematic and contextual theology, hermeneutics and theological education.

While most papers support further growth under the current three-Tikanga structure, two encourage bringing the current structure to a close altogether.

As with many collections, the articles are somewhat fragmented due to the diversity of approaches and their content. That diversity and fragmentation in some ways reflects how the Church currently looks under the three-Tikanga structure.

As Tovey notes in his review, this collection unfortunately does not address the original aims of the Constitution, however the history presented through the articles reveals how the life of the Church has functioned and continues to function through praxis-oriented action, reflection and response.

The majority of articles encourage us to consider the progress, possibilities, and renewal of vision under the current structure. While two articles suggest bringing the structure to an end, most writers see in the current structure a process that will continue to unveil and reveal ways that the Church can better foster relationships. Notably, all of the articles focus on improving relationships between Tikanga.

Although this collection would be strengthened by sustained theological reflection, there is a range of perspectives that could be drawn upon to help shape a robust Aotearoa theology.

Such a robust Aotearoa theology would address the relationships between Atua, tangata and whenua and that this collection does in an implicit way.

From an Atuatanga angle, Nicholson and Kereopa offer Maori perspectives on what church mission and theological education could benefit from, and through that alongside other papers that address relationships through Trinitarian theology, perhaps we could see the development of an Aotearoa theology of relationship.

I appreciate that Fletcher encourages consideration of a theological understanding of each of the Treaty principles.

Given that the Constitution is founded on the Treaty, this would be an excellent question to address as a Church and one that would, in my opinion, strengthen the three-Tikanga identity in Aotearoa.

Whether growth is more possible under the three-Tikanga structure or not, remains a difficult question addressed in this book, and on that, each writer offers something unique and challenging for consideration.

Dr Moeawa Callaghan is an adjunct lecturer and Kaiwhakahaere of the Indigenous Programme at Laidlaw College.


Complimentary copies of Te Awa Rerenga Maha: Braided River + $10 postage and packaging can be obtained from
Dr Don Moffat, St. John’s Theological College, Private Bag 28907, Remuera, Auckland 1541.




Ronnie Smith

Having been present at the seminal G.S. Meeting which established the original concept of a 3-tikangs Church, I remember the acute consternation of those who felt they would miss the existing spirit of fellowship -that ensured that Maori, Pasifka and Pakeha clergy and laity met regularly with one another in Eucharistic koinonia - might be lost in this new arrangement of separate development.

What was good about the recent Anglo-Catholic Hui in Wellington was that spirit of togetherness enjoyed in common with one another in the worship and learning sessions that unfolded - as common concerns were discussed and shared with one another - despite any cultural or other differences. We experienced our unity in Christ and the Gospel in ways not otherwise possible.

I, do miss seeing my Maori and Pasifika colleagues in Diocesan Synod Meetings.