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

Waipounamu's feast of welcome

The Archbishop of Canterbury is welcomed to Christchurch with a feast of liturgy, song, laughter, and of course food straight out of the earth oven.

• Red zone like Beirut, says Archbishop

Brian Thomas for Taonga News  |  04 Nov 2012  |

Rowan Williams has a rare talent, even for an archbishop: that of holding heaven and earth in a single piece, and illuminating the occasion, anyoccasion, with a flash of scriptural insight.

That gift surfaced yet again during his welcome to Christchurch last night, when he stitched together the power of divine promise and the capacity of a community to rise above natural disaster.

Yes, of course his homily had to major on the earthquakes that have so ravaged this southern city. Everything about Christchurch these days is referenced as “before” or “after” the ground was pulled from under us.

But, scholar that he is, Archbishop Rowan then reached for his dogeared Bible and reminded us that calamity has upended God’s people before, and will do so again.

"In the wake of disaster and trauma, a city has to decide what is it that binds it together – above all, what are the promises that we make to one another," the Archbishop said.

"Because a truly healthy and just city is a place where people make promises to one another. They promise to be there for one another’s safety and welfare."

Archbishop Rowan then went to the heart of God's promise in Ezekiel: “I will resettle your towns, the ruins will be rebuilt.”

"God promises to recreate lives that have been scarred and shaken and broken," the Archbishop added.

"And belief in that kind of God is perhaps the deepest motivation we can have for for rebuilding every aspect of our life together.

“I’ve seen this worked out in other cities that have experienced disaster... So, look for the same fidelity, the same generosity, in this city.”

Maori hospitality

The hosts for Archbishop Rowan’s very first visit to Christchurch – the Anglican Maori Diocese of Te Waipounamu – were typically extravagant in their hospitality.

Never mind the blighting southerly that raked the marae and threatened to drench us all during the powhiri.

Maori are famously warm-hearted – and their orators mercifully brief when the congregation is turning blue from cold. And anyway, the rain did hold off for both the powhiri and the evening service that followed.

Bishop John Gray’s daughter Rawinia read the Old Testament lesson (Ezekiel 36:33-36), and Bishop Victoria Matthews read the Gospel (John 8:12-19).

Archbishop Rowan preached, and led the prayers, including the compline favourite,  “It is night after a long day...”

And then we quickly headed for an expanse of ground that holds the promise of huge blessing for both Te Waipounamu and the eastern city: the site for a stunning new church and community complex.

Archbishop Rowan planted a kowhai in the centre, and Mayor Bob Parker got down and dirty with a shovel to smooth the ground (and maybe even the consent process). Whereupon the Archbishop prayed that “this place and whatever rises here will be to God’s glory.”

All done and dusted? Well, no – because the wraps were coming off the hangi and the kapa haka troupe were already as hot as the kai.

Platters of seafood preceded steaming meat and veges, served up by a team of willing rangatahi and accompanied by copious song and gales of laughter. Archdeacon Andy Joseph, especially, may have missed his vocation as a stand-up comic.

As Archbishop Rowan quipped at the very end: “This has been a very memorable evening. A similar event in the UK would never have such musical, comic and liturgical content.”

An Archbishop of Canterbury wouldn’t normally head off to a rock concert either. But that was his next and final engagement for the day: to share the stage with rockers and rappers at a free concert for anyone who had done at least four hours’ voluntary work this year.

He slipped away from Te Waipounamu on a poignant note, undergirded by Whakaaria mai (How great thou art), because we knew that this was one of the last occasions that Rowan Williams would wear the mantle of ++Canterbury before returning to academia in Cambridge. He’ll leave big shoes.

But Bishop John had something equally big for the scholar-priest to remember us by. A hefty taonga of pounamu (greenstone) mounted on a block of kauri salvaged from the now-demolished Church of the Good Shepherd only a block away.

Yes, another reminder of what earthquakes can do to tall buildings. But also a sign of God’s unshakeable promise to rebuild.