Karakia o Te Po, the Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa thrice weekly online services of night prayer have now been “sharing the joy” with thousands of whānau for a full year since the Covid-19 pandemic first closed churches in Aotearoa’s 2020 lockdown.
When Rev Zhane Tahau Whelan and his fellow “Revs” Canon Chris Douglas-Huriwai and Archdeacon Ngira Simmonds beam into their phones with a heartfelt “Kia ora e te whanau,” to start evening prayer, a burst of belonging and human warmth heads their viewers’ way.
For many people across the Pīhopatanga, including whānau who might not be able make it to church, the thrice-weekly ‘Karakia o Te Po’ presents not only a chance to pray, to hear God’s word, and to sing along to favourite himene with ‘#BringyourGuitar2Karakia,’ but it is also a way to connect with a loving, caring community that puts Jesus and tikanga Māori at the front and centre.
Jane Titaa Anautoa tunes in to karakia from Melbourne so often that Facebook gives her a ‘top fan’ badge.
Jane, who is a longtime stalwart of the Māori Anglican Church in Melbourne, worked in essential services right through the Melbourne lockdowns – as a support worker for the Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda. She says ‘Karakia o Te Po’ fed her in a time of trial,
“Coming home to Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa each night was very comforting, as we were in a very uncertain time of our lives. There were a lot of cases and a lot of lockdowns.”
Jane says that for her whānau, who have often tuned in together, Karakia o Te Po has been a welcome link to not only their faith, but also their Aotearoa homeland.
“It gave us that comfort we needed, of Faith, Strength and Love,
To do what is right for our Souls. When you’re so far from your elders…
Hearing the scriptures, listening to the Himene,… our reo Maori …it was truly a blessing for our home.”
Online services are now a staple for the Māori Anglican Church, but Rev Chris reports that if it hadn’t been for the sudden Covid-19 lockdown, this far-reaching ministry would have struggled to ever get going.
Lockdown wasn’t the first time the Pīhopatanga leaders had thought to move karakia online, but previously the idea had stalled.
“We had talked about online ministry before, but it never went anywhere, because people always felt it was just too far out of the norm. Some even said it was too tapu to put worship online,” recalls Rev Chris Douglas-Huriwai.
But all of that changed in a single day on 25 March last year.
“We realised very quickly that if our whānau were going to be online, then we needed to be there too – to tautoko them.” said Rev Zhane.
At first the kaupapa was to help reassure people shocked by the upheaval of the lockdown, and to encourage Māori whānau to stay safe and be kind.
But soon it became clear that the hundreds of people tuning in live were hungry for more.
“A lot of people who normally wouldn’t come to church were joining online karakia. So we were reaching Māori whānau in Aotearoa, and Australia and into North America and Europe as well.” says Archdeacon Ngira.
Leonie Lewis started tuning in from London for what for her was a peaceful, energy restoring time of morning prayer to share with whānau back home. She also values the thrice-weekly rhythm of prayer, “Online karakia reaches us more often...and keeps the word more relevant to our everyday lives.”
Archdeacon Ngira says the online services not only opened the door to people who seldom thought of church, it also made worship more accessible for people who found it hard to get there.
“We had whānau in hospital and unable to leave their homes who were coming to church online for the first time.”
When lockdown ended in Aotearoa, even though the three Revs had now discovered the work it took, they couldn’t go offline.
“We thought, ‘We can’t leave this church,’ it would be like closing down a thriving parish.”
Back in 2020, Archbishop Don recognised that online karakia was meeting a need that wasn’t going to end in a hurry – especially the largely unseen pandemic of loneliness and isolation affecting older people, including some who tune in to the Facebook livestream ministry.
Over the last year the Karakia o Te Po crew stayed spurred on by Archbishop Don’s challenge from 2020 as they worked to fit karakia around in-person meetings and travel on their ministry rounds.
“When we were working hard to make it happen, we remembered our Archbishop’s words," said Rev Zhane,
‘Let peace be the pandemic, let kindness be the contagion, let love be the miracle.’”
That effort paid off with more than 21K unique kainga being touched by the online fellowship in 2020-21 and the Pīhopatanga's evening prayers have drawn an average of 5.5K, that has not dropped away, even with Aotearoa back at church in Level 1.
Rev Chris thanked the worldwide congregation in his kauwhau for the March 26 anniversary,
“All of you tuning in, and commenting, and spreading the love through this, you have contributed to the establishment of a new whānau of prayer.
Karakia o Te Po continues to stream on the Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa Facebook page three times each week.