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

Backing Te Reo Māori for the future

Rangi Nicholson says Māori Language Week and the one million Te Reo moment reminds us of a golden opportunity for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand – to return to our place as a frontline advocate for Te Reo Māori - the first language to carry the message of salvation across these islands.
• Runanganui moves toward life in Te Reo Māori by 2030

Julanne Clarke-Morris  |  29 Sep 2020  |

Rev Dr Rangi Nicholson says the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand has a God-given opportunity to empower Te Reo Māori as a medium for spreading the Gospel.

“The missionary Anglican Church made a huge contribution by writing Te Reo Māori down and teaching evangelists, priests and pastors in full immersion Māori settings at the beginning of this Church’s life in these islands.”

In his doctorate on the role of the church in regenesis of the Māori language, Rev Dr Rangi Nicholson highlighted three ways to help the Gospel reach into Māoridom through supporting the Māori language: recording testimonies in Te Reo Māori, teaching the faith in Te Reo Māori and renewing the Gospel’s voice in modern Māori.

Rangi says the biological clock is ticking on a generation of kuia and kaumatua who are native speakers with unique voices that can share their Anglican faith and witness from lives deeply embedded in tikanga Māori and steeped in Te Reo Māori.

“We urgently need to collect these oral histories about Christian lives lived out and expressed in tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori.”

“We have already missed recording the stories of giants in our church whose words would have been taonga for future generations of first language Māori speakers. People like Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, Archbishop Brown Turei,  Rev Puti Murray and Archdeacon Tiki Raumati.”

“There are more testimonies in Te Reo Māori that we have little time left to save. These are taonga for the whole Church and unless we act soon, more will be lost.”

Back in the 2000s Te Pīhopatanga o Te Manawa o Te Wheke put together a team of Māori speakers who recorded testimonies in Te Reo Māori on the life and Christian witness of 25 kuia and kaumātua. Back then, they received a Ministry of Culture and Heritage grant that helped to purchase equipment and train kuia and kaumātua to record oral histories.

“We had the right people with the right skills, and could have done so much more, but we didn’t have access to the money to make it happen. It was sad.” said Rangi.

Rangi says it makes sense for the Anglican Church to come to the party on this kind of project because a Government department has different aims than the Church. 

“These stories are a way to highlight our Church’s self-understanding as an indigenous church, but we can also tell our stories of lives lived in Christ – in our own words.”

Rangi says that’s the important first step to make sure our Church’s resources in Te Reo Māori will strengthen the Gospel’s reach into Māoridom today and especially be an inspiration for young Māori speaking leaders.

The second step is to nurture Māori medium theological education to give our Church a unique opportunity to speak the Gospel afresh into a new generation of  Māori speakers.

Young Māori who have come up through Māori medium education think in Māori and live their social and academic lives in Te Reo Māori, says Rangi. But at the moment there’s no other church or academic programme offering a full immersion theological education for them to step into out of kura. 

Backing Māori medium theological education would empower our Maori priests and evangelists to speak to a generation that too often hears the Christian faith is not their inheritance as Māori, says Rangi. 

Within Maoridom, Māori Anglicans too often hear voices that claim if you follow Jesus in the Anglican Church, you will be less than fully Māori. 

Māori Anglicans know they can prove that is not the truth, but they can only prove it to a disbelieving world by who we are as a Church and what we do as whānau in Christ.

“First, we have to live what we believe in as a Church. That will take bold and loving transformation toward more truth, more justice and more aroha. That will mean big changes for both Māori and Pākehā in this Church. For us that is not only about justice, it is about mission.”

Rangi says that one step in that much bigger journey is to say yes to backing Te Reo Māori. 

“We can say: ‘Yes, we will return to our missionary roots and choose to share the Gospel with young Māori leaders in their own language.” 

“We can say: ‘Yes, we will show them how their Māori tūpuna followed Jesus as Māori, through their own Māori culture where Christ belonged to them.”

Rangi says we know how to do that as a Church, because we’ve done it before – right back at the beginning, when Māori was the first medium of this Church and its evangelists.

“That opportunity to speak into a new generation is ready to be picked up – and we have the chance to get there first.”

Dr Nicholson says there’s a third way our Church can help the Gospel to reach out to a burgeoning new generation of Māori speakers. 

In order to share the Gospel in Te Reo Māori, Rangi believes Anglicans need to back a full modern translation of the key texts of our faith, starting with a newly revised version of the classic 1952 Paipera Tapu.

“We need another version  in Te Reo Māori which makes Scripture more accessible for learners, more like a “Good News” version. We urgently need a major commitment from the church to help fill that gap.”