Over the last few years at South West Baptist we have begun a journey to discover what it means to be a people of the gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand. A country where our spiritual forefathers were instrumental in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, where we now seek to understand our place, identity, community and mission. We have only just begun.
So while the rest of our church went off to enjoy camping at Spencer Park a group of 28 of us ranging from 10-65+ years old set off with in trepidation (from past media coverage), with some scepticism, and with only a little knowledge of what to expect at Waitangi. But we were all determined to participate fully in whatever the day brought. Our group included those with Maori ancestry and Pakeha from all corners of the globe and with many views, previous experiences and at different stages of bi-cultural understanding.
What we found as walked onto the treaty grounds at 4.45 am in the stillness of the pre-dawn was a feeling that in many ways we were walking onto sacred ground. To begin the day worshipping God at the pre-dawn service before the meeting house – a service that ended with the raising of the New Zealand flag and lone piper as the dawn broke, to experience the many prayers for the nation at the 9 am service, the participation of church and national leaders, the reading of the Treaty of Waitangi(Te Tiriti o Waitangi), set the tone for the day and impacted us all. We came away realising how indebted we are to our Maori brothers and sisters who welcomed the good news in those early days and still in many ways keep faith intertwined with all other aspects of New Zealand affairs in ways we as Pakeha have lost.
The celebrations continued with the 21 gun salute, navy marching bands, the Waka arriving, magnificent Kapa Haka performances, bands and other musical items, hip hop dance and stalls galore spread over the lower fields. It was very much a very well organised family festival with dancing, children everywhere, no alcohol or smoking allowed as we were on marae grounds. The respect for people and the grounds we all so strongly felt.
The hikoi was so respectfully organised and executed. After a march up the hill to the meeting house, where speeches were delivered it disbanded and everyone went off to join the festivities. It seemed from those of us watching in the main to be protesting against oil drilling to which some of us felt we could have happily joined.
The next day a group of us then went up to visit Oihi Bay, site of that first Christmas Day sermon and the Marsden Cross. The walk, information panels telling the story and viewing of the bay completed for many of us our pilgrimage to Waitangi and our indebtedness also to those first missionaries of all denominations (flawed as we all are).
We come away all glad we made the journey, with new respect and understanding of our place in this nation, its past and its future. Some of us are now off to the national kapa haka competitions which are in Christchurch early March, all with tentative plans to attend Okains Bay or Onuku celebrations next Waitangi Day. Waitangi Day will never again just be a holiday for us but a time to reflect on what God has done and is doing in this nation.
To you all we would say if at all possible make the trip to Waitangi on the 6th of February at least once in your life time . If you can, take a group to experience this together. You will regret not doing so.
Alison Ford, Pakeha from Nottingham England, tangata te tiriti (person of the Treaty – Ed.)