NEW ZEALAND: Maori welcome inspires scholars at Anglican liturgy gathering

August 4, 2009

The Rev. Clayton Morris, New York-based liturgical officer for the Episcopal Church, has been to a few international get-togethers for liturgy scholars in the past two decades. But none, he said, has kicked off with the oomph and the good vibe of the 2009 International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which is meeting this week in Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand. For that, you've got to thank the tangata whenua (translation: people of the land) Maori who staged a traditional powhiri, or ceremonial Maori welcome, to the 45 visitors who arrived from throughout the Anglican world to consider the latest thinking on liturgy. The powhiri and liturgical welcome were held in the wooden gothic Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is the central Auckland home for Tikanga Maori, the Maori cultural stream within the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. As is always the case, this traditional welcome was accompanied by waiata, or Maori language songs, and waiata-a-ringa, action songs, which were performed by Holy Sepulchre's own singing group, Te Wero o Whakapono (translation: The Challenge of Faith). And as is also the case in the Maori world, a welcome is sealed by a hakari, or feast. So when the formal liturgies were over, everybody moved into Tatai Hono, the newly renovated marae, or traditional meeting house, next door. As they ate their meals, the manuhiri (visitors) were serenaded – again, as per tradition – by Maori singers. Then, the evening changed gear. The master of ceremonies for the evening, Kito Pikaahu, bishop of Te Tai Tokerau, New Zealand's northern tribal region, invited the Rev. Nak-Hyon Joo of Korea, and a Japanese colleague, the Rev. Shintaro Ichiharo, to the microphone. To the astonishment of the New Zealanders in the audience, they sang – first in Maori, then in Korean – Pokarekare Ana, which is possibly the best-loved and most famous waiata in the Maori world, whose chorus is known to just about every Kiwi: E hine e hoki mai ra. Ka mate ahau I te aroha e. (Oh girl return to me, I could die of love for you.) Pokarakare Ana had made its way into Korean life, explained the Rev. Joo, via Maori soldiers who'd fought in the Korean War in the early 1950s. Koreans, he said, had taken that song to heart. Then, as is also the Maori way, Bishop Kito threw out a challenge to the other guests – let's hear your waiata, he said: Your turn! Entertain us! Guests who had come from every corner of the Anglican Communion responded. As you might expect from a gathering of liturgists, there were some handy singers among them. The Rev. Canon Bruce Jenneker from South Africa led the rousing singing of a chorus that had lifted South Africans during the darkest years of the struggle against apartheid. Father Tomas Maddela from the Philippines told how Corazon Aquino had died on the eve of his departure for the conference – and gave a powerful solo rendition of chorus from the tense days of People Power. The Rev. Richard Leggett (who is to deliver one of the main papers at the consultation) led a band of Canadians in "Many and great (are your wonders, O God)," a hymn first sung (so the story goes) to a group of Lakota Sioux Native Americans as they were led to the gallows after a failed uprising against the theft of their lands in the 1860s. Stirring all this was, but by no means dirgelike: Stephen Platten, the Bishop of Wakefield, for instance, led a hilarious (and hugely competent) rendition of The Hippotamus Song, by British comedians Flanders and Swann: Mud, mud, glorious mudNothing quite like it for cooling the bloodSo follow me follow, down to the hollow… Out they continued to come, liturgical scholars from pretty much the four corners: Anglicans from Australia; Ireland; the United States (Morris leading a round developed after 9/11) and India. The net effect, as Morris described it, was that barriers were broken: the 45 or so international guests found they'd hit the ground running, found they were ready and willing to engage with each other and the business in hand. International Anglican Liturgical Consultations are held every two years. They're a spin-off from the much older and larger Societas Liturgica, which is an international and ecumenical academy of liturgical scholars. The IALC began when Anglicans attending the Societas congress in Vienna in 1983 met together as a caucus. They resolved then to meet more regularly and to time their gatherings so they flow on to that year's Societas Liturgica. IALC delegates discuss papers on subjects such as Christian initiation (baptism, children and communion); ordination; and the Eucharist. The previous gathering of the IALC, in Palermo, Sicily, for instance looked at Christian rites around dying and death, and the Auckland gathering is expected to endorse some of the work begun in Sicily and developed since. This year's consultation will also consider rites around marriage – and the Rev. Canon Charles Sherlock, who is the Executive Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia's Liturgical Commission, this morning presented the first keynote address, which was entitled: "The Solemnization of Matrimony: some theological perspectives towards liturgical revision." The 2009 IALC meeting concludes August 8. Delegates will then fly to Sydney, where this year's Societas meeting begins on August 10.