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Maori and Missionary: Early Christian Missions in the South Island of New Zealand

Chapter Fourteen — Developments in the Maori Work

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Chapter Fourteen
Developments in the Maori Work

Through all The Changes it is Fitting to Mention the Name of a stalwart Maori minister who under difficult circumstances accomplished useful work at Otakou and in the south generally—the Rev. Wiremu Te Kote Te Ratou. One secret of his success as a missionary was his intimate knowledge of the native mentality and his strict observance of the native codes of etiquette. But the quality which pre-eminently fitted Te Kote for leadership was his deep spirituality. All who came into contact with him were conscious of this. He knew his spirit to be one with the Great Father of all spirits. He could express his experience in this way: “What a tree is to the leaf, the Great Father is to me; I have everything in my Father.” It was this great spiritual force which gave power to his preaching and ministrations.

Te Kote was born in the Wairarapa about the year 1820. In early life he was enslaved with his parents by Te Rauparaha and taken to Porirua. While living there he was brought into contact with the Wesleyan Mission, and after instruction he, having entered into a Christian experience, was baptised and received into the church. In 1854 he was sent to the Three Kings Native College and was trained for the Christian ministry. After ordination he was appointed to the Chatham Islands, where he worked successfully for several years.

In 1866 the Lyttelton Maori Mission was established, and Te Kote was appointed in charge with Rapaki as his headquarters. This involved travelling from Rapaki to the various Maori settlements in Canterbury and Otago. To mention his name today to the elder people of Otakou elicits expressions of appreciation and gratitude.

On Easter Sunday, 1885, the new Maori Church at Taumutu was opened free of debt. The dedication service was conducted by the Rev. W. Rowse and Te Kote—a most impressive service. Surrounding the church and its hallowed acre can be seen the ramparts and moat of Te Ruahikihiki's pa, reminiscent of bygone days. This chief, a nephew of Te Ake, of Akaroa, was one of the Kai-tahu warriors who wrested Canterbury from the Kati-mamoe tribe.

That Easter Sabbath Day, 1885, as the new sanctuary was consecrated in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, emotions of peace and goodwill to men were quickened in every heart.

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Te Kote's first term in the Canterbury-Otago charge covered twenty-three years. His second term commenced in 1890. When his health failed, he retired to spend his closing years among his own people in the Wairarapa. His useful career came quickly to an end at Greytown on May 4th, 1895. It was said of him that he “was respected as a Christian and a scholar by Maori and pakeha”.

The following appeared in the Dunedin Evening Star on March 13th, 1930:

“An old landmark in Port Chalmers, the oldest Methodist Church in Otago, is to be demolished this week. Closing services were held last Sunday, when the morning service was conducted by Mr. S. G. Macfarlane, M.A., and the evening one by the Rev. T. A. Pybus. The plans of the new church are of Gothic design, and the builder is Mr. C. Knewstubb.”

The foundation stone of the new church was laid on Saturday, April 26th, 1930. The Rev. H. E. Bellhouse, chairman of the Synod, presided. “This stone to Thee in faith we lay” was the opening hymn sung by the choir. The following account of the proceedings is taken from contemporary newspapers:

“The Rev. H. E. Bellhouse, in the course of an interesting address outlining the history of Methodism in Otago, said they had assembled that afternoon to mark an historical event. The old building had been a landmark in the history of Methodism of which they were all proud. The new building would perpetuate the names and the memory of honoured pioneers who did service for the glory of God and the helping of their fellow-men. The Rev. Mr. Pybus had been working hard to raise funds for the new church and they had been all glad to help him …

“The Mayor of Port Chalmers, Mr. W. Love, deposited in the foundation a sealed casket containing historical records. The prayer of dedication was offered by the Rev. W. M. Grant, who in his early days remembered both the Revs. Jas. Watkin and Chas. Creed. The choir rendered an appropriate anthem. The Church's One Fundation' was then announced by the Rev. G. Clement, and the Benediction pronounced by the chairman brought to a close a day long to be remembered….

“The foundation stone, bearing the date 1840, taken from the first mission house on the South Island (Waikouaiti), was then laid by Mr. J. B. Shacklock, who also unveiled the memorial tablet.”

The following report appeared in the Methodist Times:

“The dedication service of the ‘Watkin-Creed Memorial Church was held on Saturday, August 2nd, and was conducted by the Rev. H. E. Bellhouse (District Chairman). The door at the main entrance of the church was officially unlocked by Mr. E. W. Isbister, who received the key from Mr. E. Head (Trust Secretary). The building was then filled to overflowing, many being unable to gain admittance.

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“The choir, ably conducted by Mr. Irvine, rendered appropriate music. The lesson was read by the Rev. J. A. Lochore. The sermon was delivered by the Rev. A. C. Lawry from Ps. 144, 15, who said, ‘It is a happy occasion and due to the organising of the local minister and the people of Port Chalmers that the beautiful new church has been opened today. I hope it will be the centre of a beneficial influence that will bring many people into the atmosphere of Christian fellowship.’ The address throughout, which was pointed with striking illustrations from Maori Mission life, will long be remembered.

“The act of dedication of the church was conducted by the Rev. H. E. Bellhouse, who from the Communion rail expressed the hope that the new church, which had a far-reaching historical background, would prove to be a source of blessing to the congregation and to the whole community. After Mr. Bellhouse had conducted the act of dedication the Rev. G. B. Hinton led in prayer.

“The service was attended by the Mayor and Councillors of Port Chalmers, the School Committee and ministers of the city and local churches.

“The church, with its copper spire, is a beautiful building, not elaborate, but dignified and arresting. The Rev. A. C. Lawry has presented to the church a piece of wood from the first wooden church erected in New Zealand (Hokianga) in 1828. This will be inlaid in the Communion rail and suitably inscribed.

“Next day, Sunday, August 3rd, the opening services were continued. The morning service was conducted by the Rev. H. E. Bellhouse, who delivered a very able discourse appropriate for the occasion. The evening service was conducted by the Rev. T. A. Pybus, who took for his text Psalm 27–4. The church was filled at both services. The musical portion of the service was conducted by Mr. Irvine.”

On Sunday morning, December 3rd, 1934, the Creed Memorial Window was unveiled and dedicated by the Rev. H. E. Bellhouse. The window was the gift of the Creed family in Australia, and bears the following inscription:

“To the glory of God and in memory of the Rev. Charles Creed, a pioneer missionary in these parts, 1844–1853, who died in Sydney on February 18, 1879.”

It is a work of art and reflects great credit on the designer.