The Cathedral at Kauaetangohia

I first met Archbishop Brown Turei when I arrived in Napier in 2004 to take up the role of Dean of Waiapu Cathedral.

I asked him if he considered Waiapu Cathedral to be his cathedral too and he said “our cathedral is wherever the pihopa[1] is, with the people gathered around.”

This last week the people gathered, day after day, around their pihopa, to mourn his passing, to comfort his whanau and celebrate a long life of service.

What a privilege it was to be able to gather in the traditional Maori way, enveloped by ritual, kawa[2], and waiata[3]. The final day of the tangi[4] was a liturgy any cathedral would have been proud of. And the liturgy didn’t begin at 11am the time of the nehu[5] but days earlier as the funeral procession began its journey from Gisborne.

We joined early on the Saturday welcomed on to the marae Kauaetangohia[6] with speeches and song; hongi and kai[7]; then those after us were welcomed in the same way, then those after that; until all were ready.

Everyone on a marae has their role to play, from the cooks and dishwashers, to those guiding visitors from place to place, to those leading up front. Just like a cathedral each person steps forward on cue and delivers their role. Clergy and laity, young and old, each has their place. And the very young are there watching, participating, learning.

The singing was glorious (everyone knew the words); the prayer was heartfelt and deep; there was laughter amongst the tears. For the clergy there was a beautiful moment after the committal when we all filed past our archbishop and laid our stoles for a moment on the casket, and then walked out in procession with him to a rousing haka.

To gather and to mourn well is a gift Maori have and they willingly share that gift with any who will come. I wonder how many Pakeha have never been on a marae or to a tangi?

Our lives need frameworks and ritual to help us make sense of life’s stages, to help us make meaning out of what we experience. In an information-soaked, technological world we still need places and ways to stop and reflect and find wisdom.

Maori know all about creating community, passing on the stories and the ancient ways. As we laid our archbishop to rest on a hill overlooking the sea we gave thanks for his life, quite confident his spirit will pass to the next generation and the next. The young people there had the chance in their turn to receive that spirit, passed on nga tupuna tuku ihu[8].

Where else today can we find cathedrals like Kauaetangohia, places that frame our search for meaning?

[1] Footnotes for my overseas readers -bishop

[2] traditions

[3] song

[4] several days of mourning

[5] funeral

[6] in the remote east coast of the North Island known as Cape Runaway

[7] food

[8] passed down from the ancestors


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