That little wooden church in Russell, which is said to be the oldest church in New Zealand, was one of the special holy places, for me, of our visit to New Zealand.
Of course it can’t compare in age, with the medieval churches and cathedrals of England, where God has been worshipped for so many centuries more. But this little building has been a place of Christian worship since the 1830s. It enjoys the beautiful setting of that little township on the shore of the Bay of Islands. The churchyard and the building convey an atmosphere of simplicity and peace, even with many visiting tourists in and around the place.
It was a place where Alison and I could sit and enjoy a moment of reflection. Where we found a copy of the New Zealand Prayer Book, and like the liturgy nerds that we are, pored over some of its pages to compare it with the prayers and liturgy we know. Like the liturgy of the Church in Wales, the prayer book of Aotearoa is partly bilingual, so we were able to spot some Maori words and work out what they mean.
The names of the three Persons of the Trinity, painted on weathered boards (which had been the kauri wood roof shingles of the church, before its restoration) on the wall of the church: Atua, Tama, Wairua Tapu. Father (the word also used for God, I think), Son, Holy Spirit.
Tapu is the same word as ‘taboo’, which we often take to mean something forbidden. But here it simply translates ‘holy’. In Christ the awesome Mystery of God, so alarming and terrifying apart from Jesus, becomes accessible, beautiful, adorable, ours. Yet still fills the whole universe with glory.
Tapu, tapu, he tapu te Ariki
Te Atua o te mana me te kaha,
kī tonu te rangi me te whenua i tōu korōria.
Ōhana i runga rawa.
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.