Hagar and Ishmael – Genesis 16 & 21

Recently a baby was brought into the Waikato Hospital A&E. It had been knocked around in its own home.  Because of the severity of its injuries it was transferred to Starship Hospital in Auckland.  A few days later it died.  It was 9 months old.


Significant Women 4: Sister Annie Henry (1879- 1971) Missionary to the Urewera, New Zealand

Ann Henry was born in the Deep South in 1879.  Her father was a saw miller.  She was educated at the local school and then at Riverton District High School.

Annie HenryShe became a teacher and was heavily involved in Sunday School and Bible Class movements.  By the turn of the century she had moved to the North Island, and in 1913 she was appointed as the first matron of Presbyterian Manunui Boys’ Agricultural College which was close to Taumarunui.

She went on from there to train as a deaconess.  During that time she made a start on learning Maori.  At the beginning of 1917 she was appointed by the Presbyterian Church as a missionary to Tuhoe.  She was to be based at Ruatahuna.

Tuhoe leaders had been petitioning the government to establish a school to serve the area for a number of years.  Relationships with Tuhoe and government had been rocky.  Things had come to a head just a year before Annie’s arrival in the district.  Fearful of what was going on at Maungapohatu in the Ureweras and suspicious of the following that the Maori prophet Rua Kenana had drawn around himself, government troops had stormed the pa and arrested Rua and taken him off to prison.  Rua’s son was among the fatalities of the day’s action.

When Annie turned up with a companion, Ms Monfries, at Rotorua, they were met by educationist and Presbyterian, William Bird, who remarked that they must have been from the farthest end of Southland, because no woman living any nearer than that would dream of entering the Ureweras at that time.

Presbyterian Maori mission minutes recorded:- ‘There were two places, Te Whaiti and Ruatahuna where the children run like hares from the sight of a Pakeha; where there are no schools and no other church has even attempted work; where the natives are so poor and so unlearned in the cultivation of their land that in winter they are on the verge of starvation.  Mr Bird assured her that the government would put up a school whenever someone goes in and gathers the children together.’

Ruatahuna was very isolated.  It took the women several days to make the journey in from Rotorua.  They had a car for the first day.  However the roads proved too taxing for it.  The radiator kept overheating, the engine refused to turn over when cranked and they often had to push.  In the end they gave up and walked to give the car a rest.

The next day they had a horse and buggy.  But on the steep winding road the horse was unable to take them and their luggage, so again they had to walk a lot.  The local constable was about to send out a search party when they finally arrived well after midnight.

The women had been offered a three bedroom whare in which to set up their new school.  Two of its rooms had dirt floors and it had holes for windows.  By this stage Ms Monfries was ready to go back home.  Even Sister Annie’s optimism was severely challenged when the local rats visited them during the night.  The two women lost no time finding alternative accommodation in the morning.

The arrival of two white women created a stir.  Many in the community had never seen a white woman.  One later recorded that he was quite young when he saw Sister riding along.  He got such a shock that he jumped the farm fence and tore off into the bush.  He thought that he had seen a ghost.

Tuhoe CountryA year later, Rev John Laughton arrived at Ruatahuna.  Annie and John Laughton were to forge a firm friendship and a close working partnership.  Laughton had been posted to Rua’s stronghold, Maungapohatu, to set up a school and do other mission work there.  Rua had by this time returned from prison.  While John Laughton was waiting for permission to proceed there, he and Rev Henry Fletcher with the help of local Maori built a schoolhouse out of palings for Sister Annie and her pupils.

John Laughton had no teaching experience.  Sister Annie accompanied him to Maungapohatu and helped him to set up the school there.  She continued to keep an eye on its progress and would cart in supplies for it when she visited.  It was 30 kms from Ruatahuna to Maungapohatu.  On one occasion she famously took over a big school blackboard by packhorse for Laughton’s school.

Sister Annie’s school roll grew rapidly as people found out about it.  In its first year its roll went from 51 to 72.  To keep on top of the class numbers the adult students were split off into a night school.  Sister Annie won the hearts of those whom she worked among.  She took a real interest in her pupils, and would arrange for the gifted ones to receive access to further education, sometimes paying their fees herself.

The closest hospital to Ruatahuna was two days away in Rotorua.  Sister Annie was often called upon by the community to deliver babies and care for the sick.  She nursed people through the terrible flu epidemic, and through outbreaks of whooping cough, and typhoid, and other illnesses.  It was said that she was also quite skilled at pulling teeth.

From early on she held religious services.  Te Kooti had brought the Ringatu faith to Tuhoe.  Rua Kenana’s belief system was an offshoot of Ringatu.  Both were a syncretism of traditional Maori belief and Christianity.  Ringatu kept the sabbath and also a prayer day on the 12th day of the month.  Sister Annie would attend these services, and after them she would invite everyone to attend Presbyterian services with her on the Sunday.

She built some close relationships with the spiritual leaders of the Urewera.  They recognised her generosity and kindness, and her commitment to working for the good of their people.  She in her turn had a genuine respect for who they were as people.  She was to describe Rua Kenana as a ‘big hearted man, kindness in itself, a very intelligent man always ready to help.’ In 1927, after she had been working in the area for around a decade she attended a large gathering of Ringatu in Rotorua with a colleague.  It was recognition of her mana that the two of them were invited to give an address during the main service of that gathering.

Sister Annie had a heart for young people.  She had two favourite songs she would teach them.  Jesus Loves Me and I’m H.A.P.P.Y..  Both are still sung at tribal gatherings around Ruatahuna.  Often I’m H.A.P.P.Y.  was followed by a Sister Annie variant, I’m L.O.V.E.D.

While she never married, she adopted a couple of Maori children.  One had contracted polio and was paralysed below the waist when he came to live with her.  She arranged for him to undergo surgery and rehab at Rotorua Hospital.  This meant he could walk with the aid of crutches.  The second, Rata, died in his teens of tuberculosis.

In 1929 acknowledging her standing among the people of the area, she was made a Justice of the Peace.  She was one the first women in New Zealand to hold that position.  She was a diehard rugby fan and was probably the first woman in the world to be the president of a rugby club – the Ruatahuna Rugby Football Club.

When she retired in 1948 she had been serving the people of the Urewera for 32 years.  Once she moved to Ohope Beach she continued to keep an eye out for her people.  She would regularly visit Tuhoe patients at Whakatane Hospital.  In their turn the people of Ruatahuna kept her in firewood.  In 1951 she received an MBE for services to the Tuhoe people.  She died in 1971 aged 92.  Her tangi at Ohope Marae was huge.  Afterwards the funeral cortège visited numerous Marae on the way to her final resting place at Ruatahuna.

Annie Henry was a woman who lived a really significant life.  She is a bit of a legend in the PCANZ.  Yet, paradoxically, she did it by investing deeply in a community and a place that was in most people’s judgment very out of the way and insignificant.  Like her master Jesus, she made friends among people whom others were frightened of, or didn’t understand, or couldn’t be bothered with.  She was a woman of boundless energy and grit, and great kindness.  She was a proficient organiser.  She evidently had a good sense of fun.  I also have it on good authority that she could be crabby when she was tired.

Post script

When I was researching this sermon I unearthed a couple of Tawa Union connections with Annie Henry.  She died only 44 years ago.  I found that there are two members of our congregation, at least, who have been in the same room as her.  One is Ron Bichan.  He confessed to being in the same room as her once.  He said she was on one side of the room and, by this stage, quite famous and highly respected, and he was on the other side of the room and not at all famous.  He did however know her colleague, John Laughton, quite well.

The other person from our congregation to have the distinction of being in the same room as Sister Annie is Mavis Duncan.  Mavis in fact shared several rooms with Sister Annie over a couple of years.  When Mavis was in her early teens she lived for a time with Sister Annie at Ruatahuna and helped her keep house.  She remembers Annie’s son Rata, living in a tent because of his tuberculosis.  From what I can figure out this would have been in the late 1920s.  This house here would have been the one that she shared with Annie Henry.

PotikiIf you want to hear a bit more about Sister Annie and perhaps about how Mavis ended up delivering a baby, I suggest you ask her.



*Hihita and Hoani – Missionaries in Tuhoeland, Wayne Te Kaawa, Whakatane District Museum and Gallery, 2008

*James Veitch. ‘Henry, Annie’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012

*‘Hihita – Sister Annie Henry (1879-1971)- Passion for Service’, Allan Davidson – sermon St Luke’s, Remuera 6 May 2012.  › Sermons  2012

*Conversations with Rev. Ron Bichan and Mrs Mavis Duncan



Significant Women 3 – Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825- 1921)

I have talked about a couple of women who were significant influences in the Methodist Church and Disciples of Christ/Christian  Churches – Susanna Wesley and Clara Celestia Hale Babcock.

Antoinette Brown BlackwellWhile I was trying to figure out which Church of Christ was the one in our Associated Churches of Christ family tree, I came across the website of the United Churches of Christ of the USA.  It is not part of the Tawa Union Church family, but it is related to the Congregational Church, which is one of our NZ UCANZ partner churches.  It was here that I began to unearth the story of Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  It’s a fascinating story of a woman whose faith spurred her on to engage actively and publicly with many of the key social issues of her day.  It’s a story that deserves to be told.

Antoinette Brown was born in Henrietta, New York, in 1825.  Her parents had a farm.  Antoinette was the seventh of their ten children.  Antoinette’s grandmother would read her grandchildren Bible stories and Pilgrim’s Progress.  Antoinette’s parents joined the throngs at Christian revival meetings.  The family attended a Congregational Church.  Antoinette had a keen sense of God from an early age.  She was admitted as a full member of her church at the age of nine.  One story goes that when she was eight she told her Sunday School teacher that she wanted to be a minister.  Her Sunday School teacher promptly told her that girls couldn’t become ministers- full stop.

From the sounds of it she was never a girl who fitted the standard mould.  She disliked needlework and other feminine pursuits, preferring to help out with the traditional boy’s tasks around the farm.  Her parents recognised her individuality and her intelligence and were supportive of her.  It is said, that her mum at one point pinned a white ribbon to the inside of her collar as something for her to hold on to when others criticised her or did not understand.  Her father would pay her to do threshing so that she could earn money to further her studies.

When she finished school she taught for a while to save money for higher education.  Many tertiary institutions in her day would not take women students.  She found one that did – a Congregational college in Ohio, Oberlin College.  When she completed her two year course in literature she applied to be admitted to the college’s theological course.  While the college might have been happy to admit women into a number of its courses, theology was men only.  And, obviously, that had to be so, because ministers were men only.

After some determined lobbying (Antoinette was articulate and persistent) the faculty grudgingly agreed to admit her to the course.  However they made it clear to her she wouldn’t receive any recognition for her studies -no degree.  She also had to get special permission from her teachers to be allowed to speak in class and from the Theological Literary Society to be able to present essays.  Even so she managed to get some of her exegesis printed in the college quarterly magazine (with a disclaimer from one of her teachers).

Antoinette was a very gifted speaker, a clear thinker and a tenacious campaigner.  They may have tried to hide it with snipes and condescension, but she would have been the terror of the theology department.  She completed her theological studies in 1850.  As promised she received no degree.  It took a year of lobbying before the Congregational Church relented and gave her a licence to preach, but they refused to ordain her.

In her time at Oberlin College she had become more and more active in the anti-slavery, temperance and women’s rights movements.  These interests saw her lecturing and preaching at a number of churches, halls and conventions.  After lecturing in South Butler, New York, the First Congregational church there decided to call her as their minister.  She was ordained there in September 1853.  Two months later she became the first woman to officiate at a wedding in the USA.  That same year she got thrown out of the World Temperance Convention in New York because she was a woman and had had the temerity to try to speak.  On top of this that year she was also a signatory to what was to become one of the important early women’s rights documents in America – ‘The Just and Equal Rights of Women.’

She was in the South Butler parish for less than a year.  There were financial issues with the church, she had some health issues and she was finding it increasingly difficult to fit within the constraints of the Congregational Church.  1855 saw her working as a voluntary community worker in the prisons and ghettos of New York City.  A series of newspaper articles written out of this experience were gathered in a book- ‘Shadows of our Social System’.

In 1856 she married Samuel Blackwell.  Samuel’s sister, Elizabeth was the first woman in the USA to graduate from Medical School.  Samuel’s brother, Henry, was married to Lucy Stone, an old friend of Antoinette’s from Oberlin College.  Lucy, like Antoinette, was a prominent feminist.  It was an extraordinary extended family.  The three women came to be known as the Blackwell women.  Samuel and Antoinette had seven children, two died in infancy.  For much of the next twenty years she concentrated on bringing up her family, writing and her work in the suffrage movement- the movement that laboured to get women the vote.  She had a breadth of interests.  She was in brief correspondence with Charles Darwin and wrote a response to his evolutionary theory.  She was one of very few women at the time to be elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  She also wrote a book of poems, ‘Sea Drift’.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell2By the end of the 1870s she was beginning to get back into public speaking.  Around this time she and her husband reconnected with organised religion.  She became a Unitarian minister, though it was not until 1903 that she served as a minister of a Unitarian Congregation.  Mostly she concentrated on lecturing.  Her main focus by this stage was women’s suffrage.  She recognised that gaining the vote was only a part of what was needed to improve women’s status in society.   She saw that having the vote would have little impact if it wasn’t accompanied by real opportunities for leadership for women.  Only then would women be able to speak for themselves in the places that mattered.

Unlike a number of her peers she did not see Christianity as an impediment to women’s rights movement.  It was its out dated interpretation based on poor exegesis and fossilised in church institutions that was the problem.  Antoinette Blackwell was active in women’s suffrage associations right up into her eighties.  She was a legend in her own lifetime.  She lived until she was 95 years old and was one of only a few of the pioneers of the suffrage movement to still be alive by the 1920 presidential election, the first US election in which women were allowed to vote.  She died in 1921.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell was a woman of considerable intelligence and talent.  She was a woman who was ahead of her time and that got her into strife with those who wanted to preserve things as they were.  She found too much to challenge within the organized church, and it is unsurprising that she spent so little time in pastoral ministry.  She would have been uncomfortable company, in part because she drew attention to uncomfortable truths.

Her most fruitful ministry was out in society.  Her faith in God led her to fight what she saw as unfair and unjust.  She had a heart for those who were at the bottom of the heap and she used her gifts to advocate for them.  She was a perceptive critic of her society.  She could see that the injustice that she and others ran up against was imbedded in the structures and attitudes of her society.  Effective change wasn’t simply going to be a matter of confronting tyrants.  The tyrants were merely a symptom of the system.  The system was what needed to be challenged and transformed.  And that was the work that she went at with courage, tenacity and intelligence.  That was how she fulfilled God’s call on her life.




*Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography


All Saints 2 – Clara Celestia Hale Babcock (1847-1924)

The second person I want to talk about in this series is a woman called Clara Celestia Hale Babcock.  She holds a significant place in the Christian Churches’ tradition.  She was born in 1850, a little over a hundred years after Susanna Wesley died.  She was an American, born in Ohio, the daughter of a Methodist preacher.  Her father died when she was too young to remember him.  From an early age she was interested in the Christian Temperance movement.  This was the movement whose response to alcohol abuse was to try to outlaw the manufacture and sale of alcohol.   She met and married Israel Babcock in 1865.  She and Israel had 6 children, though only 2 of them survived into adulthood.

The pair of them joined the Christian Churches movement in 1880 after hearing an evangelist at a revival meeting.  Clara was active in women’s civic organisations, particularly temperance ones.  She was gifted, intelligent communicator and was in demand as an evangelist and a temperance speaker.  In 1888 she came to lecture about temperance at the Christian Church in Erie, Illinois.  They liked her so much that they asked her to stay as their pastor.

Clara Celestia Hale BabcockSo Clara Babcock became the very first woman in a recognised denomination to be ordained to an extended ministry in a congregation in the United States.  She was a very successful evangelist during the period of what is called the Second Awakening.  It is said that she baptised 1502 people over the course of her ministry.  Her ordination and those of the women who followed opened a fierce debate within the Christian Churches movement.  It was one of the factors along with the place of musical instruments and other essentials of the faith, that eventually in 1906 caused the movement in the States to split into the more conservative Churches of Christ and the more open Christian Churches/ Disciples of Christ movement.  Today in the United States the Disciples of Christ has a woman leader who is in her 2nd term of office, and the Churches of Christ are still debating the validity of women preachers.

Paul’s statement in Galatians that there is neither male nor female in Christ was central to Clara Babcock’s understanding of the validity of her ministry.  When it was questioned she simply pointed to what she did.  Here is what she says about one of her years at Thomson Illinois.

‘The visible results of my work are 96 additions – 38 heads of families, 8 from the Methodist Episcopals, 6 from the Baptists, 9 reclaimed; preached 240 sermons, 16 funerals, 12 weddings, 470 visits made, 1500 miles travelled to and from my labour.  I am currently in perfect health and I haven’t missed an appointment in over four years’
Perhaps that last remark was directed at those who argued that a woman’s constitution was unsuited to pastoral ministry.  Like Susanna Wesley it seems she had a tremendous capacity for work.

Clara Babcock held a number of pastoral positions in Illinois and Iowa and South Dakota over her 35 years of ordained ministry.  She was involved in active ministry right up to the end of her life.  She died in 1924.

But I discovered something that shocked me about her when I was reading through old newspaper clippings.  One recorded that her funeral service was packed and that Women’s club, the Ladies Aid Society and the women’s Auxiliary of the KKK attended in a body.  Later on it said that the Erie KKK escorted the funeral procession to the cemetery.  Did KKK mean what I thought it did?  It appears so.  ‘Should I be talking about her at all?’ I wondered.  I started to read a bit around the women’s auxiliary of the KKK in Illinois at that time.

In 1919 Abolition came in and the temperance movement that Clara Babcock and many from the churches were part appeared to have won.  What happened of course was that Abolition was extremely unpopular and the bootleggers arrived and the mob started to make a lot of money out of illegal grog.  Those of you who have been watching the Boardwalk Empire series on TV will have some inkling of what went on.  There were law and order issues.  There were very few blacks in Illinois; the KKK at that stage was more anti catholic and anti-newcomers from Europe than anti Black.

The Klan styled itself as patriotic upright white Protestant American, upholders of morality and community standards.  Perhaps that’s not all that different from what Klansmen do today, but the real difference is that in the early 1920s they had wide general support in the community, especially the church community.  They seemed to be on the same page.  There were alliances that we would not be at all comfortable with today with the benefit of hindsight.  Clara was a woman of her time and it would appear that through her temperance associations she had these other less desire able connections.

On a more positive note one of her obituaries reads, ‘Her life, her work in Erie and elsewhere is the most fitting and lasting eulogy that could be written of this noble woman.  Beloved by the community she was always a welcome visitor to their homes or social gatherings.  She was always ready and willing to assist in any undertaking for the good of the community.’  Another of her legacies was that there were at least 15 other women who were ordained as preachers either directly or indirectly through her influence.

When one person is prepared to follow where their God given gifts lead them, they open up space for others to do likewise, and the church and the community are the richer for that.  Both Clara and Susanna Wesley illustrate that.

Who has made space for you to develop your God given gifts?

Whom have you made space for so that they can develop their God given gifts?

Let’s give thanks for those who have helped us and for those whom we have helped.


The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Cambell Movement:Christian Church (Disciples of Christ/Churches of Christ) ed.  Douglas Allen Foster, Eerdmans 2004
Erie Cemetery History Project-


All Saints – Susanna Wesley (1667 -1742)

On this All Saints’ service I’ve chosen to bypass the blokes and to begin a biographical series on some of the women who have been significant people in the strands of the Christian church that are part of our DNA here at Tawa Union (Methodist, Christian Churches, Presbyterian).  These women are saints in the Protestant sense of the word, that is in the same way that all of us can be called saints.  In their various ways these women allowed their faith in God to affect the choices they made and the ways that they lived.

The first has been called the mother of Methodism.  The title is hers not just figuratively, but literally.  I am talking about Susanna Wesley; she was John and Charles Wesley’s mum.  The origins of many of the spiritual practices that came to be associated with Early Methodism can be traced back to Susanna.  She was a very organised, devout and disciplined woman.  Organised, serious devotion was what marked those early Methodist communities.

Susanna’ s father, Dr Samuel Annesley, married twice.  Susanna was the youngest of his 25 children (yes, I did say that).  I have no idea how many of them survived into adulthood.  Susanna, herself, would give birth to 19 children.  Only 9 of them survived infancy.

Susanna’s father was a dissenter – a minister who refused to sign the Act of Uniformity in 1662.  This act brought in changes to the Prayer Book.  He left his Anglican parish in Cripplegate, London and set up his own congregation.  He was an independent thinker, a highly regarded preacher, and at one point chaplain to the parliament.

Susanna displayed a similar independence of mind, when she chose at the age of 13 to rejoin the Church of England.  She married Samuel Wesley in 1688 – she was 19 and Samuel 26.  Samuel was a Church of England minister.  The couple spent the first years of their married life in London and South Ormsby.  They then moved to Epworth a village near Lincoln.  Epworth was to be their base for the next 40 years.

Susanna_WesleySusanna’s life was a hard one.  Samuel’s work and personal circumstances saw him away from the parish for extended periods of time.  He was not good at managing money and ended up in debtor’s prison on a couple of occasions.  This put a great deal of pressure on the family and their health.  Had young Samuel, the oldest of the Wesley children, not been away from home, working and able to send money home the family might have been even worse off.

Fire twice destroyed the Rectory at Epworth during their residence.  In the second fire 5 year old John Wesley had to be rescued through a second storey window.  His younger brother Charles was just a baby and Susanna was pregnant with her youngest child.  It was a devastating time for the family, in particular Susanna.  She was forced to place her children in different homes for the best part of 2 years while the rectory was rebuilt.  She was not all that impressed with their manners and behaviour when her family was once again reunited.  She determinedly set about getting them into line again.

Susanna developed the practice of spending an hour a week one on one time with each of her children.  In that time she would ‘enquire after the state of their soul’ and check in on what they were thinking, their fears, expectations, goals.  In doing this she was instilling in her children a regular practice of self-examination.

Susanna homeschooled all her children, girls as well as boys.  On the first day of her tuition she expected them to learn the entire alphabet.  They all learned Latin and Greek and Classical Studies.  She was obviously a good teacher.  The three boys went on to take Master’s degrees from Oxford.

At one point when her husband’s work took him away for some months, the supply minister whom he’d arranged to take his place was so awful, that Susanna decided she needed to supplement her family’s religious education for the duration of the supply.  On the Sunday afternoon she would gather the children.  They would sing a Psalm.  Then Susanna would take one of her husband’s or father’s old sermons and read it out loud and then they would finish with another Psalm.  When others in the parish got to hear of this they asked whether they could join in.  It got to a point where there were over 200 at Susanna’s afternoon service and almost no one at the supply minister’s Sunday morning service.

To nurture her own spiritual life Susanna had a practice of daily devotions.  She also wrote scripture meditations, and commentaries for her own use on things like the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments.  Many of these went up in flames in the rectory fire.  Some remain, however, as well as some of her letters to her children, sharing her wisdom and advice on life and the Christian faith.  Susanna’s husband, Samuel, comes across in what I have read as somewhat inept.  His life’s work was an exegetical commentary on the Book of Job.  It was a labour that took its toll on the family finances and has long been forgotten.  Susanna’s more practical offerings had a far greater and more positive affect on the family and beyond.  They are the writings that are remembered.

Susanna was a person who grasped the usefulness of good structures and habits.  One can imagine these things would have been lifesavers in the chaos she endured.  She integrated her wisdom about structures with her approach to faith.  Her spiritual life was disciplined, practical and devout.

She also understood the importance of education for girls as well as boys.  She could make up her own mind about things and create solutions for problems she faced.  Women of her day weren’t given credit for being able to do those things.  In her, Charles and John had a role model of a highly capable, intelligent woman.  Her influence was surely one of the reasons why John was open to women in the Methodist movement exercising their gifts in leadership, not just among other women but in mixed gatherings as well.  In time he would even let authorised women preach.

Methodism is very much in her debt.



Thinking About Mission – Luke 10: 1-12

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. 

Matthew’s Great Commission has been an important and formative text in the church’s understanding of its mission.  Sometimes, I think, those who are enthusiastic users of it could be a bit more imaginative and expansive on what that Christian discipleship entails.

The text has had a particular impact on the modern missionary movement from its beginnings in 19 century evangelicalism – the Church Missionary Society, the London Missionary Society are children of this.

 Samuel Marsden preaches the first Christian sermon on New Zealand soil.   25 Dec 1814.   

It was the text behind John Mott’s cry ‘The evangelisation of the world in this generation.’  The Student Volunteer Movement that John Mott led was an ancestor to the Student Christian Movement and the Tertiary Students’ Christian Fellowship.

Another of the important texts on mission is Jesus’ statement before the home crowd at Nazareth, of what he was on about.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. 

This statement about God’s mission in the world being about the restoration of social and spiritual wholeness, healing and release proclaimed and modelled by Jesus and fulfilled through him, is perhaps the favoured mission text of today (in theory at least).

I’ve been reading a book lately that takes Luke 10: 1-12, the passage about the sending out of the 70, and suggests that we would do well to reflect on what it tells us, about how the church should go about participating in God’s mission.   I haven’t made up my mind about whether the text can bear all that this writer hangs on it, but he makes some interesting and challenging observations that are worth thinking about.

The author’s name is Alan Roxburgh.  His basic thesis is that ‘the mission of God’ is the centre of the gospel and the central concern of Jesus.  It is not about the church, he says.  It’s not about church planting or church growth or healthy churches or any other form of church survival.  Communities that are shaped by the Christian gospel are called first and foremost to be people who are committed to partnering with God in God’s mission to the world.

That partnership with God in God’s mission may sensitise us to pastoral needs, justice issues, spiritual needs, conservation concerns, to places that are doing good work and could do with a helping hand.  It may draw us to pray, to speak, to do, to share resources, time, expertise, something of our own story, something of the Christian story.   Whenever our sense of the grace, love, justice and faithfulness of God motivates our responses to the world around us we are partnering God in God’s mission; we are doing kingdom work.  We need, Alan Roxburgh says, to rediscover that the gospel is the hope for all human life and for the creation that surrounds us.

Churches don’t grow.  We  grow.

And when we grow, churches change,

and when churches change

Communities are transformed,

and God’s mission is to transform the world.

Nigel Hanscamp, Making Connections Weekend

The gospel of Luke was probably written in the last quarter of the first century.  It was written with Gentile congregations in mind.  By the time the gospel was written Jerusalem had very likely fallen to Titus who would soon become the emperor of Rome.  With its fall those who had been associated with the most Jewish of the Christian communities had been scattered or had perished.  By 75 AD there would have been a good number of 2nd generation Christians among those to whom Luke was writing.

Roxburgh believes that Luke wrote to encourage Christians who were having a crisis of faith.  The expectation of the earliest Christian communities was that within a short time Christ would return and the Kingdom of God would come in its fullness and the kingdoms of the world (including the superpower of Rome) would come to an end.  As time went on this expectation was needing to be looked at again.  Christians were a minority, living in countries that had been occupied by the Roman army and incorporated into the Roman Empire.  Life was not always easy.  It was not uncommon to be subjected to harassment and discrimination.  It was tough and costly believing and giving allegiance to an alternative kingdom, when the signs of the power of Rome surrounded them on every side.  The Roman Empire seemed as entrenched as ever.  Was the cost of being different too great?  Why was God taking his time in bringing things to a close? What was God up to?  Who was really winning?

This is the context of Luke’s audience.  In the gospel itself the story of the sending out of the seventy is surrounded by stories that indicate that the gospel from its beginning had a mixed reception, and also that it has never been easy to follow Jesus.  In fact in the section before this passage Jesus’ words are more discouraging than encouraging to those who register expressions of interest in following him.  ‘You’ll be living on the margins.  It will demand your undivided allegiance.’  It is clear, too, that the highly regarded and well known were disproportionately absent from Jesus’ band of disciples.  All in all they were a pretty ordinary bunch.  ‘Thank you God,’ Jesus says, ‘that you have revealed these things to children and not to the smart and savvy.’  Luke’s audience will have recognised something of themselves and their experience in all these things.

Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem.  He sends 70 of his followers out ahead of him into the places that he will be passing through.  They are to travel light, so light that they will be forced to depend on whatever hospitality is offered to them- no purse no bag no sandals.  (‘Comb and toothbrush and no extra luggage’- The Message.)  They are to stop where they are first welcomed.  They are not to move around looking for the best place to stay.

This is a very different approach to mission from the default of most Western churches.  Here the followers of Jesus are recipients of others’ hospitality.  They are not creating a programme or responding to what they guess is a need or gap in services in the community.  They are not creating a dependence on themselves for a service, and hoping by that that people might stick around.  They are not even extending hospitality with no strings attached.  Instead they are the powerless ones, dependent on those who have allowed them to move in and live alongside them, sharing in the work of the household and sharing food at their table.  This is the sort of space where genuine conversations, free from church agendas can take place.

Alan Roxburgh paraphrases, ‘If you want to discover and discern what God is up to in the world just now, stop trying to answer this question within the walls of your churches.  Like strangers in need of hospitality who have left their baggage behind, enter the neighborhoods and communities where you live.  Sit at the table of the other, and there you may begin to hear what God is doing….  Part of Luke’s response to his audience is that they will rediscover the meaning and shape of the gospel as they enter the towns and villages where the Spirit has sent them to live.’

Roxburgh reflects that the church in this passage is not in a gathering of like minded people in a scheduled religious meeting, it is in the living spaces and working spaces of people who are largely outside of those meetings.  It is sitting at their tables, listening to their stories, breaking bread with them, and entering into a human dialogue that is not a well- rehearsed sales pitch.’

Now there a lot of us at Tawa Union Church who have or have had very strong links and connections with our communities.  We have an older generation here, in particular, who were instrumental in setting up some of the infrastructure of our suburb.  Many of us too have worked in community oriented professions or in the public service.  And others of us have worked with integrity in the private sector.   We have a strong tradition of community service in this church and in fact in the suburb.

carrier_pigeon What we do sometimes lose touch with, though, is a sense of being sent.  The 70 were sent out by Jesus; that is what gave their journey its purpose.  It wasn’t just a billeting experience for their own development, or to do a bit of good.  Jesus had sent them to speak God’s word of peace and wholeness, to heal the sick and to announce the good news of God’s kingdom- a very different sort of establishment to the Roman Empire.  We need to recover our belief that God has sent us to be part of the communities that we connect with.

God hasn’t sent us there to interject with trite religious formulas or give some Christian sales pitch.  God has sent us there to rub shoulders with those who are in those communities, to work alongside them, to listen to their stories, to share coffee with them and enter into genuine dialogue.  As we do that and reflect on our own stories and the stories of God’s people, we may notice what God is up to in that place and discover our ministry there.  It is our sense of being sent that opens our eyes to see our life’s journey and our work, paid and unpaid, as a calling.  When we wake up to our life as a calling, it is amazing how often we catch sight of God.

The 70 came back to Jesus bubbling with all that had happened, full of stories of what God had done through them.  Jesus says, ‘That’s great, but the real triumph is not your authority but God’s authority over you and God’s presence with you.  It’s not what you do for God but what God does for you- that’s the agenda for rejoicing.’ It is our ongoing awareness and celebration of God’s kindness and grace towards us that gives our ministry balance and keeps it genuine.

Clare Lind

Missional- Joining God in the Neighborhood by Alan Roxburgh;  Baker Books, 2011


Music Month @ T.U.C. – 2 Samuel 1:17-27

A Service with the BB Learners’ Band.

As most of you know I’m a bit musically challenged.  I inherited this characteristic from my father.  My dad was the non musical one in a family that produced some quite good musicians.  But although my dad couldn’t keep a tune he loved listening to music – classical music.

Anyway, maybe once a year dad would take himself and a particularly favoured child or two off to a symphony orchestra concert at the Dunedin Town Hall.  It was a pretty special occasion.  We dressed in our best and stayed up much later than we were normally allowed.  One time we went to a Royal concert put on by the NZSO in the Town Hall and attended by the Queen and Prince Philip.  The Town Hall was very full.  We had seats way up in the Gods.  For the uninitiated that’s as far back from the stage as you can get.  So we were a very long way from the orchestra and a long way up.  We did however have quite a good view of the back of the Queen.

It was by my dad’s side that we were exposed to the mysteries of the orchestra.  It was pointed out to us where the strings sat, and the woodwind and the brass and perhaps best of all the percussion with its highly polished timpani drums.  We would listen as the musicians tuned their instruments.  We learned that the Leader of the Orchestra was the leader of the first violins and that when s/he entered the conductor was not far behind.  The air was full of anticipation and excitement at that point, the performance was about to begin.

We learned to watch the percussion section at the back of the orchestra.  Among the drums there might be a glockenspiel.  Sometimes there was even a gong.  As the volume of the music rose we would look to see whether this was the time that someone from the percussion section would stand up and come forward to be at the ready to strike the gong.  The triangle was another instrument we would watch.  The strings and the wind instruments keep everything going; they are the workhorses of the orchestra.  But there are times in music when a note is required from the gong or the triangle, no other instrument will do.  It’s true in life too, isn’t it?  Sometimes the voice that is hardly heard, at the right time says it the best of the lot, or it seems to sum up all that has been said before in a few succinct words.

A Couple of Words

Now I have just demonstrated that I’m not a musician.   I have talked more about the spectacle and drama of the orchestra, but the musical among you will want to set me straight – ‘Yes…  Yes… but it’s first and foremost about sound, about the music, not the spectacle.’ And you are right.  The orchestra (and the composers if they were still around) would agree with you.

Music affects us all.  But particularly for those who are musical, it is a direct route to the soul.  It speaks to our emotions.  The right piece of music has the power to cut through all that’s on top and to move the person who is sensitized to it to tears with its beauty or its pain or its truth.  The other day one of our musicians here told me ‘music is a mysterious energy.  It affects you emotionally and even physically and no one quite knows how.’

You can find a contemporary witness to the power of music at

The following is a music blog by Keoni Lewis.  He writes:-

I attribute music with helping to ‘raise’ me in a cold world.… it drove me to be expressive and achieve a level of creativity I was unaware of….  Music has helped me discover who I am.  Assisted me through some of the darkest times in life.  Gave me insight to relationships.  Softened my approach to life in a time when I hardened myself to fight life.  Without music, I fear my mind, heart and soul wouldn’t have developed as it has, and I would be another cog in the vicious cycle of a violent upbringing.’

People have understood the power of music for 1000’s of years.  The word music comes from Greek.  It comes from the word Muse.  The muses were the Greek goddesses who inspired creativity.   So in Greek thought music was something inspired.  It was something that came from beyond us and was breathed into us.  It was a divine gift.  Certainly the musicians worked at their art and practiced, but there was a realisation that when music did its magic the results were more than the sum of what went into it.

Our Jewish and Christian heritage also regards music as a gift of God.  It is a gift that has always played an important part in our worship.  The Bible is full of songs and poetry.  At its centre there is a songbook with 150 songs- the book of Psalms.  There are songs in this book that are 3000 years old.  Some of them have notes about the tune that they were to be sung to, though the tunes themselves have long been lost.  …To the tune ‘A Silent Dove in the Distance’, to the tune ‘Don’t Destroy’, to the tune ‘Lily of the Promise’….

There are other songs too that are scattered throughout the Bible particularly in the Old Testament or Jewish scriptures.  The one that was read this morning (2 Samuel 1:17-27 ) is one of those.  It is a lament.  David’s response to the news of the death of his good friend Jonathan and Jonathan’s father, King Saul, is to pick up his harp and compose a song in their memory – a song that everyone can sing and so remember two of Israel’s heroes.  It is a song that is included in a song book called the Book of Jashar.  My bible translation has a note saying that this book may have been a collection of ancient war songs.  David calls the song, ‘The Song of the Bow’.  It is a beautiful, poignant song.

‘together in life, together in death,
they were faster than eagles
and stronger than lions’….
(Good News Bible)

The songs that are in the book of Psalms and those scattered throughout the Bible are about all sorts of things.  Some are laments, some put Israel’s history into song, some give instruction, some are prayers in desperation, some are hymns of praise to God, some glory in the beauty of the created world, some are royal prayers as a new king is enthroned, some are love songs, some are angry and keen on revenge and some are full of joy.  The whole of life is there – the beautiful and the ugly- and through music it is gathered up and brought before God and hallowed or at least brought into a place where it can be redeemed and changed.  Collectively these ancient songs teach us that nothing and no one is out of bounds.  We are all in the reach of God.

So that is music, a gift from God.  I want to say something briefly about the word ‘instrument’ since we have quite a few of them here this morning with the Boys’ Brigade Learners’ Band.

Instrument comes from a Latin word which means to set in order, to make ready, prepare, equip or instruct.  An instrument is something that equips us to do a task.  It is a tool or an implement.  And the tools that the band has with them today- well strictly speaking they should be called musical instruments to distinguish them from scientific and other instruments,

According to the dictionary musical instruments are devices for producing musical sounds by vibration, wind or percussion.  Musical instruments are pretty much like any other instrument- they are things that are used to perform a task and they are useful to the extent that they do what they are made to do.  Sometimes of course if there’s a botch up it’s not the fault of the instrument but its handler- it’s the handler that needs training and practice and the commitment to persevere.

I started this sermon with the picture of an orchestra.  It strikes me that an orchestra is a great image for the community of God’s people.  God has composed the music and God is our conductor.  We are there with our different instruments learning how to play the music God has given us, and learning how to play it together.  As we learn to do that in our worship and our living the whole will most definitely be more than the sum of the parts.  Together we will be swept up into God’s symphony and carried along in it.  The result will be something of beauty and mystery.



Travelling With a Rainbow – Luke 24:1-12

A few years back I did a course that meant that I had to travel to and from Palmerston North every four weeks or so.  There were four of us from Wellington doing the course (one lay person and three ministers) and we got into the practice of car-pooling.

It had been raining one day as we left Palmerston North and then the sun had broken through and we were treated to a magnificent rainbow.

We all admired it, and then we became absorbed in our conversations.  I was in the front with the layperson and I found out that she had a B.Sc.(Hons) in Zoology.  While working for the Wildlife Service she spent time working for her supervisor on a project trying to get some idea of the population and range of Whitaker’s skink.

I’m not sure whether you’ve heard of Whitaker’s skink, but you may have noticed that as you come into Pukerua Bay, the sign announcing the settlement has a lizard on it.

That lizard is a depiction of the Whitaker’s skink. Old skeletons of  Whitaker’s skink have been found elsewhere in the North Island, indicating that the lizard was at one time more widely distributed, but Pukerua Bay is the only place on the New Zealand mainland where they can still be found.  There are a couple of colonies of the skink on some of our reserve islands off the Coromandel Peninsula.

The skink is an elusive creature that likes humid conditions.  It forages in the early evening and it prefers temperatures around 15 – 20 degrees C.  It has been found in seabird burrows (you can imagine how slick they are), between the boulders of stable scree slopes and in leaf mould.

My travelling companion’s task was to set and check lizard traps.  She would identify any lizards caught in the trap and count them.  I asked her how she knew that that she wasn’t counting the same lizard over and over again.  Lizards squeeze through tight places and our New Zealand lizards are small creatures, so it wasn’t an option to use a ring or tag it.  I was told that when they caught a Whitaker’s skink they would clip a toe to identify it as one that has been counted.  Evidently it caused the skink no discomfort and it had the great advantage of not hampering its movement.

Whitaker’s skinks are on the vulnerable list of New Zealand fauna.  Even at Pukerua Bay they are rare.  In a survey in the 1990’s, similar to the one my colleague participated in, of just over 2600 lizards caught in the area only 78 were Whitaker’s skinks.

So the talk in the front of the car was all of conservation, and the talk in the back of the car…?  Well they were ministers, it was of pastoral matters.  They were seeking one another’s wisdom on pastoral issues, wrestling with how best to care for those who were under their care.  I don’t know more than that.  It wasn’t my conversation.

On a number of occasions I looked out the window and that rainbow was still with us.  Here we were caught up in two separate conversations – one about how best to respond in love to those around us, and the other about the efforts to save one of God’s smaller creatures from extinction – and, if you please, there was one very tenacious rainbow out the window.

It was as though God was sharing a joke with us.  It was as though we were in our own little ark travelling back home to our various areas of concern and ministry with the rainbow accompanying us.  At Shannon it was still with us.  It was still with us at Otaki and Waikanae.  It was still there at Paekakariki.  It was only when we were almost home, when we turned up the hill into Pukerua Bay that we lost it.  All the way from Palmerston North to Pukerua Bay… a rainbow.

You know wherever God’s people are wrestling with how best to care for creation and how best to care for others, there is hope and promise.  There’s a rainbow.  We are working for the Kingdom of God.  We are embodying in some way the hope and promise and challenge of that new order that Jesus spoke of, and that God affirmed through the resurrection.  Like the very first Christians we are engaged in the work of Easter, we are bearers of Easter hope.

You know, wherever God’s people are wrestling with how best to care for creation and how best to care for others, there is hope and promise.  There’s a rainbow.  We are working for the Kingdom of God.  We are embodying in some way the hope and promise and challenge of that new order that Jesus spoke of, and that God affirmed through the resurrection.  Like the very first Christians we are engaged in the work of Easter, we are bearers of Easter hope.

Clare Lind


Opening the Way – Acts 11:1-17

The first railway line out of Wellington went via what is now the Johnsonville line.  The line was put in by a group of Wellington business men.  They were impatient with governmental procrastination.  They could see that a railway line north was critical to the economic future of the region, and so they formed the Wellington Manawatu Railway Company.  The line went beyond the current Johnsonville line down through Glenside fairly much along the current motorway alignment to Tawa.  By 1885 it went as far as Paramata, linking the Wellington and Porirua Harbours.

In 1908 the company was bought out by the government.  The Main Trunk Railway through the North Island had just been completed and the Wellington Manawatu Railway Company line became the southernmost section of it.

I don’t know whether you have travelled the Johnsonville line.  It is a windy route around the northern hills.  There are seven tunnels on it and a number of fairly tight bends – which, I gather, is why they are having trouble with noise on it from the new Matangi units.  All going well it took 45 minutes to travel from Wellington to Tawa along it.  While the line no doubt served the needs of the inner northern hill suburbs it was a circuitous route out of Wellington for freight trains and passengers going north of Wellington.

A proposal for a tunnel through the hill to shorten the route was being put forward as early as 1913.  World War 1 stopped the proposal going any further and it was 1923 before any action was taken on it.  Tenders were put out for the two tunnels that would need to be built.  The idea was to use New Zealand contractors for the first and shorter of the tunnels, and to use experienced overseas contractors for the long tunnel.

The local contractor failed to get going on the job and the overseas tenders were too high, so the Public Works Dept decided it would just have to do the job itself.  There was a lot of infrastructure to set up before the tunnels even began.  It wasn’t until 1929 that they began the actual tunnelling.  They began by drilling from both ends at once, and the initial holes progressed at a rate of around 18 metres per week.  That initial hole was then enlarged, reinforced and lined – a slower task that went at the rate of around 13.5 metres per week.

While the tunnels started in hard stable rock, it was not long before the tunnellers met broken rock and underground streams.  The opening of Tunnel No 1 is on the Wellington fault line and the rock had splinter faults that the geologists had not been aware of.  It was hard and dangerous work.  As well as the tunnels, ventilation shafts and service tunnels had to be drilled.  Midway through 1934 the tunnels were handed over to the Railways Dept to lay the track and to put in the electrification.  Electrification was necessary because the tunnels were too long for steam engine to negotiate safely.  Three years after the handover trains were regularly running through the tunnel.

The longer of the two tunnels is over four kilometres long.  When it was built the Tawa No 2 tunnel was the second longest tunnel in New Zealand- the one at Otira being the longest.  Today Tawa No 2 is still the 4th biggest double track tunnel in New Zealand.  Once it was in use, Tawa people could get into town in around a third of the time that it had previously taken.  In the long run that was to have a profound affect on the shape of this suburb, and on the sorts of people who came to live here.




Old Fell Railway Tunnel on the
Rimutaka Incline,
Wairarapa, New Zealand.


I want you to think about tunnels – not so much the natural ones, but the human made ones.  What are tunnels? Why are they built?

I’ve been thinking about tunnels and Easter.  (It wasn’t the Easter bunny that got me started.) I was thinking about these tunnels on the Main Trunk Line and what they are and what they signify.

Tunnels like those are a way of making a connection between one place and another, over having a route through one almighty weight of obstruction.  Thinking of tunnels in those terms started to sound a bit like Easter to me.

The events of Easter can be thought of as God making a route through one almighty weight of obstruction….  Our angst, our hurt, our wilfulness, our suspicion, our fear, our hatred, our pride, our denial, our self justification, our self absorption, our lack of care, our small mindedness, our unkindness, our thoughtlessness… it is quite a mountain.  But through Jesus Christ God builds a tunnel, opening up access to himself for us… drawing us to him in love – the same challenging, fierce love that shone through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The God of Easter longs to connect with us.

The God of Easter also invites us along to continue that reconciling, connecting Easter work.  Sometimes it will take us to surprising places and lead us to startling conclusions, just like it did to Peter and the leadership of the Jerusalem church.  It got them putting things together that they had thought could never go together, and yet the Spirit of God was obviously in the connection.  Who would have thought that God was concerned with that, or that God was wanting to connect with them!

Those main Trunk tunnels on the Government deviation changed things for people up the line and this access that we have to God changes things too.  It changes things for us.  It connects us with God’s passion and purpose in this world.  It hauls us into a community that is greater than we had assumed it would be and it wakes us up to a vision beyond anything we had imagined.


Books used for information

Tawa Enterprise and Endeavour, Ken Cassells, 1988,Wellington.

Rails Through the Valley: the story of the construction and use of railway lines through Tawa, Bruce Murray and David Parsons, Tawa Historical Society, 2008, Tawa.


Place Names (Reflections on Genesis 35:1-15)

We have photos of our boys beside some place name signs in the Cotswalds in the U.K.  –Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter.  On one the oldest is pretending to throttle the younger and on the other the youngest is pretending to throttle the older.  Evidently the name Slaughter has nothing to do with butchery or battle.  It comes instead from an Old English word, Slohtre, which means a muddy place.

What weird and wonderful place names have you come across?

Signpost with the longest place name
in New Zealand and possibly the world.
It means- the place where Tamatea, the
man with the big knees, who slid,
climbed and swallowed mountains,
known as ‘landeater’ played his flute to
his loved one.


Places receive their names for various reasons.  Sometimes they are named because of a family that lived there, sometimes after an eminent person, sometimes because of an industry or after an event.  Sometimes they get their name from a geographical feature.  Sometimes places are named in a more hit and miss way.  A person in a planning office has the task of coming up with a whole batch of new street names, and the only constraint is that they can’t use a name that has already been used elsewhere, so as not to confuse the Fire Brigade.

Our Bible passage this morning is, among other things, about the naming of a couple of places.

It follows a very nasty episode in Shechem, where one of Jacob’s daughters is raped by a man fron one of Shechem’s leading families.  A peace of sorts is brokered.  However the brothers of the woman who was raped are not happy with what was negotiated.  So they attack the town when the men are off guard and sore (part of the peace deal was that the men of Shechem would be circumcised).  These angry sons of Jacob kill the men and loot the village.  The father understands that this act of revenge puts the whole family in jeopardy.  The brothers only see that their sister was wronged and someone needed to pay, and what do they care if it was the whole village.

Jacob had bought land around Shechem, intending to settle there.  Now it was certainly not safe for the family to remain in the area.

Into this situation God speaks to Jacob, ‘Go to Bethel at once and live there.  Build an altar there to me, the God who appeared to you when you were running away from your brother, Esau.’

So Jacob is summoned back to a place where he himself had previously encountered God and found hope, long ago when he was escaping the consequences of his own skulduggery.  Bethel is the place of Jacob’s ladder.  It is the place where Jacob hears for himself the promise that God has made to his family- the promise of the land he lay on, and descendants as numerous as specks of dust.  Through Jacob and his family every nation on earth will be blessed.  Then there is the personal promise, ‘Remember I will be with you and protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I promised.’

To this doorway to the house of God, the gate that he felt opened into heaven, Jacob brings his family, escaping from trouble and danger that they have had a part on bringing on themselves.  Yes, Jacob orders his family to purify themselves and leave behind the vestiges of foreign gods, but Bethel is not shrine for the lily white.  It is a place where sinners, those with murky lives, meet God and are reminded of who they are and the promise they stand in.  It is a place where the frightened find hope.

The account of Jacob setting up the altar at Bethel here in chapter 35 is one of two versions found in Genesis.  The first is found in the Jacob’s ladder story in chapter 28.  There Jacob upends the stone he was using as a pillow, as a memorial stone.  The accounts in both cases are very similar.  The upshot of both is that a place that once was known as Luz, is now known as Bethel, (the house of God).  Something has happened there significant enough to change a place name.  This is a God place now.

There is another place naming in this passage – a poignant one.  Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, dies near Bethel.  Whether she was Rebekah’s own nurse as she was growing up , or the wetnurse who looked after Rebekah’s first son, Joseph, we don’t know.  But she was someone close to Rebekah, and a loss.  They buried her beneath one of the big trees below Bethel.  (Most translations have oak, but the Hebrew word means any stately tree.) The spot became known as Allon Baccuth – the Tree of Tears.

Through our services over Lent we are looking in a more focussed way at some of the stories of this area.  I’ve been doing some reading around this from the Tawa /Porirua section of the library and I’ve come across some interesting place names and sometimes the stories behind them.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.

The block of land that runs down to the Plimmerton bridge, Section 98 on the first subdivision, was bought by a man called Henry London.  It was the site ofLondon’s accommodation house and his store and a wharf.  Local Maori called it Tinipia.  Large numbers of Maori would call atLondon’s trading potatoes and maize and pigs from settlements in the bay and along the coast.  Henry London used to brew ginger beer, and it was very popular with the Maori who came to trade.  That is why they called it Tinipia (a Maori transliteration of ginger beer).

Had I been a sailor I might have known about this next one before now.  There is an underwater feature called The Bridge.  It runs from the creek valley on Mana Island to the mainland at Bridge Pa, a bit south of Titahi Bay.  Evidently around 8000 years ago Mana Island was part of the mainland.  The shoal or Bridge is all that remains of that connection.  On either side of the Bridge the depth of water can be 2-4 times deeper than the depth of the water on the shoal itself.  The deepest sounding on the shoal is 4.5 fathoms.  Immediately south of the Bridge the water can be as deep as 20 fathoms.  The shoal is an underwater bridge that creates a stretch of shallow water.

One last one will appeal to your sense of humour.  On the harbour side of Paremata Railway Station there was a rag tag collection of cottages along the shore of the harbour.  They disappeared when the motorway was realigned.  They were mostly fisherman’s cottages.  Sometimes on a high tide the sea would wash under them.  They were pretty primitive.  The area was sometimes called Slum Alley or Slug Alley, but it came to be known as Hobson St.  Hobson St in Wellingtonw as a posh street.  Hobson St in Paremata was a joke that stuck.  It is said that some of the Paremata residents were skylarking around Wellington one night and they brought back a souvenir- one of the signposts from Hobson St.  They erected the sign on their own home ground.  The name stuck, and by 1948 had become official.

The names Jacob gave to places reflected what had happened there… Bethel (House of God)… the Tree of Tears.  The place name was a way of remembering.  I want to give you a minute to think of a place that you have lived in or perhaps spent a lot of time working in.  It might be a whole town.  It might be a street or just one building.  Think of the place and the learning that went on in that place….

Forget about the name that that place already has – forget about Luz or Stalag 13 or what ever it was called- and give it your own name, as Jacob did.  What would your name for it be?

What is the prayer or thanksgiving bound up with that name and that place?

Clare Lind

Books used for information

The Bay- A History of Community at Titahi Bay, Linda Fordyce and Kirsten MacLehn, Titahi Bay Residents and Ratepayers Progressive Association, 2000, Titahi Bay.

The Paremata Story, Barbara Heath & Helen Balham, Paremata Residents Association, 1994, Paremata.