Auckland churches reopen for Christmas

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As Tai Tokerau and Auckland have moved out of lockdown for the first time since August this year, Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu and Bishop Ross Bay say the joy amongst their people has been palpable.

“There was a feeling of elation at finally being able to gather again.” said Bishop Kito, after celebrtaing his first in-person church service at Motatau Marae in Northland on Sunday 19 December, just after the region switched to Covid Traffic Light Red.

Vaccine Passes were hardly necessary at Motatau that day, as whānau turning out could boast that their particular marae community is 100% vaccinated.

Meanwhile down in Auckland, Bishop Ross couldn’t wait to meet his flock in person again.

“I was so ready to be set loose – champing on the bit actually.”

For this latest lockdown, Bishop Kito was in Paihia, unable to cross the Auckland border and to gain an essential travel exemption – even to officiate at one of the Amorangi’s 25 funerals during lockdown.

“But I met whānau at the border and was able to accompany their loved ones’ bodies on their journey north for their funeral and burial. It was good to be able to do that.”

Bishop Kito also helped whānau to farewell loved ones across the northern part of Tai Tokerau, albeit with tiny funerals held at the funeral parlour that then moved directly to committal at the cemetery – with no tangi in between.

That left grieving families without the usual stories, prayers and tributes that flow at a tangi, so Tai Tokerau gatherings this week have also been a time for remembering and honouring those who have passed away. 

Bishop Ross says that in his diocese, some will need to revisit the hurts for family members who couldn’t cross the Auckland border for funerals, or missed the opportunity to be with loved ones before they died.

“For people who couldn’t grieve in the moment, for whose grief had to be delayed – we will need to come back to that over time.”

But this week, after 17 Sundays isolated in separate households, Anglicans across the north were out in force, ready for a healthy dose of celebration.

Both Tai Tokerau and Auckland had plenty to celebrate this week with a dozen or more ordinands poised to enter holy orders, at the moment Alert Level 3 restrictions eased. 

So when restrictions eased two weeks after St Andrew’s Day on 30 November, the two bishops ordained 18 people in six services this week, with another outdoor ordination planned for a further Tai Tokerau in January 2022.

On Tuesday this week Bishop Kito hit pause on the Hui Amorangi’s no in-person rule, to ordain four deacons and a priest at Mangere’s Te Karaiti Te Pou Herenga Waka, where 100 could attend using the My Vaccine Pass while the full service streamed on Facebook.

Later in January, Tai Tokerau will gather again to ordain seven more deacons at Rore Kahu, the outdoor shelter near the site of Aotearoa’s first Christian mission at Rangihoua in Oihi.

Meanwhile at Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, Bishop Ross ordained 7 deacons and 4 priests over four services in the same weekend, while Bishop Kito ordained the remaining Tikanga Pākehā deacon and priest for Bishop Ross at Christ Church Whāngarei.

With no chance to hold a glorious celebration with hundreds of supporters thronging the Cathedral, Bishop Ross wanted the ordinands to retain a sense of being ordained together, by sharing the same service and close-by dates.

As it turned out, many appreciated the intimacy of the 100-person events, and Ross was sure that people were singing louder and saying the responses with more gusto – to make up for those who couldn’t be there.

Both bishops also kept in mind those faithful members of congregations and families whose lack of a Vaccine Pass had kept them away this week. Having to make that call didn’t sit well with their pastoral hearts.

“It doesn’t fit with our DNA to turn people away, for any reason.” said Bishop Ross. “It offends our desire to include everyone, to offer open hospitality.” 

But the bishops’ struggle was not only about keeping the door open to more people, but in trying to keep everyone safe,

“We were so aware that people who have not been vaccinated are at a higher risk if they attend worship in a close contact space – where someone else could pass the virus on to them.”

As Bishop Ross looks forward to Auckland in the Orange Traffic Light which allows 50 into a mixed service, he hopes some Anglican churches will hold services that welcome everyone regardless of vaccine status. 

Like Archdeacon of Auckland Ven Carole Hughes, he is proud of everything Anglicans did to rise to the challenge of staying connected and being church even when they could not physically gather.  

Archdeacon Carole gave thanks today for everyone who had helped make lockdown more liveable:  

“As a diocese we gathered and offered worship online; sent food parcels to parishioners and kept connected by phone calls, emails, cards and letters. We offered online Bible Studies and sent out care packages. Those of us who were more tech savvy offered advice to others who were not so much. It was a tremendous team effort.”

Bishop Kito reported that for now, his Hui Amorangi has mandated that all hui (gatherings) and wānanga (training events) will be by Vaccine Pass.

At the same time, Tai Tokerau clergy who have not been vaccinated can offer ministry online, while wānanga and other events will be accessible via video link.

He explained that Tai Tokerau has chosen a cautious approach akin to the Waitangi National Trust, which has already said its February 2022 commemorations will be broadcast rather than in person,

“We want to keep worship online for now, to keep everyone safe.” said Bishop Kito.

“But we also want to avoid having to chop and change.”

While this lockdown has caused some stress and fatigue for some, especially as it went on, the northern communities feel blessed to have been able to gather.

For Bishop Ross, Christmas brings its message into the experience of lockdown too.

“The vulnerability of the holy family speaks to the vulnerability that many people have experienced in these last months.

“As we celebrate Christmas we can rejoice in the presence of Jesus Christ, the hope of the world, who is present to bring God’s hope to all of the vulnerable places in our lives.”