[Anglican Taonga by Lloyd Ashton] What?
A three day-conference without a single keynote speaker?
You’d want your money back.
Apparently not, if the conference in question was the just-finished Anglican Schools Conference.
Archbishop Philip Richardson, who was there for the duration – from the powhiri at the Waitangi marae last Wednesday through till the closing Eucharist in Paihia on Saturday – reckoned it was “extraordinary”.
And judging by the murmurs of approval when he said that, his sentiment was widely shared.
So what was the secret?
Well, let’s identify two things, for a start:
The fact that this year, the penultimate year before the 2014 bicentenary, the Anglican Schools Office decided to ditch the normal conference format.
Instead, they chose to make a pilgrimage around the historic Bay of Islands sites – all so pivotal to the founding of this church, and to the founding of modern New Zealand.
Then, there was the fact that this year, for the first time, at the instigation of Ali Ballantyne, the schools office director, 36 senior students from various Anglican schools joined that pilgrimage.
In all sorts of ways, that changed the dynamic, too.
And helped the 2013 ‘conference’ to become what Archbishop Philip described.
THE FOG LIFTS
The omens were good.
The first morning, when the three buses trundled out from Paihia for the 45 minute drive out along the Purerua Peninsula to Oihi Bay it was warm and still – and the fog was lifting to reveal a perfect late winter’s day.
The morning just got better from there, too.
The pilgrims all walked down from the road through the parting mist to the water’s edge, where the Active had stood offshore in 1814 – then hiked 50 metres up the hill, past the Marsden Cross to the site of the school that Thomas Kendall had opened two years later.
Ali spoke there about the significance of where they were gathered.
“We’re pilgrims,” she said. “We’ve come from all over New Zealand – and we’ve ended up in this spot.
“This,” she said, pointing to a site not much larger than a cricket pitch, “was the first school in New Zealand.
“And you can stand proud.
“Because it was an Anglican school.”
Ali urged her listeners to imagine the December day in 1814 when the ship had sailed into sight around the headland, and how it must have felt when the new arrivals landed on shore, and were greeted by the roar of a Nga Puhi haka.
“What a day. What a day…” she said.
“What sights. What sounds.”
And then, on cue – entirely spontaneous, but with split-second-perfect timing – five Dilworth School boys lit into a thunderous rendition of Ko Titiko-pure, their school haka…
With the echo of that haka still ringing the bay, as it must have in 1814, another voice launched forth:
Kororiatia ki te atua I runga rawa, kia mau te runga ki te whenua, kia pai te whakaaro, ki nga tangata katoa…
That was Archbishop Philip, acknowledging in karakia the sacredness of the land, those who lie there, acknowledging Ruatara and his people, and their invitation to the missionaries and settlers “with both thanksgiving and deep regret that this offer of partnership, has both been fulfilled and rejected…”
He acknowledged, too, the peace which God offers, as a peace for all people, and a peace rooted in justice.
“In this place and at this time, we commit ourselves to that call which You have placed on our lives, and on our church.”
“To You be the glory. Amen.”
That was, indeed, a special start.
OFF TO KERIKERI
Later in the morning the buses took the travellers on to Kerikeri, the site of the second mission station, and the 100 or so pilgrims inspected Kemp House, the Stone Store museum and St James Church.
Then it was off to Waimate, site of the fourth mission settlement, before stopping at the picture-perfect old church in Pakaraka, where Archdeacon Henry and Marianne Williams rest.
On the Friday, we spent time at the memorial church in Paihia – site of the third mission station, founded by Henry Williams in 1823 – and then ferried to Russell to inspect Christ Church, to climb to the flagpole which Hone Heke had four times chopped down, and to visit Pompallier House.
There were other highlights, too – such as the briefings each morning from Ali Ballantyne and Caroline Fitzgerald, who is the great great granddaughter of Henry and Marianne Williams, and their biographer.
Caroline painted a picture of a couple who had extraordinary perseverance – and who were, in many ways, locked in a titanic struggle with the New Zealand Company for the soul of New Zealand.
For instance, in late 1839 Henry took Octavius Hadfield (later Bishop Hadfield) to Wellington.
He was appalled to discover there that the agents of the New Zealand Company had arrived and were buying up some 20 million acres. For the past decade CMS missionaries and chiefs had been imploring the king of England not to let that happen.
Henry returned, mostly on foot, to the Bay of Islands in late January 1840 – and no sooner had he done so than he learned that Captain Hobson had arrived, and he was needed urgently in Paihia.
Late in the afternoon of February 4 Captain Hobson asked Henry to translate into Maori the draft Treaty of Waitangi. He did so, overnight, for presentation to the chiefs on the morning of February 5. And as we know, it was signed by them the following day.
Thereafter, the New Zealand Company nursed a hatred of Williams, for supposedly turning Maori against them.
Meanwhile, in 1841, back in London the Tories swept to power. Sixteen of the Tory MPs were directors and shareholders in the New Zealand Company, and the Tory appointee as New Zealand’s Governor, George Grey, set out to harass and dishonour Henry Williams.
In 1850, he was dismissed by the CMS.
Years later, CMS apologised to Williams.
Ali Ballantyne, who started as the first Anglican Schools Office Director in 2001, is stepping down at the end of this school year.
In his last night tribute to her, Archbishop Philip marvelled at the organisation of the pilgrimage, and the meticulous care and attention to detail that Ali and her helper Jo Barrett had invested in it.
At each site, for instance, there was some carefully-chosen memento for each of the pilgrims.
At the site of the Paihia church, for example, where Henry and Marianne had begun their work in 1823, there was a black Petersham ribbon bookmark for the men, and an embroidered Nottingham lace bookmark for the women.
Henry Williams was from Nottingham, and his father had bought a newly invented lace-making machine. Likewise, Marianne’s father worked in Nottingham’s lace-making industry.
Archbishop Philip said the success of the pilgrimage – and of the schools network itself “is all down to you, Ali.
“This reality, this network of Anglican schools, just simply wouldn’t be there without you.”
Neale Troon, who is the long-serving Chaplain of Southwell School, in Hamilton, recalled Ali’s appointment in 2001:
“It filled so many of us with confidence,” he said, “that at last, our best interests were being represented by the best in the business.”
And Sue Fordyce, representing the Board of the Anglican Schools Association, wrapped up the evening’s tributes.
Ali, she says, was a person who invited adjectives. Such as: ‘Indomitable’. ‘Passionate’ . ‘Persevering.’ Even: ‘outrageous’.
“But the one that I really want to talk about,” said Sue, “is humility .
“When you get extrovert Ali up the front here, that’s not the word you first think of.
“But over the years that I have been on the board, that is the thing that I have been most aware of.”