Worship beside the ocean
I am attempting not to be a fraud. I admit to being somewhat of an agnostic but I have an appreciation for places of worship along with their stories. The Continental European world offers grand cathedrals, ornately decorated and furnished. Standing in such glorious places, I feel insignificant. I also marvel that people centuries ago had the dogged faith to set about building such glorious edifices to their God.
Cathedral in Bruges, Belgium
Half a world away, in Aotearoa-New Zealand, places of worship were also inspired by people of great faith. Their appealing churches, in many cases, were highlighted owing to their locations, delightfully tucked away in amazing natural surroundings. Many were constructed with locally sourced materials – stone or timber. One thinks of the ever-so-popular stone Church of the Good Shepherd overlooking Lake Tekapo. In Franz Josef village, St James church was famed when the glacier (since retreated) was framed in the altar window. A window above the altar of the Arthur’s Pass chapel frames Avalanche Creek waterfall. Peel Forest has its tiny Church of the Holy Innocents semi-disguised by mature podocarp forest. In New Zealand’s North Island, my pick is the wooden Ruakokere Anglican church sitting on a promontory close to the winding road connecting small towns scattered along the East Cape SH 35. It had long been on my wish list to visit. I eventually had an opportunity during a multi-day bicycle trip, in February 2011, from Gisborne to Whakatane. It was not difficult to spot, it being alone in the landscape –a radiant landmark with its sun-drenched white exterior contrasting with a deep blue sky flecked with wind-driven clouds.
Ruakokere Anglican church, East Cape
Also known as The Church of Loaves and Fishes –a well-known bible story, the landmark church was constructed in 1894 by pioneer builder, Duncan Stirling.
Stirling worked for several years building on the East Coast. He came to the attention of Maori elders as a suitable husband for Mihi Kotukutuku, a Maori maiden. Mihi Kotukutuku and Duncan Sterling were married in the Ruakokere church in 1896. The ceremony was conducted by Bishop Leonard Williams. Duncan Stirling spoke only a little Maori. Mihi’s extended family, to ensure the marriage was a success, became Anglicans.
Duncan Stirling built a beautiful, many-roomed home for Mihi at Raukokore. It became known locally as Stirling Castle. There, Mihi soon produced a son, the first of 10 children. Duncan continued his building business and later became a cropping farmer growing mostly maize. Maize is a cereal grain also known as ``corn.’’
Mihi became a local chief. She was entitled to the first share of fish, especially moki, caught each season at Cape Runaway. She distributed the fish amongst her people.
She was also an expert at growing enormous kumara by traditional methods. Her kumara were also distributed locally.
I ponder the story of Duncan and his Maori wife Mihi as I explore the simple interior of Raukokore church with its rows of basic wooden pews and traditional font for infant baptisms. And I discovered one more snippet of Raukokore folklore. Being close to the ocean, in recent years a colony of penguins have made their home beneath the church. Church attendees complain the building frequently ``smelt somewhat fishy.’’