To start 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Lutherans from New Zealand,Australia and Germany made a pilgrimage to the first place in the world to greet the new year – the Chatham Islands.
The group’s visit was planned as a unique commemoration of the Reformation milestone and the history of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand.
Located 650 kilometres east of mainland New Zealand, the main land mass of the 11-island archipelago was the site of the first Lutheran mission in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Five young men from the Gossner Mission in Berlin arrived in 1843 to bring the gospel to the local Moriori and Maori people.
The approximately 40 pilgrims to the same site on the morning of 1 January this year included the current chairman of the Gossner Mission, Harald Lehmann, and the Special Envoy for the Anniversary of the Reformation for the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Dr Margot Kaessmann. LCA Bishop John Henderson and LCNZ Bishop Mark Whitfield also attended, along with other members and friends of the LCNZ and LCA.
Group members lit candles and sang hymns before dawn at Te Whakaru, at the northeastern-most point of the island, where the missionaries settled. The gospel was read in the four languages of the area – Moriori, Maori, German and English. An ake ake tree was planted at the burial site of Missionary Muller as the sun rose.
The early gathering was followed by a late-morning service in the tiny wooden Anglican church of St Augustine at Te One. Bishop Henderson told the congregation of visiting Lutherans and local families that while the original mission was short-lived –with only one missionary left on the island by the end of the 1860s – nonetheless the name of Jesus was spoken and passed on.
At the grave of Deaconess Maria Baucke, her great-grandson Roy, now a 92-year-old Chatham Islander, planted a tree with the help of his grandson.
The visiting group was warmly welcomed by the local people, and the gathering shared food, along with stories and laughter. We came to the remote Chathams from other faraway places, and we found that Jesus was there among us, graciously making us one, breathing his aroha (love). Te Harinui – great news: Immanuel is come, even to the ends of the earth!
Dr Pauline Simonsen is a member at Palmerston North, New Zealand, and a lay member of the LCA’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations (CTICR).