Lutheran family treasure hides in plain wrapping
Three plastic-wrapped pallets sit in a Wellington loading dock. Not much to see here.
But this 945-kilogram load holds taonga (treasure), both historical and spiritual – sacred even. This is the archive of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand (LCNZ), ready to depart from Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa (the National Library of New Zealand) and bound for Lutheran Archives in Adelaide.
The Alexander Turnbull Library (which holds non-government archival material) has been the custodian of this collection since 1976, but the LCNZ archive has always remained the property of the church. Almost four years ago, the LCNZ Synod voted to send this collection to Lutheran Archives so that the history of Lutherans in New Zealand and Australia would be able to be told side by side.
Following early scoping work by Rachel Kuchel and Pastor Jim Pietsch, in December 2019, the LCNZ Council of Synod appointed Robert Nippert (a member of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wellington) to manage the project on its behalf.
‘Having spent thirty-plus years as project manager, this is one of the longest duration projects that I’ve managed’, Robert said. ‘I had thought back in late 2019 when I started work on this project that it would have been around a three- to six-month-long project. COVID-19 has a lot to answer for!’
As a part of New Zealand’s written history, the collection fell under the protection of Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Final permission to leave the Alexander Turnbull Library was only granted by Te Tari Taiwhenua, the Department of Internal Affairs, late in 2022.
A little drily, perhaps, the collection is variously described as ‘19 linear metres of documents pertaining to the Lutheran Church of New Zealand’ or ‘a range of documentary material including meeting minutes, correspondence, Parish magazines, registers and photographs dating from 1874–2006’.
But, as library staff and LCNZ representatives gathered in the loading dock on 19 January to conduct a poroporoaki (farewell ceremony), the importance of this taonga and the memories it holds was on display. The poroporoaki acknowledged the links to the past held within these documents, links to the people who went before.
Performed in te reo Māori, English and one hymn verse in German, the ceremony contained elements of both Māori culture and Christian ritual. Former LCNZ District Administrator Dr Tanja Schubert-McArthur – who now works as a learning facilitator at Alexander Turnbull Library – liaised with Bishop Mark Whitfield and cultural representatives to tailor the form of the rite.
As the poroporoaki unfolded, it was clear that history and family are inextricably bound within a collection such as this. The rite opened with a sung karanga, led by Dale Cousens: a greeting, both to the assembled people and to acknowledge the taonga (the physical collection) and the tupuna (ancestors) whose lives and spirits were connected to it, speaking personally to ready them for the journey to te whenua moemoea (Australia – land of the Dreaming).
The karakia and whaikōrero (ritual speeches) that followed were led by Nate Rowe, who surprised many by outlining his own family link to this collection: Nate is a fifth-generation descendant of the Gossner Missionary Society’s missionary couple Johann Heinrich Christof Baucke and his wife Maria, who came to the Chatham Islands (the remote eastern islands of New Zealand) in the 1840s.
‘This whole ritual is about acknowledging our creator, the creator known by both Maori and by Lutherans’, Nate said later. ‘It is about our togetherness, that we are not individuals, and it acknowledges those who have passed on, have gone before us’.
Bishop Mark Whitfield chose to begin his part of the poroporoaki with verses from Matthew 1:1–17, the whakapapa (genealogy) of Jesus and outlining the journey of the gospel from Jerusalem (Acts 1:8) to New Zealand. His memories of the archive date back to his 1970s childhood, when it was stored ‘in cupboards at the vestry of the church’ – St Martin’s Lutheran Church in Marton.
Also representing family ties to the collection, Anne Te Punga Somerville spoke of researching the life of her grandparents – Pastor Hamuera Te Punga and his wife Lydia – who served the congregation of Halcombe for almost 40 years. Anne was largely responsible for ensuring that the Halcombe records became part of the archive on its closure in 2013.
With waiata (songs and hymns), prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer (in te reo Māori), and mānawatanga (blessings), the rite ended with all participants laying hands on the pallets in farewell. As staff and guests left the dock, the truck to take the pallets on the first leg of their journey (to Auckland) was already waiting outside. The archive was expected to reach its final destination in Adelaide in early March.
The collection will remain accessible to New Zealanders and other international researchers through the Alexander Turnbull Library digital catalogue, referencing its new home at Lutheran Archives.
Photo 1 – Nate Rowe (standing forward) and Dale Cousens (right) lead the poroporoaki on behalf of Alexander Turnbull Library. Guests include (from left) Dr Petrus Simons (LCNZ), Claire Hancock (library staff), Anne Te Punga Somerville (LCNZ), Paul Diamond (curator – Maori), Seán McMahon (archivist), and Jessica Moran (associate chief librarian).
Photo 2 – A final farewell: LCNZ guests (from left) Rex Voekerling (Manawatū), Leanne Whitfield, Dr Petrus Simons and Anne Te Punga Somerville (all from Wellington) spend final minutes in reflection on the importance of this treasure.
Photo 3 – A blessing for the journey
Photo 4 – ‘Nineteen linear metres of documents pertaining to the Lutheran Church of New Zealand’: the collection assembled from various departments across Alexander Turnbull Library, just prior to packing.
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