25 Dec 2014

Service marks 200 years of Christian worship

8:22 am on 25 December 2014

Up to 1000 people are expected to gather at Oihi Beach in the Bay of Islands today to commemorate the first Christian service in New Zealand.

British missionary Samuel Marsden, the Anglican chaplain in the colony of New South Wales, conducted the service on 25 December in 1814.

The Marsden Cross memorial.

The Marsden Cross memorial. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The Bishop of Auckland, Ross Bay, said up to 1000 people would gather at Oihi Beach in the Bay of Islands to commemorate the first service.

"We think it's important to celebrate 200 years and to reflect on the ways in which that continues to have an impact on our society, both in terms of the Christian heritage of our nation, but also the partnership between Maori and Pakeha in terms of what it means for us to be a nation."

He said it was a day to celebrate the country's Christian heritage and the partnership between Maori and Pakeha.

Bishop Bay said the service in 1814 offered the opportunity for missionaries to settle among Maori, as they were hosted by the Ngapuhi chief, Ruatara.

"The only way Marsden was able to be here was because of the invitation of Ruatara, and that came through a friendship, perhaps you could even say a partnership that had developed between them over quite a number of years. So it wasn't just that Marsden arrived and started to do his own thing but it was with Ruatara's help and the hospitality of his people that the church and the gospel found a place in our land."

The Academic and Catholic diocese representative at the formalities, Manuka Henare, was reading an extract of the gospel according to Luke, in both Te Reo and English.

He said Samuel Marsden's service was the first official start of the bringing of the bible to the Maori community, lead by the Anglican and Methodist church and then about 30 years later, Catholicism came.

Mr Henare said the ceremony was a measure of how things have changed, to have Anglican, Protestant and Catholic all part of the same ceremony.

The service will include Christmas carols and readings from Samuel Marsden's diary.