25 Jan 2016

Rātana church followers celebrate prophet's birth

6:04 pm on 25 January 2016

Rātana church followers are celebrating the official birthday of their prophet - who was born 143 years ago today.

Ratana church in Raetihi.

Ratana church in Raetihi. Photo: RNZ / Natasha Frost

Politicians briefly paid their respects at the annual hui near Whanganui yesterday, with concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership dominating discussions on the marae.

But as tamariki sang happy birthday for the church founder Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana, it was obvious that the political pilgrimage was only a small slice of the overall event.

Hundreds have been staying at Rātana since Friday to mark the event.

Ten year-old Azaria Froggett said it was a highlight of the year.

"This is probably one of the best days of the whole year. You get all the family and you get together and have a mean munch."

As for the church services held regularly through the hui, Miss Froggett said she enjoyed sitting there and listening to peoples' thoughts.

"It is really nice," she said.

Te Morehu Hawera and Te Ao Thomas have been enjoying themselves too.

They said they spent most of the weekend roaming around the pa, attending the discos, watching the talent quests and playing at the park.

The church has been keen to boost the number of its young followers or mōrehu after the last census revealed a drop of 10,000 morehu, down to 40,000.

Some rangatahi suggested reducing the length of church service, getting the priest more enthusiastic and 'pumping some sounds'.

Other ideas included allowing children to leave whenever they like and setting up a tamariki area.

Pita Phillips, who is 15-years-old, said lots of her peers found it hard to follow the sermons said in the Māori language.

"The reo is a real barrier for most rangatahi. it would be real cool if it was more engaging, more relatable - I would love music."

Most people will leave Rātana tonight or tomorrow morning.