The 200th anniversary of the first recorded Christian service in New Zealand - and the beginning of a nation where Maori and Pakeha lived side by side - will be marked with two major events this month.
On Christmas Day 1814, the Rev Samuel Marsden led a service to a Maori and Pakeha congregation gathered at Rangihoua in the northern Bay of Islands. The Rev Marsden had arrived on the brig Active with New Zealand's first European settlers, many of them missionaries, who built a mission station at Rangihoua. They had been offered the protection of Chief Ruatara, whose pa stood on the hill above. Two centuries later those formative events will be remembered with the opening of Rangihoua Heritage Park and a pilgrim's pathway to Marsden Cross, which marks the site of the first mass in a small bay near the tip of the Purerua Peninsula.
The bicentennial commemoration and park opening, by Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae, will take place on Sunday, December 21, starting with a powhiri at 10am.
The ecumenical Christmas Day service, at 11am on December 25, will be Anglican-led and include church leaders from around the country.
The entrance to the new park is marked by a rammed earth building called Rore Kahu ( Soaring Eagle ).
The opening is being organised by Marsden Cross Trust Board, the Anglican Church, Ngati Torehina and the Department of Conservation. The Christmas Day service is being organised by the 2014 Ecumenical Planning Group led by the Anglican Church.
* The site can be reached by car or boat. For more information see www.rangihouaheritage.co.nz.