The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints organised a Te Reo Māori language congregation in Kaikohe on Sunday, Trevor Beatson, president of the Kaikohe New Zealand Stake of the Church, saying it was the first te reo Māori unit for more than 70 years, and a " fairly significant" change in direction for the church.
"Today was a great day... to witness and be part of the creation of a te reo Māori-speaking Church unit, Te Peka o Ngāpuhi," he said.
"What a great blessing for our Kaikohe New Zealand Stake.
"There are too many people to thank and acknowledge who made today special, too many who laid the foundation for the branch to be created, and too many lives that will be blessed. Nga Mihi Aroha ki a koutou katoa. Congratulations to the new branch president Shane Wikaira, and his counsellors Isaiah Apiata and Aperahama Edwards. I also acknowledge the Pacific Area presidency for their support in the process and today."
Elder Ian S Ardern, Pacific Area president, presided at the meeting, accompanied by Elder K Brett Nattress, First Counsellor in the Pacific Area presidency.
"It was here in 1814, on your front doorstep, that Samuel Marsden was permitted to establish the first Christian church in Aotearoa, and it was on Ngāpuhi land," Elder Ardern said.
"Forty-three years later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in our land, and the North soon became a church stronghold.
"Today marks another momentous day in church history in New Zealand. For the first time in some 70 years we are organising a branch of the church where Te Reo Māori will be the first language of testimony, teaching and learning. In the church, change is always preceded by caution, and so I thank you for your patience as President Beatson, with his counsellors and the area presidency, worked through questions to help others understand the importance of establishing this branch.
"A new day begins, and with it comes an opportunity for te reo Māori speakers to express their feelings in the language of their heart. From this pulpit will be heard expressions that some may have had difficulty to express in any language other than Māori, and we applaud that opportunity. The Lord understands Māori and will welcome your prayers, the blessing of the sacrament and your testimonies in te reo Māori.
"May your tongue be loosened to express the feelings of your heart. May your voice carry the emotion of your feelings. May your deportment humbly portray the nobility of your tipuna and your family...
This branch, like all wards and branches of the church, is established so members can worship together, partake of the sacrament, learn the gospel and serve and strengthen each other. In that respect this branch is no different to any other branch or ward in the church. Accomplishing those four key purposes is of paramount importance. The only difference will be that it will be accomplished in te reo Māori, and we hope with greater ease because it is in te reo Māori.
"May the Ngāpuhi branch be a place where the beautiful songs of the gospel are heard, where prayers are sent heavenward with faith in Christ and where the restored priesthood is used to bless the lives of all. May those who worship here be strong and true to their covenants, may those who seek truth find truth amongst their friends, and may those who have strayed be welcomed back with welcome, welcome, welcome. Welcome home to where you will feel the warmth of the North and the love of the Lord."
Elder Nattress said later that the Lord loved diversity.
"He created flowers, insects, animals, fish, birds, trees and us, in so many beautiful varieties, so we believe He loves the cultures, languages and peoples of the world," he said.
"He also loves unity, and we work towards that goal, to be one in Christ. Today's organisation of a te reo branch of the church reflects how we see God feeling about all of His children. He wants us to gather, and to be nurtured by the word of God, and with love and fellowship. And He also wants us to be one, in Christ."
When a need for a congregation was identified, he said, whether that be a congregation for English-speakers or any other language, local leaders made a recommendation, and, after counselling and prayer, a decision was made.
"We are grateful that a te reo congregation has been requested by local leaders and approved by the Lord's servants," he added.
"We feel that many, many families and individuals, both members and friends of the church,will be greatly blessed through worship, ministering and fellowship in this branch here in Kaikohe."