In a first for the West Coast, two Anglican bishops and a Catholic bishop gathered on February 1 at Makaawhio/Jacob’s River to celebrate and bless a memorial on the land where Māori and different faith groups have worshipped.

The Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, Bishop Peter Carrell, felt privileged to be involved in such a significant celebration.

“Standing alongside my brothers and sisters in faith, [Māori] Bishop Richard [Wallace] and local iwi, and [Catholic] Bishop Paul [Martin], is a special moment – in the 1930s local Anglicans built and furnished St Peter’s here on land gifted by local Māori. Then later, Catholics also made use of it. While the building no longer exists, all three groups have strong connections to this place. So the decision was made to create a sacred and special wayfaring space that people of all faiths and none, could come to for quiet and peace, and to wonder at God’s beautiful creation so evident here on the West Coast,” Bishop Carrell said.

(When the Anglican congregation in the area declined, St Peter’s church was taken over by the Roman Catholic Church and was renamed – unofficially – Our Lady of the River. The Anglicans still owned the land and buildings. In early 2018, Cyclone Fehi blew the church off its foundations and the church was unable to be repaired. The vacant land, no longer required as a church facility, became a memorial site instead.)

The February 1 service was co-hosted by Bishop Richard Wallace, Anglican Māori Bishop for the South Island and Upoko of local tāngata whenua, Ngāti Māhaki ki Makaawhio, who joined him in welcoming everyone to the site in preparation for the service.

“Te Haumaru Makaawhio will continue to draw people to this place, as it has today and as it always has. Its rich history which wove together Māori, Anglican and Catholic strengthens the aspirations we have that this place continues to provide a safe haven,” Bishop Wallace said.

From the early 1980s the local Roman Catholic community held monthly Mass at Our Lady of the River.

Bishop Paul Martin, SM, Catholic Bishop of Christchurch was pleased to be attending on February 1.

“I am delighted to be joining the other bishops as we commemorate, along with the people of South Westland, this site which was a place of prayer and a symbol of faith for the Christian people of the area. The fact that this was shared by different Christian denominations is a sign of hope and reflects our continued desire to work together for the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Ngāti Māhaki ki Makaawhio artist Fayne Robinson installed a carved stone sourced from Mahitahi/Bruce Bay, etched with kōwhaiwhai, representing the local iwi and their connection to the land, which was blessed as part of the service.

Westland Anglican priest, Rev. Vivien Harber, was pleased it all fell into place.

“We had tried several times to get the site blessed, but storms, floods and road closures kept preventing it. Finally, now we have achieved what we set out to do. And it’s fantastic that all three parties have been able to celebrate together. I hope this wayside oasis will be a great pleasure to many, both locals and visitors, as they sit and enjoy this space.”

After the service, the bishops and attendees went to the Te Tauraka Waka a Maui marae in Bruce Bay for a pōwhiri and kai (food).