Aroha –a new theology in Acts Twenty Nine
Revd. Charles Noanoa (Te Aitanga a Hauiti) Community Priest, St Matthews, Anglican Church Taita
The congregation is the community! The Reverend Charles Noanoa refers to himself as an ‘urban monk’, based at St Matthews parish in Taita. Charles is ‘writing’ the next chapter of Acts in a novel and radical approach to ministry, and with the full support of the Right Reverend Tom Brown, Bishop of Wellington.
The congregation are those who come for ministry and who become community partners. Services are held in response to community needs. Last week a parish neighbouring whanau had the tragic loss of a baby and they gathered in St Matthews hall for a tangi. ‘They just came with their grief’ Charles said. The local Hosanna church shared the ministry and care for the family with Charles, and both groups are continuing to support the grieving family. Charles said ‘ no, we don’t have services but we do heaps of gathering. Last week the church became a marae’. In talking with the whanau last week Charles said to them ‘you are my congregation, you and your whanau and your mokopuna that died – until God sends another’.
‘Church’ in the Faith-based unit of Rimutaka Prison and beyond
The following Sunday Charles will be taking a service in the faith based unit of Rimutaka prison. When Charles refers to Church services he touches his heart and explains ‘I mean making contact with people, communicating with aroha, hearing the issues for those participating’.
Services in the prison are the tip of the iceberg of community ministry which is based on whakawhanaungatanga – a ministry based on ‘prayers, presence and food’. Prayers are the spiritual aspect of ministry, presence means being there in person, and food is the manaaki, or hospitality to those who become part of this community ministry.
Charles’s heart for the Taita-Pomare community spans the prisons, the mongrel mob, parishes in the area and community activities. During an Anglican Diocesan Visioning he put forward his vision ‘to engage with the Mongrel mob in Taita-Pomare and to open an Anglican home for people from the Faith-based unit in Rimutaka prison’. Charles said that Robin Gunston of Prison Fellowship expanded this to include establishing an Anglican –based industry centre for employing people from the faith-based unit, to create a policy to accommodate sex offenders, and for the Anglican church to enter into a covenant of respect with the Mongrel Mob.
Charles is involved with the Barnados initiative ‘Great Start’. Great Start is about what the people in the Taita community want – which is building a stronger community through collaboration and supporting existing networks, it is not about more services. Charles is very actively working alongside this community-led programme as well as others, such as the widely known ‘Learning Connexion’, and international school for art and creativity, located in Taita.
A veggie garden is going strong on the parish grounds, but gardening means ‘aroha gardens’ rather than the convention of ‘community gardens’. He met a nephew in the food bank line and suggested digging up his back yard to plant a garden to grow some food. The owner invited neighbours to come in and share with the growing and picking. Then another person wanted to start a garden and brought neighbours in to share it. Sometimes they have large gatherings of people doing gardening, and people come from Wellington, Lower Hutt, Eastbourne, Upper Hutt to share their knowledge. One woman told Charles not to pick the puha for his sandwiches ; she said, no, let it go to seed and spread.’ ‘Oh, OK then’ Charles reluctantly conceded – but that’s not how the Maori puku thinks!
Apirana, , Rev’d Charles Noanoa and Shade
Is the Taita parish doing church?
Charles returned to the conversation of ‘fresh expressions of being church’. ‘Is what I am doing church?’ ‘Is Urban Vision1 church?’ The answer is not so important as turning to talk about other activities: a food bank being managed by those who used to be in the queue, soup with communion, joining with the Learning Connection, the International school for Art and Creativity in Taita to host an art exhibition in the parish hall.
We shared a hangi at the end of the conversation, and as Betsan was leaving Charles said ‘now what does aroha mean?’ – recalling an earlier part of our conversation. ‘Remember, aro is no distance, and ha is sharing breath – a relationship so close the breath intermingles’.
1 Urban Vision is ‘a ‘contemporary Order following Jesus on the margins’ http://www.urbanvision.org.nz/ and Manaaki Hapori ‘Passion for the Margins in Urban Living’ http://www.nzccss.org.nz/site/page.php?page_id=290
Contact name <Contact email>
Contact for resources from contact above: <email/web address>
For information on parish initiatives visited for the NZCCSS Manaaki Hapori project, contact:
Phone: 04 473 2627 / 021-388-337