In this series, Te Ahi Kaa talks with Māori about their faith.
This week, Mita Ririnui, a Rātana apostle (Āpotoro Rēhita) a former Labour Party MP, and Piriwiritua Rurauwhe, the Rātana Church secretary general, share their stories.
In 1981, at the age of 29, Mita was ordained as an Āpotoro Rēhita – a registered minister able to legally conduct marriages. In hindsight, Mita believes he was chosen for this role by his old people.
“I had some awesome training… that’s how I was groomed with certain values of the haahi and the kaupapa of Rātana. Now it’s hard to retain those values because you are working within a demographic society and man’s laws seems to take precedence over God’s law”.
Back in 1999 when he entered politics, it took Mita two years to adapt to his new political environment. Out of the twelve years he was in parliament, he spent five years on the executive as a Minister of the State and his portfolios included Associate Minister of Corrections, Treaty of Waitangi negotiations and forestry.
A career highlight was the passing of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Act 2001 which enabled three Māori constituency seats.
Mita says he never thought of himself as a career politician and was only there to make a contribution.
When he left parliament in 2011 and moved back to Tauranga, he did not return to his turanga (position) as an Āpotoro Rēhita.
“People found it quite hard to understand when I tried to explain it to them it’s not as easy as that. I’m not ready, I’m contaminated… I had to get the political animal out of my system because that’s what you are when you are there.”
In 2016, Mita began to preside over Whakamoemiti services. He has slowly built up his confidence, but admits that his mind still returns to his role as a former politician and whether or not the people can sense it.
“I’m not sure if I have really regained my confidence. My faith has never wavered – it’s as strong as it has ever been – but standing before the people is a bit different. They do have their views, they have their doubts, and I don’t know if they think that. But I think they think that. It’s all in my head.”
Mita says his role is providing spiritual and religious support, particularly when there is illness or grieving among whanau, and availability is paramount.
"We need to be available when the phone rings or someone knocks on the door."
A generational shift in the church
At just 13 Piriwiritua Rurauwhe was the head of the Morehu Youth Movement National Executive. Undoubtedly the role was enough to give Piri an insight into church at an administrative level.
Raised at Rātana Pa all of this life, Piri is now the Secretary General of the church executive and the youngest person to step in to the role.
“It wasn’t an easy thing. There was plea from our elders for our youth to be involved, because a lot of our Kaumatua are passing away and it was leaving huge gaps.”
A year into the job, Piri realised the stringent processes of the church, where everything was handwritten, communication was by letter and there was no internet.
‘For an international organisation I thought that was horrendous, but over the years we have bought the church executive and our old people into today’s way of thinking, so the Rātana Church is very social media savvy”.
Each year thousands descend upon Rātana Pa to celebrate the birthday of its founder TW Ratana, but while the gathering sheds light on political parties and their agendas, the event is about celebrating the youth through the range of activities and sports.
Planning is well underway for the church centennial in 2018 - celebrating 100 years since TW Ratana received the message from the Holy Spirit.