by Linda Macqueen
As the sun rises on 1 January 2017, a group of New Zealand and Australian Lutherans and international guests will be the first in the world to greet the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation.
The dawn service will be held at the location of the first Lutheran mission in New Zealand, at the north-eastern tip of the Chatham Islands (Rekohu Wharekauri), more than 750 kilometres east of the mainland. The international dateline bends eastwards around the islands, allowing the islanders the honour of being the first people in the world to greet each new day.
‘You are invited to be there with us’, says LCNZ Bishop Mark Whitfield, ‘as we begin a whole year of commemoration of the Reformation and celebration of God’s reforming grace and love’.
The Chatham Islands are the birthplace of the Lutheran story in New Zealand. In 1843, five missionaries from the Gossner Mission in Berlin landed there.
To the Europeans, ‘The Chathams’ were, literally, ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
The New Zealand Lutherans have pitched the commemoration on The Chathams as the first place in the world to enter the Reformation anniversary year; something that resonated with Professor Dr Margot Käßmann, Special Envoy of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany for the Anniversary of the Reformation 2017, when Bishop Whitfield met with her in Berlin some weeks ago.
He also met with the Executive Committee of the Gossner Mission in Berlin and extended a formal invitation to them to attend. It is hoped that up to six Gossner representatives will be among the group for the Reformation anniversary on The Chathams. The LCNZ is praying that this commemoration might contribute to
an ongoing process of healing of tension and unease between the indigenous Moriori people and the Maori iwi (tribe),
who invaded The Chathams in the 1830s.
‘It seems that the Gossner missionaries were able to relate to both Moriori and Maori very positively’, Bishop Whitfield says. ‘We are hoping that our presence might offer both groups the opportunity to cooperate, for example, in the powhiri (formal welcome) to us when we arrive on the island, and during our commemorative events.’
The commemoration is also an encouragement for the people of the LCNZ and LCA to listen for God’s call on our lives, Bishop Whitfield says. ‘The Gossner missionaries followed God’s call to the ends of the earth to live and to share the reconciling gospel. Where are the “ends of the earth” that God is calling us to today? Who are the people “on the edge”, waiting for us to proclaim the gospel to them?’
More information about the Chatham Islands commemoration, including a draft program and costs, can be found at www.50500.lca.org.au
During this synodical term, 2015–2018, the LCA/NZ reaches two significant milestones: in 2016 the LCA’s 50th birthday; and in 2017 the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. 50.500 faith.freedom.future invites us to celebrate and commemorate these special anniversaries – with thanks to God for his past blessings, and in the sure hope and confidence that he is building the LCA/NZ for the future.