by Rosie Schefe

Three plastic-wrapped pallets sit in a Wellington loading dock. Not much to see here. But this 945-kilogram load holds taonga (treasure), both historical and spiritual – sacred even. This is the archive of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand (LCNZ), ready to depart from Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa (the National Library of New Zealand) and bound for Lutheran Archives in Adelaide.

The Alexander Turnbull Library (which holds non-government archival material) has been the custodian of this collection since 1976, but the LCNZ archive has always remained the property of the church. Almost four years ago, the LCNZ Synod voted to send this collection to Lutheran Archives so that the history of Lutherans in New Zealand and Australia would be able to be told side by side.

Following early scoping work by Lutheran Archives Director Rachel Kuchel and Pastor Jim Pietsch, in December 2019, the LCNZ Council of Synod appointed Robert Nippert (a member of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Wellington) to manage the project. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed its completion. As a part of New Zealand’s written history, the collection fell under the protection of Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Final permission to leave the Alexander Turnbull Library was only granted by Te Tari Taiwhenua, the Department of Internal Affairs, late in 2022.

A little drily, perhaps, the collection is variously described as ‘19 linear metres of documents pertaining to the Lutheran Church of New Zealand’ or ‘a range of documentary material including meeting minutes, correspondence, Parish magazines, registers and photographs dating from 1874–2006’.

But, as library staff and LCNZ representatives gathered in the loading dock earlier this year to conduct a poroporoaki (farewell ceremony, pictured), the importance of this taonga and the memories it holds was on display. The poroporoaki acknowledged the links to the past held within these documents, links to the people who went before.

Performed in te reo Māori, English and one hymn verse in German, the ceremony contained elements of both Māori culture and Christian ritual. Former LCNZ District Administrator Dr Tanja Schubert-McArthur – who now works as a learning facilitator at Alexander Turnbull Library – liaised with Bishop Mark Whitfield and cultural representatives to tailor the form of the rite.

Bishop Mark Whitfield chose to begin his part of the poroporoaki with verses from Matthew 1:1–17, the whakapapa (genealogy) of Jesus and outlining the journey of the gospel from Jerusalem (Acts 1:8) to New Zealand.


With waiata (songs and hymns), prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer (in te reo Māori), and mānawatanga (blessings), the rite ended with all participants laying hands on the pallets in farewell.

In Adelaide, the collection will remain accessible to New Zealanders and other international researchers through the Alexander Turnbull Library digital catalogue, referencing its new home at Lutheran Archives.

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