ABC Honours Outstanding New Zealand Bishop (Paul Reeves)

Sir Paul Reeves – and the art of walking upright here


  • Sir Paul's daughter Sarah removes the korowai and reveals a second layer, emblazoned with the Anglican Communion symbol.
As the shadows lengthened on a brilliant spring Auckland afternoon, and a breeze sighed through the new leaves of the pin oak trees at St John’s College, the Archbishop of Canterbury paid homage to one of the greatest sons of the New Zealand church.

Sir Paul Reeves – who was Bishop, Archbishop, Governor-General of New Zealand, diplomat and advocate for his people – died in August last year. Maori tikanga, or custom, requires that whanau (family) and friends return to their loved one’s gravesite at the end of a year of mourning to unveil a headstone, and to mark a new beginning for those left behind.

In this case, that year became a year and a bit – so that the Archbishop of Canterbury could be present at St John’s College, where Sir Paul is buried, to attend the unveiling of his kohatu, or headstone, and to pay tribute to a man whom he has described as a personal hero.

There was a sweet sadness about this service, which seemed to blend the best that Anglicanism can bring, with the longing and dignity of Maori culture. Because those are the worlds that Sir Paul – a prince of the church who belonged to the Te Atiawa tribe – had occupied.

And in a mark of almost extraordinary empathy, this Welsh-born Archbishop of Canterbury began his homily by quoting from the modern Maori poet, Glenn Colquhoun:

The art of walking upright here,
Is the art of using both feet.

One is for holding on.
One is for letting go.

‘Doubleness in life’

Dr Williams then gave a brief and poignant meditation on how God has ordained ‘doubleness’ in life – “two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, two heart valves… things come in two’s” – and on how Sir Paul had mastered the necessary art of living “a holy and double life.”

Sir Paul had had to master the art of living double to an extraordinary level, he said: true to his Maori roots, yet representing ‘the establishment’. “Somebody whose mission and calling was all about taking people seriously… And somebody who miraculously failed to take himself at all seriously. That wonderful doubleness of life is part of what we are celebrating today. That doubleness of life,” the Archbishop reflected, “takes us right to the heart of creation and redemption.”

He spoke of the “miraculous duality by which God works in us… inhabiting our humanity – and bringing to it the utter strangeness of divinity. The ultimate double life,” he said, “is that of Christ himself. So as we give thanks, with great joy, for Paul Reeves’ life, his calling, his witness, his service and his gift to this community; we pray for God to give us the grace of double life. The grace of being serious and not serious. The grace of being human and open to the divine. The grace of inhabiting heaven and earth, our own cultures and the stranger’s life. Standing upright. And Paul was nothing, if not an upright man. Standing upright on both feet, holding on, and letting go.”

Moved by simplicity

The Archbishop’s kauwhau, or sermon, clearly struck a chord with those gathered.

Three Maori kaumatua, or elders, spoke after his homily – and each picked up on the challenges of living in a bi-cultural world: of being true to their Maori-tanga, or heritage, while navigating through the Western world.

Archbishop David Moxon later spoke of being moved by the simplicity of the unveiling service – it was less than 60 minutes – and how in tune he felt that was with the latter days of Sir Paul’s life. Sir Paul had told Archbishop David that the older he got, the simpler and less complicated his faith had become – and the stronger he held to those simple truths.

Archbishop David mused, too, about how a man who is Welsh, and a fluent speaker of the Welsh language, could speak so perceptively of the life and challenges of another bi-cultural man, born on the other side of the world.

The headstone is rough-hewn grey granite that reflects Taranaki the mountain, a powerful symbol of the Taranaki tribes. The inscription, ‘Kororia ki te Atua i runga rawa,’  translates as ‘Glory to God in the highest.’

Above the inscription is the raukura, the albatross feathers of Parihaka, that symbolise a desire to live in harmony.  The feathers, often worn in the hair of Taranaki women, tell of the Taranaki prophets, Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi – leaders of the passive resistance movement in response to the land confiscations across Taranaki in the late 19th Century.

Ministry began in Tokoroa

Born in Wellington, Sir Paul began his ministry as a deacon in Tokoroa and later spent five years England. In 1964, as vicar of Okato, a Taranaki coastal town, Sir Paul lived among his mother’s Te Atiawa whanau for the first time and was able to reconnect with them. He was appointed Bishop of Waiapu in 1971.

In 1979 he became Bishop of Auckland, then Primate and Archbishop of New Zealand the following year. In 1985 Sir Paul was appointed Governor-General, the first Maori to hold that position.  Sir Paul was the Anglican Observer at the United Nations from 1991-93.

He observed elections in Ghana and South Africa on behalf of the Commonwealth and assisted with constitutional reform in Guyana. He chaired a review of the Fijian Constitution. Sir Paul also acted as the Commonwealth Special Observer to Guyana and Fiji, and in 2005 became the incumbent Chancellor of Auckland University of Technology..


I had the privilege of been ordained by, and serving under, Archbishop Paul Reeves. His deep spirituality and integrity as a human being were always evident in his dealings with his diocesan clergy. His background and ethnicity made him the sort of “Man of the People’ that he so obviously became – even when, later in his ministry as archbishop, he was called by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Her Majesty, the Queen, to become her personal representative to all the people of this country; Maori, Pakeha and Pacific Islanders.

There were those among us, at the time, who wonder at the wisdom of his sideways step into the diplomatic life; but as he moved progressively from Governor-General to other positions within the Commonwealth – including his task as Anglican representative to the United Nations;  his mana, his quiet and abiding faith and integrity paid dividends.

I remember his personal care and concern for the clergy of ACANZP – even after his meteoric rise in the diplomatic service. His later concern for the Church’s stand against homophobia and misogyny became evident in his meetings around the country, where he showed his concern for those people whose common human rights were being, as he discerned, neglected by the Church.

May he rest in Peace and rise one day with Christ in glory. Amen

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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