On 20 December 1814, Samuel Marsden arrived in Matauri Bay and came ashore and there he first preached the Gospel.
Of course, we don’t quite tell the story like that. The current prevailing narrative is all about a joyous church service on Christmas Day.
The encounter at Matauri Bay is arguably more significant than the one at Oihi Bay. No doubt Marsden prayed at Matauri too. It is possible he actually prayed plenty as he stayed overnight on shore, without Ruatara or his other Maori companions – and it was a tense situation. But the words of his prayers are not what is remembered today.
Five years earlier ‘the Boyd incident’ had left dozens of people dead and a great deal of animosity behind. Inter-tribal and inter-racial relations were deeply damaged by what occured on the Whangaroa Harbour in 1809. But Marsden’s fearless presence amongst tribal leaders and warriors from across the area helped broker a new peace and, frankly, paved the way for the mission at Rangihoua – a mission that may not have happened without Matauri first happening. Here at Matauri was Marsden showing a christianity engaged (at great personal risk) and working hard for peace and justice.
It is St Francis of Assisi that is credited with saying, “preach always, and, if you must, use words.” At Matauri a great message was preached through Marsden’s presence and action.
It might be argued that the Matauri story has even more to offer church and nation than the celebrated church service at Oihi on Christmas Day. Matauri is certainly a part of the story that needs more attention and honouring. I certainly count it an honour to have been there today. I pray what occurred there in 1814 might inspire us all.