Foundation of the College’s
Te Rūnanga o te Paipera Aotearoa
At the pōwhiri for new Principal, John Hitchen, held at the Hoani Waititi Marae in 1990, John summarised what he had discovered about Māori student enrolments at NZBTI/BCNZ since WWII. Enrolment figures showed there had been a steady increase in Māori student numbers from 1946 to the late 1970s. But by the 1980s, Māori student enrolments at BCNZ had dropped off quite significantly.
John linked that drop-off to anecdotal evidence that whereas Christian Māori families in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s had gladly challenged their sons and daughters to prepare for Christian service, in the 80’s a change had taken place. Such Christian Māori families began to encourage their children into the social services, teaching or legal studies, not Christian ministries. Moreover, since the spread of the Charismatic renewal movements, and reactions to those movements of the 60’s and 70’s, both Pākehā and Māori Christians had become fragmented into several competing groups. The previous evangelical cooperation across denominations and between different Māori groups, often led by BCNZ graduates in key positions, had broken down.
John concluded his speech by asking the Māori Christians present, and especially College graduates, what the College should do to turn the Māori enrolments around and bring in a new phase of BCNZ service to Māori churches and communities across the country. He asked for their help to address this lack of Māori students preparing for Christian ministries through BCNZ.
The response was prompt and serious. BCNZ Council members, Lionel Stewart, Bob Joyce, and Wally Hayward, invited the Principal and College President, Judge Arnold Turner, to come to a marae, stay overnight and listen to what Māori Christians had to say about the question. That led to not one, but five hui over the next fifteen months. Out of those hui two basic recommendations became clear – (1) BCNZ needed to commit to upholding the Treaty of Waitangi in its programmes and ways of operating, and, (2) it needed to invite the Māori graduates and Christian leaders who had been coming to these Hui, to nominate a Rōpū to whom the College Council could give real authority to oversee the development of Māori emphases within the College.
On 12 July 1991 Te Rūnanga o te Paipera Aotearoa was established, and the following year a Māori Department within the College began, with evangelist John (Hoani) Komene appointed Kaiwhakahaere, Kaumatua and Tumuaki (Programme Director, Elder and head teacher).(1)
This article draws on the unpublished notes of John Hitchen, The Background and Beginning of the Laidlaw College Rūnanga