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The bus mechanic who became a bishop

The bus mechanic who became a bishop

The Ven Ngarahu Katene is chosen as Bishop of Manawa o te Wheke

Rahu Katene, who has just been announced as the Anglican Bishop of Manawa o Te Wheke, has come down a road that few bishops have traveled.

But he’s always made sure that his transport was reliable.

Because for the first 35 years of his working life, before he became a full-time vicar, Ngarahu Katene was a bus mechanic, for New Zealand Railway Road Services.

Bishop Katene, who is 65 and who has Te Arawa and Raukawa ties, is presently the Archdeacon of Te Tai Hauauru, based in Ngaruawahia, and before that, he spent six years as chaplain to Maori living in Sydney.

He was chosen by a special Manawa o Te Wheke electoral synod held in Rotorua on June 24. Anglican Church rules require that episcopal nominations are then submitted to the Bishops and to the elected members of the General Synod. That ratification process is now complete.

The announcement of new bishop was made today by Archbishop Brown Turei, Te Pihopa o Aotearoa: “We look forward to Rahu’s ministry as part of the Aotearoa team,” he says, “and to him becoming part of our wider episcopal ministry.”

Ngarahu Katene is a lifelong Anglican, but he didn’t start his full time stipendiary ministry until 1990, when he was 50. For the 18 months before that, he’d been the Garage Supervisor at the Railway Road Services bus depot in Rotorua.

That task came to a grinding halt, however, when the Government closed down all the road service garages throughout the country.

By this time, though, Rahu had already been ordained for seven years. When he’d knock off from his workshop duties, he’d clock-on as a Minita-a-Iwi, voluntarily ministering in the evenings and at weekends. He was the assistant vicar at St Faith’s, Ohinemutu.

And when the Rotorua bus garage was wound up he accepted an invitation to become the full time St Faith’s vicar.

Ngarahu Katene was born in Horohoro, south of Rotorua, in 1940. He is one of 10 children, and his father was a shepherd for the Maori Affairs Department.

He went to Horohoro Native School and moved on to Rotorua Boys High. On leaving school, he took on a bus mechanic apprenticeship in the city.

When he’d completed his time, he moved to Whakatane where, for 10 years, he looked after the Road Services buses and postal trucks.

And it was during this Whakatane period that Rahu began to take his Anglican faith more seriously.

“We didn’t have a car,” he says, “and the church was too far away for us to walk; yet the Maori Missioner, The Rev Kahutia Te Hau, would go out of his way to care for us. He’d visit us at home, regularly, and he’d bring us Holy Communion.”

His consistent, faithful care of the Katene whanau got Rahu starting to ponder about what he could give back to the church.

And Rahu’s thoughts about ministry came into sharper focus after he and his wife Kay went through a family crisis.

The fourth of their six children was born in Whakatane Hospital, and not expected to survive his first night: in desperation Rahu rang the new Maori Missioner, and at 2am The Rev Brown Turei made his way to the hospital to pray with Rahu, Kay and their newborn son. Their baby survived.

Rahu moved back to Rotorua for four years, where he connected again with Kahutia Te Hau, who was by this time Vicar of St Faith’s, Ohinemutu. That’s when he committed himself to serve in whatever way he could.

Rahu then accepted another Road Services post in the Southland town of Lumsden, where he was responsible for a bus fleet that ranged as far east as Milford Sound, as far west as Gore, as far south as Winton and north to Queenstown and Wanaka.

In 1980, Ngarahu and family returned to the North Island, and he continued to work for Road Services in Hamilton.

This was also the year he began part-time training for the Anglican ministry, and he was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1983. In 1989, he returned to Rotorua to that garage supervisor’s job – and also to the Ohinemutu church.

He served in Ohinemutu until 1994, when he was asked to move to Sydney to take up the running of Te Wairua Tapu, the Maori Anglican Church in Redfern.

Te Wairua Tapu is a focal point for Maori living in Sydney and the Redfern church also serves as a marae. When Maori die in Sydney, whanau often can’t afford to bring their deceased back for burial at their New Zealand turangawaewae.

In that case, many choose to have their tupapaku lie in state at Te Wairua Tapu, before interring them in the Maori section of Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetary.

Ngarahu returned to New Zealand in 2000, and he was then installed as the Archdeacon of Te Tai Hauauru.

Around that same time, Kay (nee Morgan) died.

Ngarahu has recently remarried, to Kamana Solomon (nee Paenga), who with her late husband, were long-time parishioners of Rahu’s, and friends of his and his late wife Kay.

So how does Rahu feel about the prospect of becoming a bishop?

“It’s quite scary, actually – but quite wonderful too. God has taken me on an amazing journey.”

The Almighty was confident, perhaps, that on this journey He was accompanied by a faithful mechanic. One who would go the distance.


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