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Tributes flow to the pioneer Maori woman priest

Tributes flow to the pioneer Maori woman priest

Tributes have begun to flow following the death on Saturday of the Rev. Puti Murray, the first Maori woman priest in the Anglican Church. She was 83.

Rev. Murray, who had Te Aupouri and Ngati Kahu ties, was ordained in 1978 and spent almost 10 years helping some of the most deprived people in the country through her ministry at the Church of the Epiphany, in Otara.

She then retired to Te Kao, in the far north – but no sooner had she done so than she returned to South Auckland to establish and direct Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri, an Anglican Church sanctuary for abused women and children.

And there was something richly symbolic about the manner in which Puti died: she passed away at Te Wananga o Raukawa in Otaki, where she was a delegate at the Runanganui o Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, the national hui of the church she had served for much of her adult life.

Such is the respect for her within Te Pihopatanga that the business of Te Runanganui – which is held every two years – was concluded when she died.

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, The Most Rev. Whakahuihui Vercoe, was among the first to pay tribute to Puti.

“Her name,” he said, “will be recorded forever in the annals of Te Pihopatanga. She paid us a tribute of coming here, to her hahi, to say her last goodbye, rather than passing away at home. We will never lose sight of the fact that she was a true pioneer.”

Once Puti had got Te Whare Ruruhau o Mere up and running, she returned to the far north in the early nineties – but she hardly slowed down, continuing to play an active role in the Maori church and in Maori community life. In fact, she died moments after seconding a runanganui motion that seeks a relaxing of customary fishing regulations so marae and Maori communities can raise funds for their hui.

Puti Kapa was born in Te Kao in 1922, and grew up there and in Pamapura, south of Kaitaia. She went to Hukarere Girls’ College near Napier, and later married D’Arcy Murray.

After D’Arcy died, Puti felt called to ordained ministry, and was accepted for training at St John’s College in Auckland, where she was a fellow student with the late Rev. Taki Marsden, and the late Bishop Hapai Winiata.

She graduated from St John’s and was ordained a priest in 1978 by the then Bishop of Auckland, The Rt. Rev. Eric Gowing. She served her curacy at All Saints, Ponsonby, before heading a few miles south to become the vicar of the Church of the Epiphany in Otara.

There she worked closely with the Department of Social Welfare to help struggling whanau and to defuse community tensions. Among her innovations was the establishment of three residential homes for Otara street kids. Puti arranged for some of her parishioners to be the “parents” in these homes.

The present Pihopa ki te Tai Tokerau, The Rt. Rev. Kito Pikaahu, spent five years working as a young priest under Puti’s direction in South Auckland – and was deeply impressed by her.

“In my view,” he says, “she was one of the most successful evangelical priests I’ve seen. Her primary goal was to share the love of God with the people she was working amongst – and she had a way of making that love tangible. People felt valued by her, and they trusted her.”

Te Pihopa of Aotearoa, The Rt. Rev. Brown Turei, says Puti was “a gem. She was a pioneer, who paved the way for the ordination of Maori women. She was so far in front, it took awhile for others to catch up.”

Puti briefly lay in state at Rangiatea Church this morning (Sunday, November 6) before being taken north to the marae at The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Khyber Pass in Auckland. From there, she will be taken north to Otiria Marae.


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