Regional | Rotorua

Reverend Tom Poata honoured for services to Māori, community

Reverend Tom Poata when he became the new Vicar at St Faith's Church in 2006. Photo / Stephen Parker

It’s only been five minutes at Reverend Tom Poata’s house and already we’re sore from laughing.

He makes people happy - that’s among the reasons the adored Man of God has today been named a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and the community.

The 65-year-old has been the Vicar of St Faith’s Anglican Church in Rotorua since 2006.

His ability to give sermons using wit and strong delivery means he’s built a strong following of parishioners over nearly two decades in Rotorua.

But he’s more than just a church leader. He is often called on outside his church to lead various occasions, or just be a speaker to bring joy.

He admits humour coming from a vicar may be seen as a bit different.

“And yet humour is humour is humour. You get cast into a mould because of your occupation and I’ve never liked that. I treat everyone the same I think, and they get the rough end of my humour.”

He uses his ability to send a crowd roaring with laughter as a tool when delivering his sermons.

“The Bible has been sermonised for centuries and I’m not going to come up with anything new but preaching and teaching needs to change... if people get some reward from it, then that makes me happy.”

He’s not sure who was responsible for putting the paperwork together for his King’s Birthday nomination, but this time he felt like he should accept it.

A similar gong came his way about four years ago but on that occasion, he “wrote back to Wellington” and politely turned it down.

“It just didn’t seem right. I never agree that you should get it for doing your job... I always thought you got those things for inventing a cure for Aids or Covid or something.”

But Poata does more than just his job.

He’s provided chaplaincy services locally to a number of iwi, state and religious organisations, including St John Ambulance and Rotorua police.

Poata is an accomplished orator in te reo Māori and has an excellent understanding of tikanga and Māori protocols.

In this capacity, he is often called upon by police and others during formal and informal interactions with iwi, especially hui that have been called to discuss difficult issues within the community.

He served as Māori chaplain at Waikato Hospital for two years and was earlier an informal associate chaplain at Rotorua Hospital.

He has encouraged positive ecumenical relations between the churches of Rotorua. He has served as padre for the Rotorua Returned Services Association and the Te Arawa Māori Returned Services League for almost 20 years.

He has officiated at Anzac memorial services, Māori Battalion gatherings and other occasions including reunions, Armistice Day and Korea, Vietnam and Borneo unit veterans’ gatherings.

Poata is the guardian of the Altar Frontal gifted by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of Haane Manaahi’s World War II service and serves as a member of various iwi and whānau-based trusts and organisations in Rotorua.

Reverend Tom Poata has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori and the community. Photo / Andrew Warner

So what does the future hold for Poata?

The original plan was to retire when he reached retirement age but he admits times have changed and he probably should keep working while he can.

For now, he’s happy to keep doing what he’s doing for as long as he’s able. Rotorua has his heart and he’s got no plans to go anywhere else.

And while he’s continuing to bring joy, he encourages everyone to embrace humour, saying it helps let go of some of the pressures of life.

“Otherwise you’ll end up a rocking absurdity in need of pills rather than a jolly good laugh.”