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Hearts and Minds: The Amersham Way

Terry Pouono —

As Laidlaw College celebrates its centenary year, it allows us to reflect and tell stories of many who shouldered the vision of Joseph Kemp, whose desire was to equip lay people with sound theological training for Christian service and evangelism.

The stories retold over the past year through various gatherings and reflections on social media affirm that we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us. This reflection looks at one of the recent initiatives in the history of the Laidlaw timeline, the establishment of the Manukau campus.

New beginnings

20A Amersham Way was previously a café; thus, transforming the space into a conducive learning environment was the objective during semester one of 2014. Eventually, after months of hard work, the Manukau campus opened on 12 July 2014. Led by the Runanga, the day started with a pre-dawn service and, later that morning, a powhiri with staff, students, and the wider Christian community. The National Principal at the time, Dr Rod Thompson, expressed gratitude for the donors' generosity and the community's support in fully resourcing the new campus.

Designed to serve the wider South Auckland community, the new site was initially a Learning Support Centre until the government approved it at the end of 2014 to offer qualifications in theology, counselling, and teacher education. The campus was blessed with twenty students from the outset. In 2015, with the transition to an official campus, the community had five enrolments for the Bachelor of Teaching, six for the Bachelor of Counselling, ten for the Certificate in Christian Studies and 20 for the Diploma of Christian Studies.[1]

The original Manukau staff, Animoa Val Goold, Greg Liston, Naylor Owen, and Terry Pouono, were tutors. However, as the campus received its new status, Animoa was appointed as the Campus director in 2015, and Anne Segedin joined the team as the campus administrator. Greg, Naylor, and Terry eventually became full-time lecturers for the certificate, diploma, and bachelor courses. Over the years, with growing numbers, particularly between 2016 and 2018, we needed to expand our resources, with Joel McGeorge assisting as an additional theology lecturer. Additionally, a student support representative was required to provide upskilling in writing skills and general academic support for the student community. Phillip Hadley and Hanalei Temese were appointed to fill these roles. Over the last two years, we have been grateful to have committed tutors serving in the classroom, namely, pastor Andrew Cox, Nika Geraets (Counselling), and Villette Iosefa-Lowe.

The Manukau community

The Manukau environment is unique, with an orientation that differs from the traditional Laidlaw profile as a predominantly Pākeha majority, with staff and students originating from mainstream historical New Zealand churches. Alternatively, the Manukau community comprises mainly Māori and Pacific Island students, with Asians and Pākeha as the minority.

The campus has always been regarded as a village, in a sense, that fosters community; an embodiment of what South Auckland represents as the melting pot of cultural diversity. Fittingly, the site was illuminated with various colourful artwork, artistic designs, and cultural artifacts such as the tapa cloth and taonga as tangible depictions of our collective identity.

Within our community, it is common to hear a mix of praise and worship songs on the radio and the singing of traditional waiata and Pacific Island songs using the guitar. There are moments of silent devotion in the study room and the convivial spirit of our shared lunches. The rigorous academic teaching was reciprocated with friendly talanoa the telling of stories and life experiences of staff and students.

Unfortunately, our numbers at Manukau have declined due to various factors. Teaching education and counselling numbers have been primarily affected by students forced to travel to Henderson for second and third-year classes. Additionally, the distance learning program is becoming more attractive for students with busy lives.

Consequently, with the cost involved in maintaining the campus, a decision was made to transition to a more appropriate space. During the mid-term break (April 2021), the Manukau Campus relocated to the seventh floor of the same building. Edinburgh College (English language school) already occupied the new space. Hence, the new site became a shared space, with Edinburgh College using one-half of the seventh floor and Laidlaw College occupying the rest of the area.

Some have called the space “the seventh heaven” because of the beautiful views; plus, it felt like we were closer to God. The new campus site was transformed, providing three classrooms for teaching, a new library with more study space than the old campus, a student lounge, another small room for private study, and two offices for staff use. Two classrooms were equipped with the appropriate technology for teaching lectures across campuses, with most of the classes coming from Henderson and Christchurch.

As we continue to journey as a campus, we look forward to forming more significant relationships with churches of the wider South Auckland community, including East Auckland, as Laidlaw seeks to find ways to meet the needs of our partner churches. Rev. Dr Imoa Setefano, the new campus coordinator, is the new face of the campus as we navigate the challenges that lay before us.

Voices of Manukau

I have drawn on the insights of some community members sharing their experiences of what it meant for them to study at Manukau.

What do/did you like about studying at Manukau?

I loved the sense of community and encouragement at the Manukau Campus. I sensed genuine care and encouragement from the lecturers. There was also good unity and encouragement among my fellow students.

Rev David Cooper, theology graduate

My experience as a teaching student at Laidlaw College was very positive and rewarding. I found the small class sizes were more personal and interactive. Receiving feedback was a lot quicker, and I could find solutions to problems within a reasonable time frame.

Florence Rodwell, teaching education graduate

Has Laidlaw Manukau fulfilled your expectations as a student?

As a Christian? Yes. I have enjoyed meeting such a diverse group of Christians from many different communities and backgrounds. There has always been an atmosphere of warmth, aroha, and respect. It has also been good to hear different Christian perspectives on many issues. I have been attending a specific church community for over twenty years. It’s easy to get siloed into seeing only one Christian perspective. At Manukau Campus, one of the greatest blessings has been to hear differing Christian views on sensitive issues from various denominations/backgrounds yet still feel a sense of Christian unity and love.

Sarah Gladstone, second-year counselling student

Yes, I appreciate the personal help I received when I needed it, so I have been able to keep going. I have often learned things that took me out of my comfort zone and made me examine my thinking and beliefs, address them, and thank God for them. The Trinity was the biggest one so far. Huge.

Noeline Davey, Bachelor of Theology student

Community and people, community and people, community, and people! Laidlaw Manukau has created a sense of belonging within the academic space that doesn't feel intimidating or too far removed. As a student, it has been priceless. As a Christian, it has brought to light the importance of fellowship and koinōnia with others.

Villette Iosefa-Lowe, Bachelor of Theology student and tutor

How will Laidlaw Manukau prepare you for your future vocation? (For current students)

I am not studying for a career but for personal fulfillment, and I am getting that right now and have been from the start. These courses have demanded my full attention, learning a variety of things that challenge my thinking and attitudes, all good for me. They are developing me in a way I haven’t been challenged to grow before – priceless.

Noeline Davey

I plan to serve my local community; therefore, being around those on campus helps me understand the needs of those directly in our community. Getting to know my fellow students and their local contexts helps me paint a picture of the broader conditions within the South Auckland community.

Villette Iosefa-Lowe

The biblical depth that Laidlaw gives will help me in my future vocation. The vast topics on the Bible and mission have greatly aided my learning journey and shaped how I approach theology. I have learned so much! Also, the connection gained in friendships and interactions with lecturers is excellent preparation for learning in academia and solid Christian friendships in the leadership roles we will all enter.

Lupe Fukofuka, postgraduate student

How has Laidlaw Manukau prepared you for your current vocation? (For graduates)

Laidlaw has given me the biblical foundation to navigate church ministry and mission confidently and boldly.

John Fifita, Bachelor of Theology graduate

Gaining a Bachelor of Theology has equipped me well for pastoral ministry and given me a keen desire to study and read more theology books on specific subjects. Greg Liston was a tremendous encouragement and influence in this regard, and I learnt a lot from him too!

Rev David Cooper

Laidlaw College has helped me to see beyond my current achievements. Being a student at Laidlaw has helped me strengthen God’s vision and purpose for my life. The association and friendships have been a tremendous blessing in my life. I will always look back at my time with Laidlaw as a time of courage, strength, humility, and service.

Florence Rodwell, teaching education graduate

How significant is Laidlaw Manukau in the context of the South Auckland Christian scene?

Very significantly, anyone who has studied at the Manukau and the west campus understands the sociocultural differences and how they affect a student’s learning and theology.

John Fifita,

I have always firmly believed that the Manukau Campus is a shining light in South Auckland, and it has so much potential for growth if it can tap into ways of attracting future students.

David Cooper,

The Manukau Campus provides a hub for Christians and non-Christians to strengthen or find faith. Every community needs light that brings hope and encouragement. Laidlaw College in South Auckland is a gatekeeper of love, hope, and faith to many it has served.

Florence Rodwell

What can we do better to improve our services to our stakeholders/ Christian churches?

Have you considered canvassing the East Auckland Christian community? I have never heard anyone from Laidlaw share at my church community in Pakuranga. Also, I have always been under the impression that theological studies are aimed primarily at those with a heart for preaching/pastoral ministry. However, many of the theology papers I have taken would be excellent for any Christian wanting to dig deeper into their faith.

Sarah Gladstone

By maintaining relationships, acknowledging the various cultures, and allowing an open space for a dialogue regarding the biblical/spiritual background of the church without forgetting the significance of culture.

John Fifita

I think making connections to Christian churches at a level where the congregations can be exposed to Laidlaw. Many people I know didn’t know Laidlaw had a Manukau campus until we talked about it. So, increasing knowledge of the campus looks like getting some grassroots connections so that the people of those churches who desire to study more can come.

Lupe Fukofuka

The following prayer for prepared by Animoa Goold as a prayer for our community in 2017.

E te Atua,

You are the One who knows this whole world,

who reveals Yourself so that we might know You, who will provide all we need to know You,

and will one day regather us into a perfect knowledge and relationship with You.

We acknowledge that we fall short of all we could be and confess these failings before you and one another.

Despite this reality, you ask us collectively to be learners, models and mediators of your truth and grace among the community gathered at Laidlaw Manukau.

For 100 years, you have gathered diverse communities of learners,

who come together to learn about your message of hope and wholeness,

producing graduates who will carry that message into the churches and wider society.

And now You have gathered us here at Manukau.

Help us to provide learning that is marked by shalom –

no matter where students have come from, no matter what they experience along the way,

no matter where you lead them.

Guide our journey of ako and may all who go out from our learning community be bearers of hope and courage wherever you lead us.

Terry Pouono has been with the Laidlaw family since July 2014. Initially based at the Manukau Campus, he moved to the Henderson campus in 2023.

Terry has taught various courses at Laidlaw across all levels and is currently facilitating the Postgraduate Research and Writing course. He is preparing two Pacific courses for teaching in semester two called ‘A History of Pacific Christianity and Pasifika Theology.’

Terry was raised in the Congregational Christian Church Samoa, but his family have recently attended the Presbyterian Church. Outside of the Laidlaw, Terry likes to get involved in community projects. He is a Board of Trustees member at Roscommon School, and he is a volunteer for the Cancer Society.

[1] Animoa Goold, Laidlaw College Annual Report 2014, page 16.