Story: Anglican Church

Page 1. Missionary beginnings

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First New Zealand Anglicans

The Māori name for the Anglican Church in New Zealand, te Hāhi Mihinare (the missionary church), reveals its origins in the work of the first missionaries to arrive in New Zealand.

Anglicans began missionary work among Māori in 1814 through the Church Missionary Society (CMS), a voluntary evangelical group within the Church of England (as the English call the Anglican Church). Evangelicalism was a movement within 19th-century Protestant churches in Britain that combined humanitarian activism with an emphasis on the personal experience of sin, and the salvation gained through the death of Jesus Christ.

The CMS mission to New Zealand was begun by Samuel Marsden, the Anglican chaplain in New South Wales. He had met the Ngāpuhi chiefs Te Pahi and Ruatara when they travelled outside New Zealand, and they encouraged him to visit their country. Ruatara provided protection for the first mission station, at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands.

For the first years of the mission, intertribal musket wars hampered the missionaries’ movements and Māori interest in their message. Personal disputes between the early missionaries, and their involvement in trading muskets, also compromised their efforts. However one of the first CMS missionaries, Thomas Kendall, successfully produced the first written versions of the Māori language.

Eager to read

William Yate, one of the early CMS missionaries in the Bay of Islands, noticed Māori enthusiasm for learning to read and write. He wrote, ‘Persons who have been made prisoners of war, and enslaved by the Bay-of-Islanders, have been educated in the Mission Schools; and then, having by some means obtained their freedom, or having received permission, from the chief to whom they belonged, to depart for a season, have visited their friends; and, carrying with them their little stock of knowledge, have at once commenced the work of instruction, and have been readily and eagerly attended to by the whole people.’1

Missionary expansion and Māori conversion

The Reverend Henry Williams arrived to lead the New Zealand mission in 1823 and gave firm local leadership and new direction, emphasising evangelisation (converting people to Christianity) and peacemaking between tribes. After Hongi Hika’s death in 1828 the mission became less dependent on the goodwill and economic support of Māori.

Henry’s brother William Williams arrived in 1826 and led the work of translating the prayer book and the Bible into Māori. As Māori became literate, some also became evangelists for the new teaching. The number of Māori converts grew rapidly in the 1830s and early 1840s and Māori began to include Christian ideas in their world view. The conversion of a whole tribe together contrasted with the missionary emphasis on individual conversion.

Missionaries and te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty of Waitangi

In England church and state were interlinked and the Church of England had a special status guaranteed in law. Evangelicals, as loyal Anglicans, accepted this status and encouraged Māori to look to the British Crown for protection and recognition. As a result CMS missionaries, especially Henry Williams, played a leading part in encouraging Māori to sign the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

In later years this missionary support for the treaty led to increasing disillusionment among Māori as the treaty was ignored by the colonial and settler governments. The emergence of Māori religious movements such as Pai Mārire and Ringatū reflected this rejection of missionary Christianity. When the missionary C. S. Völkner was suspected of spying by Māori in 1865, the fact that he was a member of the Anglican clergy afforded him no protection, and he was executed.

  1. William Yate. An account of New Zealand and the formation and progress of the Church Missionary Society's mission in the North Island. London: Seeley and Burnside, 1835, p. 240. Back
How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Missionary beginnings', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Allan K. Davidson, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 20 Apr 2018