Story: Anglican Church

Page 2. Colonial Anglicans

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Settler church

After missionary work among Māori, the second major influence shaping the Anglican Church came from rapidly growing numbers of Anglican migrants. The early CMS missionary beginnings and the large number of settlers who came from England resulted in Anglicans becoming the largest of the religious denominations in New Zealand. In 1858 more than half the population was Anglican.

George Augustus Selwyn became Bishop of New Zealand (the only Anglican bishop to have this title) in 1841. He headed both the Māori and settler parts of the church. Evangelical missionaries were suspicious of his control over them and his emphasis on the authority of the church, while settlers were hostile towards his pro-Māori stance. He increasingly found himself caught between Māori and Pākehā over issues of land and sovereignty.

Bishop Selwyn and Māori rejection

In 1865 Bishop Selwyn, who had served as a chaplain during the New Zealand wars, wrote of the church’s relationship with Māori, ‘oh! how things have changed! how much of the buoyancy of hope has been sobered down by experience! when, instead of a nation of believers welcoming me as their father, I find here and there a few scattered sheep, the remnant of a flock which has forsaken the shepherd’.1

Church constitution

While Anglicans carried some of the privileges of the Church of England to New Zealand, they struggled to devise a method of church organisation which took account of their new non-establishment status alongside other churches. In 1857, after 15 years of consultation, a constitution for the New Zealand church was finalised on the basis of voluntary compact. Links with the traditions of the mother church in England were guaranteed in their worship, ministry and beliefs. At national and regional levels, bishops, and representatives of the clergy and laity (ordinary churchgoers) met together but voted separately on church matters, with each group having an equal voice. The constitution resolved problems for the settler church but failed to deal adequately with the administrative and leadership needs of the Māori church.

Regional identity

Selwyn’s diocese (the region he controlled as bishop) was first divided into sub-districts in 1856, when Christchurch became a new diocese. Wellington, Nelson and Waiapu (the East Coast) followed in 1858, and Dunedin separated from Christchurch in 1869. The Waikato diocese was inaugurated in 1926.

The Melanesian Mission in the South Pacific, founded by Selwyn in 1849, was associated with the New Zealand church as a missionary diocese in 1861, when J. C. Patteson was consecrated as a missionary bishop. Patteson was killed on Nukapu in the Solomon Islands in 1871. In 1925 Polynesia was added as another missionary diocese.

Each diocese developed its own identity. The Christchurch diocese, formed out of the Canterbury Association of colonial settlers, had a strong English element. Under its second bishop, A. B. Suter, Nelson developed an evangelical flavour which continued in the 21st century. Waiapu had missionary beginnings, holding its first four synods (official church conferences) in the Māori language. That missionary ascendancy ended with the New Zealand wars and the growth of settler influence.

Church life

The colonial Anglicans were concerned with building new churches and recruiting, funding and housing clergy. The annual rhythm of worship followed the English Book of Common Prayer, making little allowance for southern hemisphere seasons. Selwyn began a ministry training school at St John’s College in Auckland in the 1840s, but most bishops and some clergy were recruited from overseas until well into the 20th century.

The objects of the Mothers’ Union

‘Remembering that my children are dedicated to God in baptism, and that my duty is to train them for His service, I promise to try by God's help:

1. To make them obedient, pure and gentle.

2. To watch their words, and prevent evil speaking, slander and rough words.

3. To guard them from bad or doubtful companions, and immoral, irreligious reading.

4. To teach them habits of self-control, and to avoid giving them beer, wine or spirits, unless under doctor's orders.

5. To pray for them daily, and to teach them to pray and to observe the Lord's Day.

6. To learn whatever may best fit me to fulfil my part as a loving wife and mother.

7. To remember the sacredness of marriage; and that on the holy associations of home, much of my children's spiritual wellbeing in afterlife will depend.’

Women played a vital role as missionary wives and church supporters, but they were not eligible to stand for all church bodies until 1922, and only slowly made their way onto vestries (church committees) and synods. The Mothers’ Union reinforced the role of women in the church with its emphasis on maternal devotion and women’s responsibilities to home and family.

The Anglican Church was at first heavily involved in missionary schooling for Māori, and for primary school-aged children under the provincial government system. This involvement rapidly decreased with the establishment of Native Schools in 1867 and the Education Act 1877, which increased government-funded education. Involvement in education was subsequently mainly through private secondary schools. The Māori Anglican boarding schools of Te Aute and Hukarere in Hawke’s Bay and St Stephen’s and Queen Victoria in Auckland played a significant role in developing Māori leadership.

  1. H. W. Tucker, Memoir of the life and episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn. London: Gardner, 1879, p. 206. Back
How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Colonial Anglicans', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 July 2022)

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