Story: Anglican Church

Page 3. Anglicans in the 20th and 21st centuries

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Changes in the church

The Church of England Empowering Act 1928 made it possible for the church to make changes to the entrenched clauses in its 1857 constitution. This led over time to:

  • the use of the 1928 Book of common prayer
  • the ordination of women priests from 1977
  • the ordaining of women bishops – Penelope Jamieson, Bishop of Dunedin from 1990 to 2004, was the world’s first Anglican diocesan woman bishop
  • the introduction of A New Zealand prayer book: he karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa in 1989.

Revising the constitution

The Māori prophet T. W. Rātana’s movement greatly affected Māori Anglicans and many joined the Rātana Church. The General Synod responded in 1928 by agreeing to the appointment of a bishop of Aotearoa as a suffragan (assistant) to the bishop of Waiapu. This was a compromise and did not fully meet Māori expectations. Changes from the 1970s gave the bishop of Aotearoa more independence. Constitutional changes in 1992 finally resulted in three tikanga (systems of governance) – Māori, Pākehā and Pasifika – sharing equal authority but working in partnership. Melanesia became an independent province of the church in 1975. Polynesia was given full diocesan status, with an assistant bishop based in Auckland.

Theology and practice

Unlike its parent church in England, the Anglican Church in New Zealand is not established as the country’s official church. However Anglicans traditionally take a leadership role on state occasions.

With other Protestant churches Anglicans formed the National Council of Churches in 1941, and the Conference of Churches, which included Catholics, in 1986. When other Christian denominations promoted church union in the 1960s, the Anglican Church joined in. Anglicans, however, were divided on the issue and their unwillingness to move towards church union contributed to the movement’s collapse in 1976.

The charismatic movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which emphasised an ecstatic personal experience of religion, brought new life to many Anglican parishes. At the same time, others identified with liberal attitudes towards theology, morality and social reform. This gave rise to some tension and division within the church as protest against the Vietnam War, feminism, anti-racism, Treaty of Waitangi issues and nuclear-free activism were taken up by some Anglicans.

The Association of Anglican Women, formed in 1969, was active in matters of social concern, both directly and through the National Council of Women.

Church numbers decline

By 1936 the proportion of Anglicans in the total population had dropped from half to 40%. Anglican numbers declined more sharply from the mid-1960s. Around 900,000 people identified themselves as Anglican in 1976, 800,000 in 1981 and 580,000 in 2001. In the 2013 census 12% of the population, or 460,000 people, identified themselves as Anglicans. Anglicanism was now the country’s second largest religious denomination after Catholicism.

In parishes (local church communities) that no longer had enough church members to financially support a minister, schemes for local people to take responsibility for the tasks of ministry were developed.

How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Anglicans in the 20th and 21st centuries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 August 2022)

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