Story: Anglican Church

Page 6. Social services

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Churches have been at the forefront in providing support to individuals and families suffering from poverty, hardship, and family or personal problems.

Early social services

Auckland Anglicans founded an orphanage in 1860, and Eliza Cowie set up a women’s refuge for prostitutes in 1884. This work expanded to become the Anglican Trust for Women and Children. St Saviour’s Guild took over the running of a refuge in Christchurch in 1891.

Down and out in Parnell

Eliza Cowie, the wife of the Anglican Bishop of Auckland, was well known for her welfare work among Auckland’s poor in the late 19th century. In 1884 she founded and ran a Women's Home in Parnell for prostitutes and single mothers. Its 1887 annual report said, ‘[T]he Women’s Home was opened ... to receive young women desirous to return to virtuous living. ... Sixty-one inmates were received into the Home during those first two years. Of these, 18 had returned to domestic service, 8 had been restored to their friends, 6 had married, and 12 were still in the Home.’1

Sibylla Maude started work in 1896 as a district nurse in the Christchurch parishes of St Michael’s and Sydenham. This grew to become a community nursing service named after her. In 1893 Edith Mellish founded what became the Community of the Sacred Name in Christchurch. Frances Williams’s Mission to the Streets and Lanes of Auckland began in 1894 and later became the Order of the Good Shepherd. These small religious orders were at the forefront of caring for children, women and urban poor.

Church institutions could be authoritarian and there was often a strong paternalistic spirit in church social work. Parishes and institutions at their best, however, were motivated by the compassionate principles of their founder. Financial support for church institutions from provincial governments and then the state set the pattern for later developments.

City missions

Anglican city missions were identified with strong charismatic individuals like Bryan King in Dunedin, T. Fielden Taylor in Wellington, Percy Revell in Christchurch and Jasper Calder in Auckland. Evangelical outreach was combined with social and prison work. The 1930s economic depression placed huge demands on the missions. They responded with soup kitchens, food parcels, clothing and relief. The politicising of economic distress was seen in a 1934 General Synod resolution calling on Anglicans to move beyond ‘works of mercy’ to ‘transform our social order so as to bring it nearer to the mind of Christ’.2

Changing patterns of church care

Encouraged by state subsidies, care for the elderly became a growing church interest. Douglas Caswell's Selwyn Village initiative in Auckland in 1947 gave rise to the Selwyn Foundation, which developed into one of the largest not-for-profit aged-care organisations in the country. Dioceses and some parishes also became involved in providing rest homes for the elderly. This work became financially difficult as capital subsidies were withdrawn and private companies entered the aged-care market.

The closing of orphanages from the 1960s marked a shift away from caring for children in institutions. Church social work then became involved in a range of services including strengthening families, working with women and children, drug and alcohol dependency, homelessness, budgeting and providing food parcels.

Anglican caring agencies

Anglican caring agencies developed as semi-independent regional organisations supported by state funding and charitable and church donations. The Family Centre in Lower Hutt, for example, was part of Anglican Social Services but had its own trust board. It engaged in social policy research, family therapy, community development, and education and training. In Manukau City, Anglicans were involved in Friendship House, an ecumenical social-service agency which included programmes for personal development, anger management and stopping violence.

The Anglican Care Network is a nationwide network of social-service agencies, parish-based community programmes and inter-church projects. Anglicans, together with six other Christian churches, are members of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS). This coordinates research on social policy and makes joint representations to government on the needs of children and families, housing and poverty, and services to older people.

The Anglican voice

Anglicans represent a broad range of political and theological opinions. There is considerable diversity in the social and economic status of their membership. Anglican diversity has increased through migration from the Pacific, Asia and Africa. The growing pluralistic, multi-faith and secular nature of New Zealand society means that Anglican voices on moral and social concerns no longer carry more weight than others. While the church once felt confident in speaking to society from the centre, it now finds itself more marginalised. Anglican theological teachings no longer have the relevance they once did and church members are often divided on moral and social issues.

The effect and range of Anglican pastoral ministry is considerable but hard to measure. Through its far-reaching ministry among the under-privileged, the church speaks most authentically on social issues out of its caring involvement with those who are suffering.

  1. Supplement to Church Gazette, 1 October 1887, p. I. Back
  2. Proceedings of the General Synod, 1934, p. 50. Back
How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church - Social services', 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