Story: Anglican Church

In its first incarnation in New Zealand, the Anglican Church had Māori congregations led by missionaries, worshipping in the Māori language. The church played a leading role in early Māori–Pākehā politics. Soon Pākehā Anglicans outnumbered Māori.

Story by Allan K. Davidson
Main image: Three archbishops, 2007

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The Anglican Church in New Zealand began when Samuel Marsden visited the Bay of Islands in 1814 and set up a mission station at Rangihoua. The Māori name for the church is te Hāhi Mihinare (the missionary church).

Missionaries developed a written form of Māori, and the Bible and prayer book were translated.

Missionaries like Henry Williams persuaded Māori to sign the Treaty of Waitangi.


As more people from the UK settled in New Zealand, the Anglican Church grew. In 1858 over half the population was Anglican. Settler Anglicans and missionary Anglicans were sometimes at odds.

Separate dioceses (church regions) were formed in Christchurch, Wellington, Nelson, Waiapu (the East Coast) and Dunedin in the 19th century. There was a Melanesian mission diocese and later a Polynesian missionary diocese. A Waikato diocese was formed in 1926.

Bishop George Augustus Selwyn established St John’s College in Auckland to train new clergy.

Changes in the church

In the 20th century the numbers of Anglicans began to fall, but the church continued to take leadership on state occasions. Many Māori left and joined the Rātana Church. In 1992 the church constitution changed to recognise Māori and Pasifika leadership.

From 1977 women could be ordained as priests. In 1990 the first woman bishop in the world to head a diocese, Penelope Jamieson, was consecrated Bishop of Dunedin.

Church opinions about abortion, divorce and homosexuality began to change. These issues polarised some Anglicans. In 1981 Archbishop Paul Reeves joined other leaders in speaking out against race-based sport.

From 1990 the church had an official spokesperson on social issues. Richard Randerson was the first. Church commissioners have spoken about issues such as genetic engineering and economic change.

Social services

In the 19th century the Anglican Church set up refuges and orphanages. Through its city missions Anglicans supplied food, clothes and support to the poor. In 1947 the church began a charity which became the Selwyn Foundation and developed into one of the largest not-for-profit aged-care organisations.

Other social services provided by Anglicans in the early 21st century included family support, anger-management courses, drug and alcohol therapy, education and training, and social policy research.

The Anglican Church is a member of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services, which makes representations to government on the needs of children and families, housing, poverty and services to older people.

How to cite this page:

Allan K. Davidson, 'Anglican Church', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

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