Page 1: Biography
This biography, written by David Hilliard, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Mads Christensen was born at Egvad, Aabenraa county, Slesvig, Denmark, on 10 May 1856, the son of Hagen Iversen Christensen, a farmer, and his wife, Marine Callesen. He received his education at a village school. His native province having been annexed by Germany, he migrated across the border to Denmark in 1873. There he came under the influence of the Inner Mission, an association within the Lutheran state church which preached an evangelical message of repentance, personal conversion and the need to live a holy life. It appears that he became a lay preacher in the Inner Mission without academic training. At Folding in 1880 he founded an association for young men, on the lines of the YMCA.
Responding to an appeal by a committee of the Inner Mission which supported a mission among the Danes and Norwegians in New Zealand, Christensen was sent to assist Pastor Georg Sass and arrived in New Zealand in November 1886. After ordination on 19 December Christensen was inducted as pastor of the Lutheran congregation at Mauriceville, to minister to the hundreds of Scandinavians who had settled in Wairarapa. Each Sunday he conducted services in Danish, but, as his knowledge of the English language improved, he also held English services in public halls. On 28 April 1888 at Mauriceville he married Anna Christine Larsen, daughter of a Danish settler. They had two sons and two daughters before her death from tuberculosis on 20 August 1896. On 15 March 1899 at Palmerston North he married her sister, Hedevig Botilda Larsen. From this marriage there were four sons and four daughters.
In 1893 Christensen was invited to become pastor of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran church in Palmerston North in succession to Sass, who was returning to Denmark. Christensen was instituted in January 1894. He was a thorough and methodical pastor, regularly visiting – often on foot – the Danish farmers who lived in the Manawatu district. He himself bought 4½ acres of land on the edge of town, where he kept a few cows and grew fruit and vegetables for sale to augment the small salary that was subscribed by members of the congregation.
His preaching and teaching of the 'same old gospel' reflected the pietistic theology of the Inner Mission, which until his final report in 1908 provided his only formal link with the church in Denmark. He also stressed the need to hold fast to a distinctive Danish religious and cultural identity. In 1889 the Danish congregations in New Zealand had constituted the Evangelical Lutheran Emmanuel Convention, which remained unaffiliated with any other Lutheran church in New Zealand or overseas. In 1910 Christensen and the two other Danish pastors decided against joining the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Concordia Conference of New Zealand.
Christensen played a central role in the preservation of the Danish language among the descendants of Danish settlers around Palmerston North. On Sundays he led services and preached in Danish and every Saturday he conducted classes for children in the Lutheran catechism and the Danish language. By the 1920s, however, the basis of this identity was being eroded, through intermarriage of younger Lutherans with non-Lutherans and the drift of many to Protestant denominations of British origin which held services in English. In the Lutheran congregation the language question became a divisive one, with older members supporting the retention of Danish, younger members wanting change, and the cautious pastor caught in the middle. In 1922 Christensen introduced English services on Sunday evenings and from 1927 English supplanted Danish worship on alternate Sunday mornings.
By this time, as the senior Danish pastor in New Zealand, Mads Christensen had assumed oversight of the few remaining Danish congregations and preached regularly at Mauriceville, Dannevirke and Halcombe. Bearded, his piety lightened by a sense of fun, he was greatly esteemed by the Danish community. In failing health, he resigned his pastorate in December 1927, but occasionally led services until his death at Palmerston North on 28 December 1929. He was survived by his wife, Hedevig, six sons and six daughters. His third son, Ansgar Christensen, succeeded him as pastor of the Palmerston North Lutheran congregation.