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Story: Warren, Alwyn Keith and Warren, Doreen Eda

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Warren, Alwyn Keith


Anglican bishop, university chancellor

Warren, Doreen Eda


Church and community worker

This biography, written by Colin Brown, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.

Alwyn Keith Warren was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on 23 September 1900, the son of Thomas John Cory Warren, a merchant, and his wife, Lucy Frances Williams. Doreen Eda Laws was born at Portswood, near Southampton, England, on 2 April 1901, the daughter of Charles Frederick Laws, a master mariner, and his wife, Eda Susan Anketell Jones. Both came from relatively affluent backgrounds and set great store by family associations; Alwyn’s maternal grandfather was Archdeacon Samuel Williams of Hawke’s Bay.

Alwyn was educated at Huntley School, Marton, then in England at Marlborough College, Wiltshire, and Magdalen College, University of Oxford, where he represented his college at rowing. He graduated BA in 1922 and MA in 1926. Initially he was undecided whether to become a doctor or a clergyman, but after theological training at Cuddesdon College in 1924 he was ordained deacon (1925) and priest (1926).

After her secondary education, Doreen trained at a mothercraft centre in London and cared for young children in a variety of contexts, including a children’s hospital in a slum area. She first met Alwyn while visiting Cuddesdon College. They were married on 3 October 1928 at Holy Trinity Church, Chelsea, London, and were to have three children. After Alwyn’s curacy at Ashford, Kent (1925–29), they settled in New Zealand. Alwyn always retained a deep attachment to Oxford, England, and the Church of England. He was appointed vicar of Ross and south Westland (1929–31). Doreen found these years disconcerting: transportation, housing and conditions generally were not those to which she had been accustomed.

Other appointments quickly followed: to Waimate (1931–34) and Merivale (1934–40). In the latter parish Doreen found herself among those who shared her cultural interests, including theatre and music. Alwyn was becoming increasingly drawn into diocesan administration and became archdeacon of Christchurch (1937–44) and vicar general (1940–44, 1946–51).

During 1944–45 he served as chaplain to the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force during the last stages of the Italian campaign. Because he succeeded an immensely popular chaplain, H. G. Taylor, he was, initially, the focus of resentment. This was banished by his gallantry and the award of a Military Cross. During action he was wounded and injury to one of his feet proved particularly troublesome thereafter.

Alwyn Warren had reluctantly become dean of Christchurch in 1940, doubting the adequacy of his experience and depressed by the dreariness of the cathedral interior. Pressure was brought on him to accept the position partly so that he could share the administrative load of the aging Bishop C. W. West-Watson. Despite this, persistent trouble with his injured foot, and lack of funds, he was a generally effective dean, perhaps best remembered for improvements to the interior of the building (notably the carved reredos behind the high altar and the war memorial chapel), extensions to the cathedral, and efficient organisation of a Canterbury centennial service in 1950.

As well as being a consummate hostess, Doreen Warren completed the certificate of proficiency in religious knowledge from the University of London in 1946–47, thus becoming one of the few theologically competent lay women at the time. After joining the Mothers’ Union she quickly made an impact, serving as diocesan president (1951–60) and dominion president (1957–63). Finance, publications (including Some Canterbury churches (1957)), rules to prevent office-holders outliving their usefulness, training groups for would-be speakers, and groups for younger women were areas where, with assistance from others, she achieved notable results.

Both Warrens played important roles in the emerging ecumenical movement. Alwyn was a delegate to an international conference of Christian leaders at Princeton (1943), organised by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America to deal with the theme of ‘A just and durable peace’. He was chairman of the National Council of Churches in New Zealand (1949–51), served on its executive (1941–66), and was elected a life vice president. Doreen was active in the Women’s Committee of the NCC in New Zealand (1945–57) and chaired it from 1947 to 1949. A delegate to World Council of Churches conferences at Evanston, Illinois (1954), and New Delhi, India (1961), Alwyn also served on the Central Committee of the World Council (1954–66). While perhaps over-cautious about actions or pronouncements which might offend the government or the NCC’s own constituency, he served the council with administrative skill and defended it strongly in Anglican circles.

Doreen’s ecumenical work tended to focus on the place of women in the church, and she was soon in demand as a speaker. In the course of the Campaign for Christian Order (1942–43), she strongly emphasised women’s pre-eminent role as shaping the character of future citizens through the care of children in the home. From about 1948 her own experiences and various influences, such as World Council of Churches’ conferences she attended at Amsterdam and Evanston, led her to criticise the church and the community for failing to make effective use of women. She did not urge the ordination of women: this she deemed appropriate but the timing unpropitious. For her the general emancipation of women and the reunion of Christendom were higher priorities. She was an initial appointee to the diocesan council of women’s church work in 1949 and served on that committee until 1958. Doreen was also an energetic member of the National Council of Women of New Zealand for about 25 years and, with her husband, was active in the founding and early years of the Christchurch Marriage Guidance Council.

Alwyn took a strong interest in the administration of Canterbury University College (later the University of Canterbury). He was a member of the College Council (1946–73), pro-chancellor (1961–65), chancellor (1965–68) and a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand (1948–61). He strongly supported the move to Ilam and took a great interest in all aspects of development on that site. In particular, he masterminded the move there of College House, renamed it Christchurch College, and sought to maintain its dual role as a residential hall and theological college for training ordination candidates. (Subsequently, the name change was reversed and the theological education role passed over to a separate foundation.) The Rotary Club of Christchurch and the Order of St John were among his other interests.

Alwyn Warren declined the bishopric of Waiapu in 1946 without giving reasons, but seems to have been mainly concerned about the limitations which imminent surgery on his foot might impose. He was neither an orator nor a theologian, but his practical turn of mind and administrative abilities served both the University of Canterbury and the church well in the immediate post-war era when there was much building done and institutional organisation undertaken, and staffing increased. Warren’s taste and influence in matters of architecture, stained glass and church decoration generally, tended to be traditional rather than innovative. He attended the Lambeth Conference in 1958. Bishop of Christchurch from 1951 to 1966, he took his full part in general synods, served on many of its committees and went to Anglican congresses at Minneapolis and Toronto. In 1967 he was made a CMG.

In 1964 Doreen Warren suffered a stroke, subsequently broke her partly paralysed leg and never completely regained mobility and power of speech. Alwyn retired to help care for her. She suffered further strokes and, eventually, spent the last seven years of her life in hospital care. Her illness imposed severe limitations on them both; they felt them keenly, but won admiration for their courage in coping with personal tragedy. Doreen Warren died on 22 March 1983 and Alwyn on 27 May 1988, both at Christchurch.

The Warrens simultaneously mirrored and helped to change attitudes. Alwyn Warren’s theological and social ideas remained fairly conservative but his ecumenical contacts widened his vision. He did not often strike out against current opinion but in 1959 he backed opposition to sending an All Black team to South Africa from which Maori were excluded. Along with some other Anglican bishops he signed the petition organised by the Citizens’ All Black Tour Association. Archbishop R. H. Owen deemed it ‘unrealistic’ and refused to sign. Doreen Warren’s contribution lay in energising women and women’s organisations and helping to move opinion towards a greater use of women in a wider range of activities. She supported her husband’s ministry effectively but also made her own mark. More than once she recognised that household and other help played a part in enabling her to take on a public role.

The Warrens renovated the elegant and spacious Bishopscourt, enhancing its grounds with characteristic attention to detail, and made it available for a wider range of occasions. Alwyn Warren, well over six feet tall with bulk and voice to match, was the last Anglican bishop of Christchurch to don gaiters on formal occasions but the first to wear a cope and mitre more regularly. Doreen Warren was invariably elegantly dressed and carefully coiffured. Together they constituted an impressive couple, though some found them – at least initially – intimidating.

How to cite this page:

Colin Brown. 'Warren, Alwyn Keith and Warren, Doreen Eda', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5w10/warren-alwyn-keith (accessed 13 July 2024)