Story: Diverse Christian churches

Page 2. Quakers and Unitarians

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Quakers

The Society of Friends was formed in Britain in the 17th century. It gained the alternative name of Quakers when its founder, George Fox, declared that those around him should tremble at the name of the Lord. Friends worship in silence until they feel moved to testify. They have no priests or ministers, and believe in the absolute equality of all people.

Regular Quaker meetings began in Nelson in 1842 and in Auckland in 1885. Although there were few Quakers in early colonial New Zealand, they were known for their concern for the welfare of Māori people and opposition to the use of force against them. The New Zealand Society of Friends numbered 300 in 1900.

Peaceful people

Opposition to military service has always been central to Quaker beliefs. In 1864 all Lower Hutt men aged between 16 and 40 were ordered to enlist in the militia. Pioneering New Zealand Quaker Thomas Mason and his sons, of Taita, refused and were eventually exempted. Mason later wrote, ‘The case has given me the opportunity of stating the reason why Friends refuse to bear arms, and I would hope some good may result.’

Anti-war activism

In the 20th century Quakers opposed conscription and acts of war. They supported the establishment of schools and ran a hostel in Wellington from 1909 to 1945, to enable rural children to attend secondary schools. In 1920 the Quakers opened a co-educational primary school in Whanganui. After it closed in 1969, a nearby site became the Friends Educational Settlement, nicknamed ‘Quaker Acres’. In the 2010s this was home to several Quaker families.

The Māori name ‘Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri’ (meaning ‘people moved by the winds of the Spirit’) was given to the New Zealand Friends in 1994. In 2013 there were approximately 966 Quakers in New Zealand.

Unitarians

Unitarianism is so named because it originally affirmed that God is one being, rather than the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) of other Christian faiths. Unitarianism arrived in New Zealand from the United Kingdom around 1863, when the Reverend Franklin Bradley held the first formal meeting in Auckland. The first Unitarian church opened in Auckland in 1898, for ‘free-thinking people who disagree with some of the teachings of Orthodox Christianity’.

In 1923 the Auckland church elected as its president Harriet Morison, who was active in the trade-union and women’s-suffrage movements. In the 1920s the congregation also appointed New Zealand’s first woman minister, Wilna Constable, who shared the role with her husband. 

A radical minister

Other Unitarian churches were formed in Wellington (in 1904), Timaru (1912), Christchurch (1917) and Blenheim (1988). The Reverend James Chapple worked as a minister in Timaru and Christchurch. A radical and controversial figure, he was imprisoned for sedition during the First World War, and later became the inspiration for the central character in the 1978 novel Plumb, by his grandson Maurice Gee.

In 2013 there were about 339 Unitarians in New Zealand.

Footnotes:
  1. Quoted in Margaret West and Ruth Fawell, The story of New Zealand Quakerism, 1842–1972. Auckland: N.Z. Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1973, pp. 64–65. Back
  2. Vann Knight, ‘A short history and theology of Unitarian universalism.’ http://www.unitarian.org.nz/auckland/NZ%20UU%20History.html (last accessed 8 February 2011). Back
How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Diverse Christian churches - Quakers and Unitarians', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/diverse-christian-churches/page-2 (accessed 27 June 2017)

Story by Mark Derby, published 5 May 2011, updated 9 Feb 2017