From the late 19th century throughout the English-speaking world different branches, or denominations, of Protestant Christianity such as Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists began to work together where they found common causes. Later, Catholics also participated. This movement – called interdenominational, non-denominational or ecumenical Christianity – has affected many areas of New Zealand society.
First shared parishes
Nineteenth-century New Zealand settlers expected to have a church in their district, but the various churches struggled to provide a full network. Settlers from different Protestant faiths often combined to build a small church, with Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists providing a Sunday school and services on different weeks. The Catholic Church did not usually join in such arrangements.
First interdenominational organisation
New Zealand’s earliest interdenominational organisation was a branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society established in Auckland in 1846. It raised money to distribute bibles in New Zealand and overseas, and played a significant role in providing bibles to Māori. Many later organisations also sold and distributed religious literature, among them the Scripture Gift Association, the Bible Tract and Book Society, and the Scripture Union.
United Maori Mission
In 1936 the United Maori Mission was established by former students of the Bible Training Institute. Their first missioner was Norman Perry on the East Coast. The mission developed into the Maori Evangelical Fellowship. In recent years many interdenominational activities have developed an independent Māori arm to their work.
Charles Chiniquy was a former priest from Quebec, Canada, who left the Catholic Church and spent the rest of his life writing and lecturing about what he regarded as its evil influence. He claimed, for example, that Catholicism was behind the assassination of US president Abraham Lincoln. In 1880 Chiniquy visited New Zealand as part of a world tour. He was welcomed by the pro-Protestant Orange Lodge and several Protestant churches. Police accompanied his meetings to prevent disorder. However after his lecture in Coromandel, a journalist felt that, ‘the feeling was one of disappointment … The desire to sell his books and receive money apparently superseded his advocacy of what in his opinion is true Christianity.’1
Protestantism often regarded Catholicism as its enemy, and various Protestant associations emerged to combat Catholic influence. The first of these, the Orange Lodge, was set up in Auckland in 1843 and spread widely around New Zealand. The Protestant Political Association, founded during the First World War by Howard Elliott, was the largest and most extreme of these bodies. Anti-Catholic campaigners also visited New Zealand from overseas, notably the notorious former priest Charles Chiniquy in 1880.
Some Protestants had a more open attitude to Catholics; however, they tended to be isolated liberals within a conservative religious community. The most notable was Samuel Edger, who arrived in New Zealand as chaplain to the Protestant Albertland settlement on the Kaipara Harbour in the late 19th century. When Albertland failed to develop, Edger set up the independent Lorne Street Hall in Auckland, which became the Unitarian Church in 1901.