Story: Methodist Church

Methodist missionaries were among the earliest Europeans to come to New Zealand. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the Methodist Church, with its emphasis on personal salvation and social responsibility, played an important part in the temperance movement and other moral debates.

Story by Tim Shoebridge
Main image: Band of Hope temperance pledge

Story summary

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The Methodist Church was founded in England in the 1700s. It was originally called Wesleyan after the founders, brothers John and Charles Wesley.

Methodist missions to Māori

The first Methodist mission in New Zealand was started at Kaeo, in Northland, in 1823. Others were established around the country. The missionaries aimed to convert Māori to Christianity. Later, Māori ministers were trained to work in Māori communities.

The settler church

From the 1840s the New Zealand Methodist Church grew as many Methodist settlers arrived from Britain. In 1858 around 10% of New Zealanders were Methodist.

Local churches

Methodist churches had many committees and groups, including Sunday school and groups for children, missionary committees, and groups and clubs for women.

Social influence

The Methodist Church believes in social responsibility, and became a strong part of the temperance movement, which discouraged the drinking of alcohol.

Some Methodists were involved in left-wing politics. Colin Scrimgeour, known as Uncle Scrim, hosted a popular radio programme in the 1930s which encouraged people to support the Labour Party.

Many Methodists were pacifists, and some were imprisoned as conscientious objectors during the Second World War.

The Methodist Church set up institutions such as city missions and children’s homes to help the poor and needy.

Methodist Church in the 21st century

The proportion of New Zealanders who were Methodist shrank from 10% in the early 1900s to 2.6% in 2013. In the 21st century many are Pasifika, as Methodist missionaries were very active in the Pacific Islands.

How to cite this page:

Tim Shoebridge, 'Methodist Church', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 July 2024)

Story by Tim Shoebridge, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 4 April 2018