Story: Missions and missionaries

Page 4. Methodist, Catholic and other missions

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Origins of the Methodist mission

The Wesleyan Methodist movement in England grew rapidly from the 1790s. Lay Methodists, who were mostly of humble backgrounds, wanted their own mission. The Wesleyan-Methodist Missionary Society (WMS) saw the primary goal of the mission as making converts, and it rejected Samuel Marsden’s emphasis on ‘civilising’.

Samuel Leigh, their first missionary, was a Methodist minister to the convict settlement of New South Wales. Marsden encouraged his visit to New Zealand, after which Leigh appealed to the WMS to establish a mission. A team of missionaries arrived in Tonga and New Zealand in 1822.

First Methodist missions

On the advice of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionaries, the Wesleyan mission station was based at Kaeo, north of the Bay of Islands. The site proved too close to that of the 1809 Boyd massacre, and the missionaries were forced to flee in January 1827. Three returned a year later to Mangungu on the Hokianga Harbour. The mission baptised its first converts in 1830.

As new missionaries arrived, more stations were established along the west coast of the North Island, at Kāwhia, Manukau, Kaipara and Raglan. The CMS and the WMS agreed that the Wesleyans would focus their activities on the west coast as far south as Taranaki, and the South Island, while the CMS mission took the East Coast and lower North Island. The missions grew quickly in the 1840s. WMS stations were opened at Port Nicholson (Wellington), Cloudy Bay in Marlborough and Waikouaiti in Otago. Further stations opened in Taranaki and Waikato.

First Catholic mission

The Society of Mary (whose members are known as Marists) was a religious movement which emerged as part of a reinvigoration of Catholicism in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The Pope approved the new order in 1836 and it supported the development of a new mission in Western Oceania. Jean Baptiste Pompallier was appointed bishop of this region and he and his small team arrived in the Hokianga in January 1838, at a site near the Methodist station.

130 years later

After 30 years of missionary work in New Zealand, Bishop Pompallier returned to France in 1869 and died two years later. In 2001 his family and the bishops of France agreed to allow his reburial in New Zealand. From December 2001 Pompallier’s bishop’s coffin was taken to all six Catholic dioceses in New Zealand. In April 2002 it was reburied beneath the altar of St Mary’s Church in the tiny Hokianga community of Motutī, near the place where the bishop had first preached in New Zealand.

Competition for converts

Pompallier faced intense hostility from the Anglicans and Methodists, and his initial following came from Māori unhappy with those churches. Unlike the CMS, he viewed the primary responsibility of the Catholic mission as baptising converts, not challenging the lifestyle of Māori. The chanting, rituals and ornamentation of his religion were attractive to Māori.

The mission was strengthened with the arrival of seven priests and five Marist brothers in 1839, the year it set up a new base at Kororāreka (later renamed Russell) in the Bay of Islands. Further bases were established in Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Ōtaki and Akaroa. Priests travelled from these settlements, often on foot over long distances, to preach to other Māori communities.

By 1845 the New Zealand Catholic mission had baptised 5,000 people, but lack of money and the outbreak of the New Zealand wars led to a subsequent decline. Tensions also emerged between Pompallier and the Marist order, and a Marist-staffed diocese of Wellington was formed in 1850. Thereafter Pompallier struggled to find priests for Auckland Catholics.

Missionaries from Germany and Scotland

From 1842 the North German Missionary Society, based in Bremen, sent missionaries to New Zealand, among them Carl Völkner and J. F. Riemenschneider, who worked alongside the existing missions. The Berlin Missionary Society sent missionaries to the Chatham Islands in 1843. In 1844 the Reformed Church of Scotland sent two missionaries.

How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Missions and missionaries - Methodist, Catholic and other missions', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/missions-and-missionaries/page-4 (accessed 8 December 2019)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 8 Aug 2018