The Builders of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

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The Builders of the Anglican Church in NZ.
Image:Christ Church, Russell
Oldest Anglican Church in New Zealand

By Pulv - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15979926

A number of significant people in the history of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia are remembered individually in the Calendar, but the growth of the church in the South Pacific owes a very great deal as well to many, many others, who by their faithful service and enthusiastic support have shaped the church that we have inherited. The initial shape was given by the members of the Church Missionary Society, whose work among Maori laid the foundations of Christianity among many of the tribes. The work of the Church Missionary Society lasted beyond 1840, but was hindered by the wars of the 1860s. One must particularly remember the missionaries’ wives, who toiled and laboured often in extremely difficult positions alongside them. Maori themselves were vigorous evangelists among their own people, and some of them died for the cause of Christianity.

The next major development involved those who helped the formation of the church in the new settler colonies. These people were intent on establishing their familiar church in a new land, but without the English connection with the state. A focus as always was The Book of Common Prayer, or its Maori translation, Te Rawiri. Along with that went the hymns and mu-sic of the Church of England.

The next generation was dominated by the work of establishing parishes and churches. Parishioners raised funds to erect buildings, mostly in the familiar style of the 19th century Gothic revival, and they provided for the plant and equipment for the many activities of the church. An emerging significant body was the Mothers’ Union, in origin a product of the late 19th century concern for purity and godliness. In many respects it gave women a status otherwise denied them in the decision making processes of the church.

The wars and the depression dominated the early decades of the 20th century. A growing social concern was reflected in the work of the city missions in the major centres. The younger generation of church people benefited from important developments in Bible classes and in youth groups, which were a significant feature of many western countries from the 1920s.

The inclusion of the islands of the South Pacific in the church goes right back to Bishop Selwyn’s time. Although the Anglican Church in Melanesia became a separate province in 1974, the association with the Diocese of Polynesia (founded in 1925, but with a long historical prelude) remains an important component of the church’s life.

The characteristic feature of the post-war phase has been a willingness to build a distinctively New Zealand church. In the unique nature of NZ’s race relations, the church has heeded not only the emerging strong voice of the Maori church, but has taken seriously its Polynesian partner and tried to address the issues of cultural diversity. All this is reflected in the church’s full name: “The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia”. The leadership of the church has been found from among Kiwi's. In the fields of liturgy, social attitudes, and the place of women in the ordained ministry, our Church has became increasingly confident about its own convictions and insights. The charismatic movement from the 1960s onwards also made a significant impact.

Thus, the work of individuals and groups has built up the church, and it has developed a distinctive style of its own among the churches of the Anglican Communion.