Project Canterbury

Our Last Year in New Zealand, 1887

By William Garden Cowie, D.D., Bishop of Auckland

London: Kegan, Paul, Trench & Co., 1888.

Appendix B. The General Synod of the Church of New Zealand, 1880

(See page 15.)

(A paper read by the Bishop of Auckland at the Church Meeting on October 22, 1880.)

I have been asked to give you to-night some account of the proceedings of the General Synod of the Church of New Zealand which was in session at Christchurch in the months of April and May last; and I have much pleasure in doing so.

First, I will say a few words on the constitution of the Synod, and on its antecedents. The members of our Diocesan Synod may be supposed to be thoroughly acquainted with our Church organisation, and with the history of our Synods; but it is not so with many members of the Church, especially with those who have but recently arrived in the colony. Those of you, therefore, who are quite familiar with these matters must bear with me, while I state a few plain facts, for the better information of persons who have not had opportunities of making themselves acquainted with our Church system in New Zealand. It is, I believe, one main purpose of our annual Church Meeting to give such information to those who ought to possess it, but who have not commonly the means of doing so; another of its purposes being to afford an opportunity for acquainting our people generally with matters of interest and importance to Churchmen--for which there is not time during [334/335] the actual sitting of the Synod, and for which a larger audience is desired than the clerical and lay members of that body.

1. First, then, as to the General Synod itself: what is it? The General Synod is to the Church of New Zealand very much what the Legislative Council and the House of Representatives together are to the people of the colony as subjects in this country of Queen Victoria. In matters relating to the well-being of the people of the colony, and in which what are called "imperial interests" are not concerned, the two Houses of Parliament meeting at Wellington are supreme; it is only in matters affecting the Empire in general that the Crown does through the Governor retain a right of veto. In like manner in our New Zealand Church, no external authority can legislate for us. In the fundamentals only--namely, in our doctrine and discipline--is there a lasting veto to any legislation. In doctrine and discipline, I say, we have no authority, as we have no desire, to make changes for ourselves. Our doctrine is the faith which was "once for all delivered to the saints"--"the Apostles' doctrine," in which the Church of the first days "continued steadfastly." Our discipline is the "Apostolic order," which has come down to us, without any break in the entail, from the days in which Barnabas and Saul were sent away to their work by the Church, after the laying on of hands (Acts xiii. 3).

I have compared our General Synod to the New Zealand Parliament. Not, however, that the idea of the Synod was suggested by our own or any other State legislative body. Mr. Green, in his "History of the English People," says "the Councils gathered by Theodore (Archbishop of Canterbury in the seventh century) were the first of the national gatherings for general legislation. ... It was the ecclesiastical Synods which by their example led the way to our National Parliaments, as it was the canons enacted in such Synods which led the way to a National system of law."

Theodore's first English Provincial Council was held at Hertford in the year 673. At this Council there were only [335/336] four Suffragan Bishops present--fewer than our own who assembled at Christchurch in April last, in obedience to the summons of our Primate, the Bishop of Christchurch. [A fifth was represented by delegates.] Of the matters considered at the Council of Hertford, the first was--the right day of the month for keeping Easter; the second was--the necessity of Bishops limiting their ministrations to their own dioceses; the fifth was--the forbidding of clergymen to leave their own Bishop and roam about the country at pleasure, and of Bishops to receive such rovers without letters commendatory from their former Bishop; the ninth was--the duty of the Church to increase the number of Bishops in proportion to the increase in the numbers of the faithful.

It is interesting to note that some of these same matters were considered by the Council of Bishops of the Anglican Communion held at Lambeth in 1878. That Council--the Lambeth Conference, as it was called--was not, however, like one of the ancient Provincial Councils, nor like the Provincial Synod of New Zealand. The Lambeth Conference had no legislative authority. It could not make laws for any English diocese, and of course could not do so for any diocese in New Zealand.

The ancient rule of the Church in such matters was that each Province should legislate for itself. The Nicene Canon (A.D. 325) ordered ecclesiastical causes to be terminated in the respective Provincial Synods. [Wright's "Early English Church," p. 285.] Accordingly, we read that in the seventh century the English dioceses had a strong aversion to what they called "outlandish" authority, in reference to a proposed appeal to the Bishop of Rome, and they were even scornfully incredulous as to any practical exercise of such authority. [Ibid., p. 287.]

The freedom of speech enjoyed in the ancient Councils and Synods was a chief means of security to the Church against errors of doctrine and practice. Whenever and wherever this [336/337] freedom has been suppressed, Christian truth has become obscured, if not corrupted, and Christian living has deteriorated. Much of the controversy and dissension that have troubled the Church in England during the last forty years might, we may well believe, have been avoided had the Synods of the Church been regularly held, as in the days of Theodore.

The Convocations of Canterbury and York are poor substitutes for the ancient Synods of the Church of England. But even Convocation did not meet for a period of 130 years from the beginning of the eighteenth century. The result was what might have been anticipated. It was during that period of ecclesiastical silence, enforced by the State, that John Wesley and other ardent spirits felt constrained to be a law unto themselves, and to take action, which has, in some respects, had the very opposite effect of that which they contemplated. Let this material fact never be forgotten, when the irregular conduct of men like the Wesleys is denounced, and declared to be incompatible with their professed love for, and loyalty to, the Church of England.

Our New Zealand Church is, then, a Province of the Church Catholic; and, as the Bishops of Africa, in the time of the great Augustine, declined to acknowledge a transmarine sentence pronounced by Rome, in regard to cases which had arisen in Africa, so our Church in these islands is independent of external authority. [Bright's "Early English Church," p. 285.] And here I would, in passing, remind you that the divisions of Churches by any other than their local and national designations is an idea alien to the earliest age of the Gospel. [Dean Stanley.] We reverently yield to his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury the primacy among the Bishops of our Communion; but in no Bishop or Church do we acknowledge any supremacy. Nothing which befalls our much-loved and venerated Mother--the Church of England--can in the end be indifferent to the Church of New Zealand; but we might even, in some [337/338] circumstances imaginable, decline to be drawn into her wake, or to move around her as one of her minor satellites. [As Archbishop Trench said of the Irish Church.]

Such, then, is the status of our General Synod, which held its first session at Wellington, in 1859, under the presidency of Dr. George Augustus Selwyn, the illustrious Bishop of New Zealand.

The Synod is composed of three orders--Bishops, Clergy, and Lay Representatives. All the Bishops have seats in the Synod ex officio, and they are seven in number, viz. the Bishops of the six dioceses of New Zealand, and the Missionary Bishop of Melanesia. The Clergy of the Synod, being three in number for each diocese, are elected for a period of three years by the clergy of the several dioceses; and the Lay Representatives, being four in number for each diocese, are elected by the laity for the same time. The General Synod meets ordinarily olny once in three years, its sessions being held at the Sees of the several Bishops in turn. The next session is to be held at Napier, the See or seat of the Bishop of Waiapu; and in 1886 the Synod should again meet in Auckland. The President of the Synod is elected by the Synod once for all from the Bishops of the Province; and the consent of a majority of each order of the Synod is necessary to give any of its acts the force of law.

The faithful Laity of the New Zealand Church seemed to me to be well represented by the Lay members of the Synod that sat at Christchurch; the representatives being taken from the professional, commercial, and land-owning sections of the people. There were among its members an ex-judge, a member of the Legislative Council, three ex-members of the House of Representatives, several men of reputation in the commercial world, several owners of extensive landed estates, and other men of private fortune.

2. Such being the composition of the Synod, you will not be surprised to hear that the legislation sanctioned by its three [338/339] orders was of a practical kind, and was characterised by caution and moderation. Of this legislation the most important act was the simplifying of the method by which Churchmen may acquire all the rights of parishioners, and of electors of Synodsmen and Lay Representatives. Henceforth any man of the age of twenty-one years or upwards who signs his name in the Churchwardens' Book of his parish or parochial district in due time, will be entitled to every privilege of a Lay member of our Church. Every person in the colony who has been received into the Church by baptism is a member of the Church, until he or she has been expelled from it by lawful authority, just as every person born and resident in the colony is a British subject, until made an outlaw in the manner prescribed by the law of the land; but, as in the State, so in the Church, a man does not possess all the privileges which are his potentially until he has registered his name as one claiming the right to exercise those privileges.

In connection with this matter, I will mention an instance of the caution of the General Synod, and of its determination that its provisions relating to office-bearers shall be comprehensive and not exclusive. The Statutes lay down that certain offices in the Church shall be held by communicants only; and it has been thought advisable by many of our people that the Synod should define the term "communicant." The Synod would not, however, consent to any definition being at present inserted in the Statutes, lest it should prove a hindrance rather than a help to the work of the Church. One of the rubrics at the end of the Communion Office in our Prayer-book directs that "every parishioner shall communicate at the least three times in the year, of which Easter is to be one." No Churchman, therefore, need be in doubt as to the rule of the Church on this subject; and it is not likely that any body of parishioners would willingly elect to an office of responsibility in the Church any man who wilfully diregarded this rule. Still, the Synod wisely declined to embody this rule in a definition of the word [339/340] "communicant." It was felt by many that, in our circumstances, it might often be impossible, to say the least, for a man to receive the Holy Communion on Easter Day. As a matter of fact we know that in this diocese it is impossible to do so, in the case of hundreds, if not thousands, of our people living many miles from the centres of population not to say in districts in which--to the shame of the diocese--the Sacraments are scarcely ever administered by clergy of our Church. The General Synod, however, went even further than this. It not only abstained from defining the word "communicant," but declined to order that none should be elected to offices in the Church but those who had signed a declaration that they were communicants. Considering the different senses in which that word is used by Church-people, it was felt that the proposed declaration might prove a stumbling-block to many tender consciences, and so would deprive our parishes and Synods of the services of some of those best qualified for office in practice and in deliberation. So much for the charity and the wisdom displayed in the recent legislation of the Synod.

I must not omit to mention also the nature and the amount of the business done during the recent Session, which lasted from April 14 to May 4. The Synod met at four o'clock in the afternoon and sat until late, several times until near midnight, with a short interval at six o'clock for refreshment. But the many hours thus given to deliberation in Synod are no adequate measure of the work accomplished by the members; inasmuch as most of it was done by the Special Committees, which sat day after day from ten o'clock until one. Of this work the Auckland members took their full share.

The most important Committee of the session, and the one whose labours were the most arduous, was that charged with the examination of the Reports of the Trustees of Church property, and with the consideration of the many recommendations and memorials relating to that property, presented to the Synod by the Diocesan Synods of the Province. Extreme [340/341] caution is shown, and rightly shown, by the Synod in sanctioning the sale or the exchange of Church estates, for however good a purpose, and with whatever prospect of gain such sale or purchase is recommended. In this matter, the principle on which the Synod acts is as follows:--When land has been purchased with trust money, and when the Church has no special use to make of the particular estate and can enlarge her means of usefulness by realising the value of the same, the Synod commonly assents to a Diocesan memorial--praying that a property may be sold; as in the case of the memorial of our own Synod, that what is known as the "Wyndham Street Property" might be sold. But in cases where land has been given or bequeathed to the Church, for any religious, charitable, or educational purpose, the Synod regards the matter very differently; as, for instance, when our Diocesan Synod endorsed the recommendation of the Melanesian Trustees, some years ago, that certain lands at Tamaki should be sold, with the view of increasing the revenue of the Mission. Under no circumstances will the Synod part with property, little or much, that has been given or bequeathed to the Church with the intention, on the part of the donor, that it should remain Church property for ever, be the purposes of the benefaction special or general. The work of the Trusts Committee of the General Synod was greatly expedited by the secretarial genius of Mr. Rice, who was impelled, by his well-known love of being useful, to sacrifice the little leisure he might have enjoyed, and which he so greatly needed and so well deserved, to the benefit of the Province in general, and of this diocese in particular.

Of the other many matters to which the Synod devoted much time and thought, I can now only name some, in the few minutes that remain to me. These were--proposed adaptations of the Burial Service; the drawing up by the Bishops of special prayers; the constitution and work of Theological Colleges; the compiling of a Book of Canons; religious education; the Diaconate and Lay ministrations; the government [341/342] of S. John's College; the incorporation of Boards of Trustees; and the Temperance movement.

Such being the variety and extent of the business which the Synod had to accomplish, you will not be surprised to hear that two of the most important offices in connection with the Synod were those of the clerical and lay Secretaries. Fortunately for the Synod, two of the most competent of our own good men of business were available for these offices, viz. the Rev. C. M. Nelson and Mr. Upton. It is unnecessary to say to an Auckland Church meeting anything in praise of the method, the painstaking, the punctuality, and the precision of these gentlemen, in the discharge of Church business for which they accept responsibility. There is one other officer of the Synod, whom I will venture here to name--the President, the Most Rev. the Primate of New Zealand, the beloved and venerated Bishop of Christchurch. As was said by the present Premier of England of the present Speaker of the House of Commons, I may say of the Primate, namely, that he conducted the business of the Synod "with dignity, courtesy, and impartiality." In every relation of life his Lordship is a man of whom the Church may well be proud, and for whose example the colony may be thankful. His eldest son was one of the chief ornaments, and most useful members, of the Synod; and a son-in-law was amongst those who could have least been spared from its deliberations. In the Primate indeed is seen an exemplification of the Psalmist's words--"Keep innocency, and take heed unto the thing which is right, for that shall bring a man peace at the last." "Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel."

And, lastly, I will tell you, between ourselves, what was the thought uppermost in my mind when I went on board the steamer at Lyttelton, to return to my work in Auckland. Before going to the Synod, I had heard much of the rich endowments of the diocese of Christchurch; of the beauty and substantial nature of the Church buildings; of the high [342/343] character of their worship--devotionally and aesthetically; of the sound and wide-spread Church feeling to be met with throughout the diocese. I am thankful to say that I had not been misinformed on these points; but I am also thankful to say that I did not feel humiliated--by any apparent contrast between the condition of Church work in our own diocese and what has been accomplished in the Plains of Canterbury. With scarcely any endowments for our town parishes, and with none for the country districts--excepting such as the Maori congregations have raised for their own Native pastors, we have as many clergy in this diocese as they have in wealthy Christchurch. Of our own clergy in the enjoyment of health, there is not one who is not working faithfully in the charge to which he has been appointed; and the work of the clergy in all parts of the diocese is cordially and ably seconded by the co-operation of the faithful laity. This, then, was my thought on returning home: "Christchurch is blessed in its clergy and people, in its resources--spiritual and material: it would, indeed, be pleasant to be Bishop of Christchurch--if I were not Bishop of Auckland." With our unlimited opportunities of usefulness; with a loyal staff of clergy; with a promising band of candidates for Holy Orders; with a willing people, and many personal friends--tried, trusted, and loved; and with an almost perfect climate to work in, I may indeed say, "The lot is fallen unto me in fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage."

Project Canterbury