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Colonial Church Histories: New Zealand

Containing the Dioceses of Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson, Waiapu, Wellington, and Melanesia.

By Henry Jacobs

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1887.

Part II. The Period of Organisation.


Conference summoned--How composed--Analysis of Report with Comments--Arrangements for Meeting of First General Synod--Preamble and Fundamental Provisions.

There was now no further reason for delay; everything was now ripe for the actual framing and enactment of the 'Constitution. Accordingly, as soon as the Bishop of Christchurch had had time to make his first arrangements in his new diocese, the Bishop of New Zealand summoned a conference of bishops, clergy, and laity to meet, at Auckland for the purpose of framing a Church Constitution, by harmonising the results shown in the tabular statement with its appended signatures. On the 14th 4th May, 1857, the conference met at St. Stephen's Chapel, Taurarua, near Bishopscourt, and close to the residence of Sir William Martin. The body consisted of the two bishops, eight clergy, and seven laity, the clerical and lay members having been selected, as far as practicable, on a representative basis. It would have been almost impossible at that time, considering the difficulty and cost of travelling, and the absorbing nature of the occupations of the great majority of the early colonists, to have got together, in fact, a more fairly representative body of men. The missionary clergy, as was fitting, were thoroughly well represented; no [224/225] less than five out of the eight clergymen present had come to the country as agents of the C.M.S., namely, the brothers Williams, Henry and William, Archdeacons Brown and Hadfield, and the Rev. G. A. Kissling. Mr. Kissling, afterwards archdeacon, was at that time incumbent of St. Mary's Parnell, Auckland; the other four just mentioned were the archdeacons of the four missionary districts, into which the north island was divided. Of the remaining three clergymen, Archdeacon Abraham represented Auckland, the Rev. James Wilson, Canterbury, and the Ven. R. B. Paul, Nelson and Wellington as well as Canterbury. Of the laymen who took part in this memorable Conference, Mr. Swainston was eminent as a lawyer; Mr. H. J. Tancred and Dr. Prendergast as well-read, thoughtful, and cultured gentlemen; Sir Edward Stafford as a statesman of no mean repute; Sir Frederic Whitaker as both lawyer and statesman; Colonel Haultain as a legislator and man of business; Mr. Thomas Hurst, of New Plymouth, as an honest, straightforward, earnest, and sensible layman, who had specially strong views on the necessity of applying discipline to the lay members of the Church. Having first settled the basis and the outline of the Constitution, the Conference appointed a Select Committee of three, namely, the Bishop of New Zealand, the Ven. Archdeacon Hadfield, and the Rev. James Wilson, "to prepare a draft report showing the grounds on which the Conference has been led to the conclusion, that it is expedient to organise the members of the Church of England for [225/226] the purpose of self-government, as a branch of such Church, and the reasons which have influenced the Conference in agreeing to the resolutions which have been passed with a view to the object." The Select Committee presented their report on June 5th, when it was adopted and ordered to be printed. This is an important document, but of too great length to be printed in full in this work. We can only notice briefly the subjects it treats of under the following headings:--I. Under the head of Retrospect of Former Proceedings, a brief summary is given of the steps which had led up to the meeting of the Conference, beginning from the "first consideration of the subject of Church Organisation in New Zealand at a meeting of the bishop and clergy of the diocese held at St. John's College, in September, 1847." The history of the tabular statement is summed up in these words:--"The result of this enquiry was the almost unanimous agreement of the members of the Church who subscribed their names to this document in two fundamental principles the one relating to the constitution of the Synod, and the other to its standard of doctrine. Then, after enlarging somewhat upon these, the report says, "These two principles of Doctrine and Constitution are therefore embodied in the Deed of Constitution as fundamental and unalterable."

II. Under the second heading, viz., Proposed Mode of Operation, the report enlarges on the reasons for departing from the original intention, expressed in the tabular statement, of seeking powers of self-government from the Crown or the Imperial Parliament, and for adopting in preference the basis of [226/227] mutual compact. It then proceeds to explain the reasons for introducing among the fundamental provisions of the Constitution "some qualifying clauses, to provide for cases which" (the report says) "may occur in the course of future ages, but which all the members of the Church in New Zealand will concur in deprecating." The contingencies referred to were the "separation of the colony of New Zealand from the mother country," and "a separation of the Church from the State in England and Ireland." The report then states and explains the course proposed with reference to discipline and the exercise of judicial functions. And then follow two paragraphs of so much interest and importance, that it seems desirable to quote them in full. A simple perusal of them will elucidate their significance better than any attempt at explanation could do. They are specially worthy to be borne in mind by the student of the history of the New Zealand Church, as foreshadowing controversies which, as will be seen in the next division of this work, well nigh led to serious results. "14. The peculiar circumstances of New Zealand have pointed out the expediency of thus uniting several dioceses in one system of administration, by voluntary compact, and not as an ecclesiastical province established by authority. Among other advantages of this plan may be mentioned the uniformity of principle in the administration of patronage and discipline, especially as the property of the Church in most of the English settlements is held in trust by the Bishop of New Zealand, and is entirely free from the encumbrance of previous legislation and private trusts. A large [227/228] portion of this property has been acquired for the general benefit of the whole of New Zealand. 15. If, however, the bishop, clergy, and laity of any diocese in New Zealand should prefer to remain separate, nothing in this Constitution will interfere to prevent them from so doing. Neither is it intended in any case that the independent rights of such members of the Church as may withhold their assent shall be interfered with or controlled by those who are thus voluntarily associated. But this conference desires to state most distinctly that it is not intended that any trustee holding Church property, which, for any reason, cannot be surrendered to the General Synod, should therefore be debarred from giving his assent to this Constitution, or from taking part in the administration of its affairs. Though property is made, of necessity, the legal basis of operation, the aims and purposes of the General Synod are of a far higher kind." Nothing could well be wiser or more Christian-like than the tolerant and conciliatory spirit in which these sentences are conceived. It scarcely needs to be said that the reference is, partly, to the diocese of Christchurch, and the strictly diocesan character of its trusts, as obviously presenting an element of difficulty and possibly of mutual jealousy; and, partly also, to a considerable body of persons throughout the country, who were fearful lest the largeness of their rights as Churchmen should be cramped, or interfered with, by a system which seemed to rest their privileges upon a narrow and wholly inadequate property basis. Even with that softening and abatement which were conveyed by [228/229] these clauses of the report, printed as they were originally in parallel columns with the clauses of the Constitution itself, we may venture perhaps to say, that the property basis was made more prominent than it need have been; and it is an exceedingly happy circumstance that, as time has gone on, and the essential character of the Constitution has been more and more developed in the working of it, the property feature has shrunk into less and less dimensions, so as to become of altogether secondary importance.

III. The title of the third head of the report is Powers of General and Diocesan Synods. It will be seen, in a subsequent chapter, that in the revision of the Constitution in 1865, an important change was made in the Constitution, with respect to the relative position of Diocesan Synods and the General Synod. In the Constitution of 1857, instead of the diocese being regarded as the unit of the ecclesiastical system, and the Diocesan Synod as having an original and inherently independent existence, prior in theory, at least, to that of the General Synod, its functions and its very existence were regarded as being derived from the General Synod. At the same time it was intended to give the derived and inferior body large powers by way of delegation. The views and purposes contemplated by the Conference of 1857 are thus clearly explained under this head of the report:--"17. These ample powers are reserved to the General Synod for the prevention and correction of abuses; but are intended to be delegated, as the case may require, to diocesan, archdeaconry, and parochial boards; to trustees of Church property of every kind; to standing [229/230] tribunals and special commissions; in short, to any kind of subordinate agency which may be found necessary to give efficiency to every department of the work of the Church. It may be presumed that, as a general rule, the Synod will delegate the management of every part of the trust estate to persons resident on the spot. The power of revocation reserved to itself will be a sufficient check upon any tendency to neglect or malversation of trust. In such cases, instead of applying to the law courts for redress, the Synod will simply appoint new trustees." Of no little interest and importance also is the last paragraph under this heading, having reference to the appointment to vacant sees: "One of the most important duties of the Diocesan Synod will be to recommend from time to time to the authorities of Church and State in England, through the General Synod, any clergyman whom they may desire to designate as their bishop. The letter of Mr. Labouchere to the Governor-General of Canada, Sir E. Head, has opened the way to a most satisfactory arrangement; and has already been acted upon in the appointment of the present Bishop of Christchurch, upon the recommendation of tie clergy and laity of the Province of Canterbury. [Footnote: The members of the Canadian Church had petitioned the Home Government for legislative powers to appoint their own bishops. Hence the occasion of Mr. Labouchere's letter. The Government judged it inexpedient to accede to this request, but the Secretary of State proceeds to say:--"Her Majesty's advisers do not the less recognise, in the case of a community like that of Canada, the propriety of consulting the wishes of the members of the Church of England on this head; and they believe that the practical purpose which it is sought to attain may be secured without the obvious inconveniences attendant on direct legislation for it, if they adopt the course of recommending Her Majesty to be guided, as a general rule, in filling up any vacancy which may occur, by such representation as she may receive from the clergy and laity of the diocese duly assembled."]

[231] IV. The next heading is, Course of Future Procedure. Under this head it is noticeable that no attempt is made to impose the Constitution upon the Church by authority; it is simply offered for its at acceptance. At the same time a confident hope is expressed that it will be accepted, and that, "after the great care which has been bestowed in the preparation of that instrument, it will be found generally satisfactory to the members of the Church, and that it will not be necessary to submit it again to public discussion." As a further ground for entertaining this hope, it is added, "It will be seen that full power is given to the Synod to alter everything, except the two fundamental points of Doctrine and Constitution." Then it is stated that a Standing Committee had been appointed, consisting of the Rev. G. A. Kissling, the Hon. Edward Stafford, the Hon. F. Whitaker, and the Hon. W. Swainson, whose business it should be "to apply to the colonial legislature for an Act for the following purposes:--

a. To enable the Bishop of New Zealand to resign into the hands of trustees to be appointed by the General Synod, certain Trust properties now vested in him. b. To declare that trustees may hold and [231/232] administer property in behalf of the branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand. c. Comprising a copy of the Deed of Constitution in the form of a schedule annexed to the Act." They were further authorised "to exercise a discretion whether any alterations proposed to be made in the Bill by the Colonial Legislature shall be accepted or not." It is further intimated that the Bishop of New Zealand "has been authorised by the Conference to take all the necessary steps for assembling the first General Synod, as soon as it conveniently may be done after the passing of the proposed Act by the General Assembly." Very careful and minute arrangements, even to the mode of appointment of returning officers, and the form of voting paper, were made by the Conference for the election of clerical and lay representatives to this first Synod. The qualifications for constituents and representatives respectively, were evidently very thoughtfully considered. The General Synod, once assembled, would have power, under the Constitution, to fix such standards; but it could not possibly assemble without some qualification, at least of a provisional nature, being fixed. The results arrived at in the tabular statement had shown the Churchmen of all the settlements to lie agreed in requiring that representatives should be communicants. This qualification was accordingly adopted by the Conference for the constitution of the first Synod, and on this point the report makes the following statement: "The qualification required for lay representatives is the same as that which has been sanctioned by law in the [232/233] diocese of Victoria, and, by voluntary compact, in the diocese of Adelaide, viz., that the lay representatives shall be communicants of the Church of England."

But, as regards the electors, at this initiation of the system, it was thought good to open the door of admission as widely as possible; this was accordingly the resolution adopted: "Subject to such limitations as may from time to time be prescribed by the moral Synod, every man of the age of twenty-one years and upwards, who shall sign a declaration that he is desirous of uniting himself with the members of this branch of the Church of England, under the provisions of this Constitution, shall, if duly registered for that purpose, be entitled to vote at the election of a lay representative for the General Synod."

V. Place of Meeting and Business. The report, under this last heading, announced that the Conference had decided that the first General Synod should be held at Wellington, and that its duties would be, amongst others, to receive, and appoint trustees for all trust properties surrendered to the Synod. 2. To provide for the due delegation of the General Synod's powers to Diocesan Synods, to Archdeaconry Boards, and to various commissions and tribunals. 3. To lay down rules for the appointment and removal of office-bearers, clerical and lay. 4. To define the powers and duties of churchwardens and other church officers. 5. To provide for the formation and subdivision of parishes. 6. To make regulations for the financial system of the Church.

Finally, on June 13th, 1857--a day much to be remembered in the annals of the Church of New Zealand--[233/234] the Conference put forth the Constitution itself. The limits of this work preclude the insertion of it in full; but the general outline of its contents will have been sufficiently indicated in the foregoing pages. [Footnote: The Constitution, with schedule appended, will be found at full length in the Rev. H. W. Tucker's "Life and Episcopate of G. A. Selwyn, D.D.," vol. ii. p. 98.] This work, however, would be sadly imperfect were we to omit the preamble and fundamental provisions. They are as follows:


The Constitution for associating together, as a branch of the united Church of England and Ireland, the members of the said Church in the colony of New Zealand, agreed to at a general conference of bishops, clergy, and laity, assembled at Auckland, on the thirteenth day of June, in the year of our Lord, 1857

IN THE NAME OF GOD--AMEN. Whereas it is desirable that the members of the United Church of England and Ireland, in the colony of New Zealand, should be associated together as a branch of the said United Church, and that a representative body should be constituted for the government of the same: And whereas, until due provision shall be made in that behalf by competent authority, it is desirable that the members of the United Church of England and Ireland, should, so far as they lawfully may, associate themselves together by voluntary compact, as a branch of the said United Church for the [24/235] ordering the affairs, the management of the property, the promotion of the discipline of the members hereof, and for the inculcation and maintenance of sound doctrine and true religion throughout the colony, to the glory of Almighty God, and the edification and increase of the Church of Christ: And, whereas, the bishops and certain of the clergy and laity representing a numerous body of the members of the said United Church, in the colony of New Zealand, have met in Conference to determine the fundamental principles on which the members of such branch of the said Church shall be thus associated together, and for the purpose of deciding on the Constitution, and defining the powers and jurisdiction of the governing body of such branch of the said Church, and of prescribing the terms and conditions on which the property of such branch of the said Church shall be held and administered:

Now, therefore, the said bishops, clergy, and laity, in conference assembled, do solemnly declare and establish, as follows:--


1. This branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand doth hold and maintain the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in His Holy Word, and as the United Church of England and Ireland hath received and explained the same in the Book of Common Prayer, in the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons, and in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. And the [235/236] General Synod hereinafter constituted for the government of this branch of the said Church shall also hold and maintain the said doctrine and sacraments of Christ, and shall have no power to make any alteration in the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures or in the above-named formularies of the Church.

2. Provided that nothing herein contained shall prevent the General Synod from accepting any alteration in the above-named formularies, and version of the Bible, as may from time to time be adopted by the United Church of England and Ireland with the consent of the Crown and of Convocation.

3. Provided also that in case a Licence be granted by the Crown to this branch of the Church of England to frame new and modify existing rules (not affecting doctrine) with the view of meeting the peculiar circumstances of this colony and native people, it shall be lawful for this branch of the said Church to avail itself of that liberty.

4. And whereas opinions have been expressed by eminent legal authorities in England that the property of the Church in New Zealand might be placed in jeopardy, unless provision were made for the contingency of a separation of New Zealand from the mother country, and for that of an alteration in the existing relations between Church and State: it is hereby further declared that, in the event of a separation of the cony of New Zealand from the mother country, or of a separation of the Church from the State in England and Ireland, the General Synod shall have full power to make such alterations in the articles, services, and ceremonies of this branch of [236/237] the united Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand as its altered circumstances may require, or to make such alterations as it may think fit in the Authorised Version of the Bible.

And the said bishops, clergy, and laity do further declare and establish as follows:--

5. There shall be a representative governing body for the management of the affairs of the Church, to be called the General Synod of the Branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in the Colony of New Zealand, which shall consist of three distinct orders, viz., the bishops, the clergy, and the laity, the consent of all of which orders shall be necessary to all acts binding upon the Synod, and upon all persons recognising its authority.

6. The above provisions shall be deemed fundamental, and it shall not be within the power of the General Synod, or of any Diocesan Synod, to alter, revoke, add to, or diminish any of the same.

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