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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 III. The Period of Subsequent Growth and Development.


First General Synod convened--New Sees of Wellington, Nelson, and Waiapu--Appointments to them--Members of Synod, Clerical and Lay--Opening of Synod--Address--Business--Tribunals Bill--Nominators' Statute--First Standing commission--Maori Liberality--Theoretical Question--Remarks.

In accordance with the resolution of the Conference the Bishop of New Zealand convened the first General Synod to meet at Wellington on March 8th, 1859. In July, 1858, he had procured the enactment by the General Assembly of the "Bishop of New Zealand's Trusts Act, 1858," authorising him to convey lands held in trust by him to trustees to be appointed by the General Synod. He had also, in the interval between the Conference and the first Synod, been actively and zealously engaged in negotiations which had been commenced somewhat earlier for the formation of no less than three new bishoprics; and these negotiations, under the good Providence of [238/239] God, had been crowned with such complete success that, at the opening of the session, three bishops, instead of two, were present, the third being Bishop Hobhouse of Nelson; a fourth, Bishop Abraham, who had gone to England for consecration to the see of Wellington, arrived and took his seat before the end of the month of March; and, lastly, these four consecrated the first bishop of Waiapu, who had up to this day sat among the clerical members, but, for the last two days of the session, took his seat on the episcopal bench. A brief account of the formation of these new sees, and the appointments to them, must be given before we proceed to relate the history of this first General Synod.

As early as February 27th, 1857, Bishop Selwyn had written thus, to the Rev. Ernest Hawkins, the well-known secretary of the S.P.G.:--"The natural effect of the creation of the Bishopric of Christchurch has been to make our other provinces desirous of the same benefit. I proposed at first that Wellington and Nelson should be united in one diocese, but Nelson strongly objected to this, and I think with good reason, as the lion's share of the benefit would certainly remain with Wellington, and it is very probable that Nelson would not have seen more of the new bishop than they do of me; for I seldom fail of going there every year. Church meetings have been held in both places, and resolutions have been cordially adopted, and forwarded to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the sanction of the Governor of New Zealand. I therefore beg for the support and [239/240] consent of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to the proposed arrangements, which, I am sure, under the Divine Blessing, will have the effect of building up the Church of England in this country on a sure foundation of ecclesiastical polity." With reference to the endowment of the two sees, the following information has been kindly furnished to the writer by the Right Rev. Edmund Hobhouse, the first bishop of one of them, who is now living at Wells in Somersetshire:--"Nelson was a twin-birth with Wellington: there is nothing to be said of the one, that does not apply to the other. Civilly, the origin of the two settlements was the same--creations of the New Zealand Company. Out of that company's policy, setting apart from land sales funds to be met, pound for pound, by religious bodies for their ecclesiastical endowment, grew the endowment fund of the two future dioceses, the S.P.G. giving in each case £5,000 to meet the company's £5,000. In each case half the endowment fund, viz., £5,000, was set apart in 1858, for the sustenance of a bishop--then equal to £500 a year." A safe, though moderate, endowment having been thus provided for the twin sees, the Churchmen of Wellington and Nelson willingly accepted also, as those of Canterbury had done, the recommendation of Bishop Selwyn with regard to the persons whose appointment to be occupants of those sees respectively they should petition the Crown to sanction. Two Etonians, his personal friends of many years, were selected by him, the Ven. Charles Abraham, Archdeacon of Waitemata, for Wellington; and for Nelson the Rev. Edmund [240/241] Hobhouse, Fellow of Merton, and for many years Vicar of St. Peter's in the East, Oxford, widely known and highly esteemed by Oxford men of that day for his piety and devoted self-sacrifice of all that he was, and all that he had, to God and His Church.

With regard to the third new see, that of Waiapu, which was, in the first instance, almost exclusively a missionary bishopric, it was necessary to secure the consent, not only of the Crown and the Archbishop of Canterbury, but also, in place of clerical and lay members of the Church in the colony, of the authorities of the C.M.S. There could be no hesitation on the part of the Bishop of New Zealand as to the person whom he should recommend for this office, nor could he feel any doubt as to the readiness of the Society to concur in the recommendation. In his address at the opening of the Synod, he says, "I hope soon to receive a commission to consecrate to the office of a bishop one whose age and experience has often made me feel ashamed that I should have been preferred before him, and to whom I have long wished to be allowed to make this reparation by dividing with him the duties and responsibilities of my office." The missionary clergyman thus highly spoken of was, as our readers are prepared to hear, Archdeacon William Williams; and, the expected commission having arrived from England very shortly after these words were spoken, he was consecrated in St. Paul's Church, Wellington, on Sunday, April 3rd, by the Metropolitan, assisted by the Bishops of Christchurch, Nelson, and Wellington. Bishop [241/242] Selwyn, writing to one of his sons in England, says, "The Synod was closed most appropriately by the consecration of Bishop Williams It was a most delightful day, and one that I little expected to see when I first came to New Zealand. All seemed to be so thoroughly happy and satisfied with the appointment of the new bishops, as much as if each settlement had chosen its own bishop from personal knowledge; and the act of the younger bishops in consecrating one so long and so much respected in New Zealand as Bishop Williams, was felt to be most appropriate, lest we should seem to have come in to reap the harvest which another had sown." And in another letter to a friend in England, written on the 13th April, the bishop says, "We are most grateful to the Giver of all good. I shall go back to Auckland light in heart, being now enabled to leave these rising provinces to the care of their own bishops."

The income of the see during the earlier years of the episcopate of Bishop Williams, consisted only of the sum of £450 per annum, paid by the C.M.S. The amount has since been considerably increased by an endowment fund raised by subscription.

As to the name of the see, Waiapu is a river which gives its name to a district near the East Cape. From the year 1840 to the time of the Hauhau outbreak in 1864, Bishop Williams resided at Turanga, or Poverty Bay; since that time the head-quarters of the bishop have been at Napier, where St. John's, the Cathedral Church of the diocese, is situated.

But to proceed now with the history of the first [242/243] General Synod. It met on the 8th March, 1859, in the Legislative Council Chambers, Wellington. There were present, in the course of the session, five bishops, ten clergymen, and thirteen laymen. Of the clergy, four namely, Archdeacons Brown and Kissling, the Rev. R. Burrows, and the Rev. R. Taylor (author of "Te Ika a Maui"), belonged to the old missionary body; a fifth, the Rev. Samuel Williams, second son of Archdeacon Henry Williams, for many years of the Native School at Te Aute, near Napier, was engaged in the native work, but was ordained by Bishop Selwyn; the remaining five ministered to English parishes; so that the two divisions of Church work, native and English, were equally represented. Of the five, the Rev. J. F. Lloyd, whom we have mentioned before, represented the Auckland clergy; the Rev. J. C. Bagshaw, of Brasenose College, Oxford (who came from the diocese of Adelaide to New Zealand, and was afterwards incumbent of Avonside in the diocese of Christchurch), at that time was one of the Nelson clergy, whom he represented; the Rev. Samuel Poole, of Pembroke College, Oxford, came from the same diocese, being then, as he is still, incumbent of Motueka; the Rev. John Raven, incumbent of Woodend, and the Rev. Charles Alabaster, assistant curate of Christchurch, represented the Canterbury clergy. The last-mentioned, who was a graduate of Lincoln College, Oxford, was a young man of strikingly interesting character and appearance. With an acute and logical mind he combined deep piety, intense earnestness, and fervent eloquence. [243/244] He had come out from England but a few months before, stricken with consumption, believing himself to be, and having all the appearance of being, one marked for premature death. Owing to the suitableness of the climate for invalids of consumptive tendency, and to his indomitable energy, he was able to labour indefatigably, as assistant curate of Christchurch, for three or four years, after which he lingered for two more, still doing, with such might as he had, what his hand found to do, until God released him early in the year 1865. He took an active and prominent part in the Synod of 1859, and, being a man of extremely original and independent mind, was often found in opposition to the President, by whom notwithstanding, he was held in high respect and esteem. Among the thirteen laymen there was a considerable proportion of very able men, among whom were Captain (now Colonel) Haultain, who was Chairman of Committees, Mr. (now Sir John) Hall, some time Premier of New Zealand, Mr. St. Hill, and Mr. Swainson. Four of the bishops, two of the clergy, and three of the laymen had been members of the Conference of 1857--enough to carry on unbroken the continuity of the synodal tradition.

It might naturally have been expected that the Bishop of New Zealand would have taken the chair ab initio, as being, by virtue of his office as Metropolitan, President by right. He did not do so, and his adoption of a different course was afterwards much criticised. Presumably, it was with the deliberate purpose of avoiding any appearance of [244/245] exertion of authority, and because it seemed more in accordance with the principle of voluntary compact, that the following course was adopted. Immediately on the assembling of the body--we quote from the minutes--"The Bishop of New Zealand read resolutions of Conference, empowering him to convene the first General Synod at Wellington, and declared the Synod duly constituted. Whereupon it was moved by the Bishop of Christchurch, and seconded by Mr. Swainson, 'That the Bishop of New Zealand be requested to take the chair as President of the first General Synod.' The members of the Synod then proceeded to St. Paul's Church for the celebration of the Holy Communion." Then, being re-assembled in their chamber, "The President opened proceedings by reading the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and prayer," and then proceeded to deliver his opening address.

Nothing could be more appropriate than this address, nothing more instructive or more impressive, or, at the same time, more practical. It is of far too great length to be reproduced in these pages; we must restrict ourselves to a few passages of lasting interest and importance. [Footnote: It is printed at length in Tucker's "Life and Episcopate," &c., vol. ii. p. 108.] It opens with the following brief historical retrospect, every line of which is alive with interest:--"The present meeting, my dear brethren, is the fulfilment of hopes which have been cherished by many of us during a period of fifteen years. In the year 1844, the first Synod of the [245/246] diocese of New Zealand was held at the Waimate; but, in the uncertainty which prevailed on the subject of Church government in the colonies, many high authorities in England censured our proceedings as illegal. Being well aware that this opinion was unfounded, I was not deterred from convening a second Synod at St. John's College, Auckland, in the year 1847, at which I read a correspondence between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Gladstone, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, containing a proposal for a Church Constitution, in which the three orders of bishops, clergy, and laity, should be associated on the basis of voluntary compact. The diocesan synods of 1844 and 1847 were exclusively clerical; but, from the time of the meeting of the Synod of 1847, efforts began to he made, and have never since been intermitted, with a view to the admission of lay representatives. The Conference of the six bishops of the province of Australasia, held at Sydney in the year 1850, unanimously recommended a constitution, in which the laity should be associated with the bishops and clergy."

Then after a reference to the efforts made to procure from the British Parliament "a recognition of the right of the colonial bishops to convene synods for the management of their own diocesan affairs," the President proceeded to deal with the question often mooted in the preceding pages, as to "whether the Colonial Legislature ought not to be applied to, to give a constitution to our branch of the Church of England." "This opinion," he remarks, "was strengthened by the fact that the synods in Canada [246/247] and Melbourne seemed to have adopted this course. Comparisons began to be drawn between a voluntary association, such as we have formed, and a Church established by law." Then he proceeds to urge the following cogent arguments against the expediency of this course, especially as regarded New Zealand:--"If we had accepted an Act, investing us with all power over all persons, so they are ministers or members of the Church of England, we must at once have come into collision with the Church Missionary Society, which still retains in its own hands full powers of government over one half of the clergy of the Northern Island: we must have said at once to all those lay members who have not yet joined us, 'You can be no longer members of our Church, unless you accept our constitution and obey our laws.' To recognise the power of the Colonial Legislature to enact a new definition of Church membership, would have been to assume the part to be equal to the whole; for how can one colony of the British Empire settle the question--'What is a member of the Church of England?' The constitution given to us in one session of the General Assembly might be altered or repealed by another; questions of the deepest interest to ourselves, and which ought to be discussed only in the solemn synods of the Church, such as the test of Communion, and the veto of one order on the other two, might become the subjects of political agitation. In short, we should incur all the liabilities of a Church established by law, while at the same time, in the eye of the Colonial Legislature, we should be only as one of [247/248] many denominations, all equal one to another. These," it is added, "and many more reasons of a like kind, induced the Conference which assembled at Auckland in 1857, to concur in founding our Church Constitution on the basis of mutual and voluntary compact." And then how the kindling enthusiasm of the speaker must have communicated itself to his hearers, as he uttered the following glowing sentences:--

"And it is with the deepest thankfulness that I acknowledge the wonderful Providence of God, which has already given to our first meeting so many of the essential characteristics of a synod of the Church. Who would ever have thought that four bishops would have met together here, and that one of our most solemn acts would be the consecration of a fifth; or, that the present body of clergy would represent sixty of their order? It is but five-and-forty years since the first missionary landed in New Zealand, and but twenty since the colony was formed. All this wonderful change has been accomplished within the lifetime of many who are here present. Surely 'this is the finger of God,' and this is the ground of our assurance, that He is with us in our present work; and that He will effectually accomplish what He has so wonderfully begun." Then follows a passage of extreme value, which is calculated to meet feelings, and set at rest misgivings, in connexion with synodical work, which have doubtless often occurred to many, and not least of all to those who aim most at spiritual-mindedness. "There is but one doubt of any importance, which I have [248/249] heard expressed on the subject of Church Constitutions, and that is, that we may be tempted to rely on mere external and material organisation, instead of resting on the one foundation stone of Jesus Christ, and seeking for the quickening influences of His Holy Spirit. But is not this a danger inseparable from our mixed nature in its fallen state? As the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and these are contrary the one to the other, so must everything that is outward and visible endanger the purity and vitality of that which is spiritual The Word of God may be the letter that killeth, instead of the spirit that giveth life; the savour of death unto death, instead of the savour of life unto life. We may have the form of Godliness while we deny the power thereof. The tables of stone may draw away our thoughts from the holy law of God written on the tables of the heart. Prayer, baptism, confirmation, communion, every ordinance that has a form of words, or an outward sign, is liable to the same danger; and even where no form of words is used, the lips may still draw near to God, while the heart is far from Him. If every sacramental sign were removed, formality would still grow up from the dead heart within. The danger, then, which is reared, of trusting to external organisation, rather than to the inward life of the spirit, is not peculiar to our present work, but is the besetting danger attendant upon every religious ordinance, and common to the Church at large, and to all its members. It would be vain, then, to seek for spiritual life by rejecting outward organisation."

[250] The bishop then goes on to point out in forcible language the advantage the Colonial Church enjoys in having, so to say, a fair start, and a course free from abuses, such as those which had grown up in the old country. We are not under the necessity here of "undoing the faulty work of former ages"; it is our business, rather, to watch against the up-growth of "evils which the State in England is now labouring after its own fashion to remedy, but which it is our duty to prevent."

His lordship then proceeded, with much fulness of detail and great clearness, to lay out before the Synod in order the various duties which must engage its attention, concluding with the expression of an earnest prayer, that the whole assembly might be "so blessed with the spirit of counsel as to have a right judgment in all things."

The Synod, having appointed the Rev. R. Burrows and J. C. Bagshaw--a missionary and a parochial clergyman--to be joint secretaries, at once applied itself to the work of legislation on those matters which most urgently needed speedy determination. Select Committees were appointed on successive days, to draft measures to be considered by the whole body on the following subjects Standing Orders for the Conduct of Business. 2. The Permanent Organisation of the General Synod. 3. The Permanent Organisation of Diocesan Synods. 4. The appointment of Pastors to Parishes. 5. The Transfer of Trusts. 6. The formation of Parishes, and the powers and duties of Church officers. 7. A Clergy Pension Fund. 8. The principles on which Church [250/251] Tribunals ought to be constituted. 9. A Fund for Home and Foreign Missions. 10. The Organisation of Archdeaconry and Rural Deanery Boards. Besides the Bills drafted by these Select Committees, the Synod had also before it in the course of the session two measures introduced by Mr. Swainson, namely, I. First. A Bill for organising a Standing Commission, and delegating to it certain of the powers vested in the:round Synod. 2. Secondly. A Bill to provide for the decision of any doubts which might arise in the interpretation of any statute of the general, or any diocesan synod. The Synod held twenty sittings on as many separate days, and was dismissed by the President with the Benediction on the 5th April. The results of its labours were embodied in seven statutes, which were so judiciously conceived and so carefully elaborated, that the first five of the number remain, in the form of canons, substantially unaltered in principle to the present day. These are: 1. Statute for Organising the General Synod. 2. Statute for Organising the I Diocesan Synods. 3. Statute for the Organisation of Archdeaconry and Rural Deanery Boards. 4. Statute for Regulating the Formation of Parishes and Defining the duties of Parish Officers. 5. Statute tor the Appointment of Pastors to Parishes. If the two remaining ones--namely, No. 6. Statute for Delegating certain of the Powers vested in the General Synod; and No. 7. Statute for Deciding Doubts in the Interpretation of Statutes--have been broken up and re-constructed in subsequent sessions, the reason is not that they were less happily conceived, or less carefully drafted--the name of their [251/252] author, Mr. Swainson, is a sufficient warrant for the opposite conclusion--but simply that altered circumstances and further experience necessitated changes. Another Bill was drafted--namely, a Bill for Establishing Diocesan Courts, and Courts of Appeal--and was the subject of much and earnest discussion; but the exceptional difficulty of the problems involved in it forced upon the Synod the necessity of delay, and of longer and more thorough consideration; and the result was the adoption, on the motion of Mr. Swainson, of a series of resolutions, of which the following is the substance:--"That, in the opinion of the Synod, they will be unable, during the present session, to devise and pass into a law a complete and satisfactory measure on the subject of Church Discipline. 2. That the Bill on that subject, now under the consideration of the Synod, be submitted to the Standing Commission for their revision during the recess; that the Standing Commission should suggest such amendments and additions as they may think necessary for rendering it effectual and complete; and that, when so revised and amended, the Standing Commission should take steps for giving publicity to it in the several dioceses. 3. That the Metropolitan of New Zealand be requested to lay the amended bill before the Synod at the next general meeting, for their early consideration. 4. That it shall be competent for any Diocesan Synod to adopt for use within the diocese, until the next General Synod, the amended Bill, as sent to them by the Standing Commission; and, until such measure be adopted, the Synod would suggest to the bishops to take for their [252/253] guidance in the exercise of their authority, as far as practicable, the provisions of the Bill to be submitted by this House to the Standing Commission. 5. That, until some measure of Church discipline shall have been passed by the General Synod, the Synod are of opinion that the Bishop of New Zealand shall not be called upon to convey the trust properties, or any of them, to the trustees appointed by the present Synod." We propose to trace the history of this important measure through the records of the successive sessions, as the course of our history brings us to them.

The Statute (No. 5), for the Appointment of Pastors to Parishes, is the only one of those above recited which seems to require special notice. The origination of this measure is due, in the first instance, to the Bishop of Nelson (the Right Rev. E. Hobhouse) and Mr. John Hall. Its leading principle is embodied in its first and second clauses, as follows:--"1. The trust of selecting a clergyman, and nominating him to the bishop for institution to a vacant cure of souls, shall be vested in nominators chosen annually by the Diocesan Synod, and by the vestry of the parish respectively. 2. A majority of not less than two-thirds of the combined body of nominators shall nominate one, two, or three clergymen to the bishop." The words in italics in the second clause were altered by the third Synod in 1865 into "a clergyman." There were many subordinate provisions, with regard, amongst others, to a delegation of the right of nomination, to exchange of cures, to a limited right of private patronage in exceptional cases, and to a [253/254] right of appeal vested in two-thirds of the combined board of nominators, in the event of the bishop declining to institute the nominee: but the main principle is obviously this, that not only the individual parish, but the diocese at large, as represented by its Synod, should have a voice in the appointment of pastors to parishes. It has ever since been a much-debated question among New Zealand Churchmen whether, under this system, the rights of the bishop are not too much abridged; they are, in point of fact, reduced to a minimum. Many attempts have been made to bring about an alteration in the direction of giving a more effective voice to the bishop; but hitherto without success. It may be mentioned as an interesting circumstance that, when the Irish Church was called upon in 1868, in consequence of its disestablishment, to organise itself as a voluntary Church, its Synod was largely indebted to the Church of New Zealand for many valuable principles and precedents; and in particular, it adopted the main principle of the nominators' statute, providing, however, that the bishop of the diocese should be chairman of the combined board.

We must not omit to record the names of the members of the first Standing Commission, elected by this first General Synod. They were the Right Rev. The Bishop of New Zealand, the Ven. George Adam Kissling, Archdeacon of Waitemata, the Rev. J. F. Lloyd, William Martin, Esq., D.C.L., the Hon. F. Whitaker, Esq., the Hon. Henry John Tancred, Esq., and Captain Haultain.

An incident--or rather two of like character--[254/255] worth noting as illustrating the character of the native, took place in connexion with the session of the Synod. We find it reported in the minutes by special order of the synod, that on the 29th March, "the Rev. S. Williams reported to the Synod that the native congregations of Wainui and Waikanae had collected and sent through him the sum of £6. 0s. 7d. as a mark of their good feeling towards the members of the Synod, and in hope that it might be of use towards defraying the expenses of the present meeting; one of the chiefs at the same time remarking that, although the tatooed faces could not take part in the deliberations of the Synod, they felt a pleasure in expressing their hearty good wishes for its success.'" Again in the minutes of the following day it is recorded that, "the Rev. S. Williams informed the Synod that the natives of Porirua had forwarded through him £5. 16s. 6d. towards the expenses of the General Synod."

Thus, then, under the prudent guidance of its President, the first General Synod of New Zealand proved, under the blessing of God, a great practical success. No time was lost, nor was danger of discord incurred, by the discussion of theoretical questions, as to the nature of the authority by virtue of which the Synod sat, and ordained statutes for the government of the Church. The question was not even put at the commencement of the session--and the omission, we may be sure, was intentional, as, in the retrospect, it will be generally acknowledged to be wise:--"Does the Synod accept the Constitution, as drawn up by the Conference of 1857?" A debate [255/256] on such a question at the outset could hardly have failed to prove unsatisfactory; it might possibly have issued in the utter wreck of what at first was an experiment, though a grand one; the mere discussion would certainly have thrown doubt on the authority of the Constitution, and have given an unpractical character to the proceedings from the beginning. The Synod simply assumed itself, and was assumed by others, to be the natural outcome of the efforts of years to obtain self-government for the Church; and to proceed at once to legislate de facto for the urgent needs of the body it represented, without entertaining any question de jure, was by far the most dignified, as well as the most practical course. That the temper of the members generally was averse to theoretical discussions, is proved by the fact of their having, as a rule, abstained from raising them by making motions of that character; and the sole exception emphatically proved the rule; for, when one such motion was made, the Synod absolutely declined to entertain it. The minute, to which reference is here made, is as follows:--"Pursuant to notice, the Rev. C. Alabaster put the following question to the Synod through the president, 'Whether the Preamble of the Constitution Deed is to be so construed as to imply that the voluntary compact is not only the means by which this Synod has been enabled to meet, and through which it carries out its purposes, but also the source of its authority; by authority being meant its right to the deference of Churchmen in foro conscientiae? Moved by Archdeacon Brown, seconded [256/257] by Mr. Hall:--'That the discussion be postponed sine die.' Agreed to." March 29th, 1859.

There can be no doubt that it has been this practical character, combined with the wise moderation of the bishops, and with a spirit of conservatism, which has uniformly discountenanced rash and unnecessary innovations that has won for the Synods of New Zealand, both general and diocesan, the confidence of Churchmen at large. Mr. Carleton, in many respects a representative layman, himself a member of the General Synod of 1877, expressed the opinion of Churchmen generally, when, in his "Life of Henry Williams" published in that year, [Footnote: Vol. ii. p. 324.] he wrote, "Hitherto the Church Constitution has been a practical success. It is to be hoped that it may remain so." The vague doubts and indefinable suspicions, the offspring of ignorance, that hovered round the cradle of the Synod, are not only never heard of now, but are looked back upon with a smile of almost incredulous wonder.

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