Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Chapter XVII.

THE CHURCH OF TO-DAY. (1878-1914)-

Thus onward still we press,
Through evil and through good.
--H. Bonar.

THE earliest stage of church-life in colonial New Zealand may be called the Eucalyptus or Blue Gum period. These dark-foliaged trees mark from afar the lonely sheep-station, and are often the only guide thereto. It is in the station-house or in the adjoining woolshed that the service is held. Seldom is it conducted by an ordained minister, for the number of such is small, and each priest has a large territory to visit. His arrival on horseback is not always known beforehand, but in the evening the "squatter" assembles his family and dependants, the men of the station, and perhaps a few neighbours. Everyone is glad of the opportunity. The dining-room or wool-shed is made to look as devotional as possible. The old prayer books brought out from England are produced. There may be no musical instrument available, but some well-known hymn is raised by the lady of the house. The priest, in his long surplice, preaches a practical sermon, for he understands his people and knows their lives. The service revives old memories in the worshippers, and carries them back in thought to ancient churches and devout congregations in the land from which they come.

This early stage merges gradually into what may be called the Pine period. The large sheep run is broken up into farms, each marked by its sheltering plantations of pinus insignis. The typical place of worship is now the school. To it the worshippers drive on Sunday, in buggies or gigs. The services are carried on with some regularity: different Christian denominations generally use the building on successive Sundays of the month, and the same congregation gathers on each occasion. The arrangements are awkward, the seats are comfortless, but the singing is hearty and the feeling good. Memories of the old land are less vivid: the young men and maidens are mostly native-born. There is not the deep feeling of devotion, nor is there the old sense of the overwhelming importance of divine things. Fewer of the labouring men are present than were seen in the old woolshed services.

Years pass by, and a village springs up amidst the farms. Small church-buildings rise almost side by side. The attendants of the schoolroom no longer worship together. It is the Cypress or Macrocarpa period, when trim hedges divide the gardens--and often the people--from one another. But the little church, with its cross and other sacred emblems, grows dear to some. The choir learns to chant and to sing an anthem on a high festival. Perhaps now there is a vicarage beside the church. Classes and guilds are carried on. "Church work" begins.

Such is the history of the Church in New Zealand during the latter period of our hundred years. The frame of the picture is that supplied by the originally treeless plains and valleys of the South Island. But the picture itself, in its essential points, would represent other regions as well--whether mining, maritime, or forest. As a picture, it is not as bright as we should like it to be; but its shadows as well as its brightness are but extensions of the phenomena of the religious world outside. The divisions of Christendom did not originate in New Zealand.

With a background furnished by the process just described--a process constant in character, though moving faster or slower according to the variety of local conditions--we may now fill in the foreground of the scene with the few events of the last 34 years, which stand out above the general level of parochial or diocesan life.

The decade of the 'eighties saw no change in the constitution of the episcopal bench. From 1877 to 1890 the bishops remained the same. Bishop Harper passed his 8oth year, but continued actively at work; after him in order of seniority came Bishops Suter of Nelson, Hadfield of Wellington, Cowie of Auckland, Neville of Dunedin, Selwyn of Melanesia, and Stuart of Waiapu. All worked harmoniously together, the leading personality being perhaps the Bishop of Nelson.

A sign of recovery from the exhaustion of the war-period may be found in the stately churches which now began to rise here and there. Christchurch Cathedral, after its years of forlorn desolation, rose slowly from its foundations during the later 'seventies, until in 1881 the nave and tower were completed and consecrated. St. Mary's, Timaru, was begun in 1880, and its nave completed six years later. St. John's Cathedral, Napier, was rapidly built and consecrated as a finished building in 1888. Nothing so artistic or so solid as these edifices had yet been seen in the country, and nothing equal to them was produced for many years.

Not only were new churches built: they were filled. A great impetus to devotion was received in 1885 and 1886 from Canons Bodington and G. E. Mason, who were sent out from Selwyn's old diocese of Lichfield to hold missions in Auckland and Christchurch. These able men spent 10 months in the country, and gave of their best to every place they visited.

In 1889, Bishop Harper gave notice of his intention to resign his primacy, and, in the following year, laid down his pastoral staff. He had reached the age of 86 before his resignation took effect, but his mind was still vigorous, and when relieved of the cares of office he took up the humbler work of giving divinity lessons in a girls' school. He was pre-eminently a man of peace, but beneath the placid exterior there lay an indomitable will. One who knew him well wrote of him thus: "He left upon me the deep impression that he never had an ideal of power or wealth or fame, but that to go about doing good, and to promote the welfare of his fellow-men with all his strength, were the objects he had in view in his whole life."

This resignation was destined to bring about a constitutional difficulty which recalled the trying days of the Jenner incident. The question which divided the Church was nothing less than this, Who is the legitimate primate or chief pastor of New Zealand?

Dunedin, curiously enough, was again the point from which the trouble emanated, and a Selwyn was again the person who unintentionally brought it about. Bishop Harper announced his intention to resign the primacy to a general synod at Dunedin in February, 1889. At the close of the session he called for an election of a bishop to take his place as primate in six months' time. The first and the second ballots were inconclusive. Had the third ballot yielded a similar result, the primacy would have gone, according to the canons, to the senior bishop.

The Bishop of Nelson was the senior by consecration, though not by age, and he received a large majority of lay votes. But the clergy did not think him "safe," and gave their votes preponderantly to the veteran Hadfield. Before the final ballot, the Bishop of Melanesia broke the silence enjoined on such occasions, and urged the laity "not to let the election go by default." His advocacy was successful, and at the third ballot the Bishop of Wellington, having received a majority of all orders, was declared by the old primate to be duly elected to fill his place.

But this decision did not remain long uncontested. From a strictly legal point of view, the proceedings were invalidated by the fact that the canons gave no authority for an election until the primatial seat was actually vacant. This technical objection was rendered more cogent by Bishop John Selwyn's impulsive act. His speech was undoubtedly a breach of the law, and undoubtedly also it turned the election.

The situation was a difficult one, and it affected more especially the diocese of Christchurch. For Bishop Harper's retirement was leaving that diocese vacant, and its synod had elected Archdeacon Julius of Ballarat to fill Dr. Harper's place. But the election could not be completed without the sanction of the General Synod or of the Standing Committees of the various dioceses, and until the primacy question should be settled it was impossible to obtain such confirmation. Bishop Suter, acting on the verdict of the Standing Commission--which was to the effect that the election of Bishop Hadfield was null and void--proceeded to act as primate, and to invite the Standing Committees to confirm the action of the Christ-church Synod. Those of Nelson, Auckland, and Waiapu at once did so; but those of Wellington and Dunedin, holding that Bishop Hadfield was legally elected, took no notice of the communications of the senior bishop.

The position was undoubtedly full of interest to lawyers, but it was painful and humiliating to devout members of the Church. Some weeks were occupied in fruitless negotiations, but at length, through the influence of the aged Bishop Harper, a way was discovered out of the thicket. Bishop Hadfield resigned his claims to the primacy, and Bishop Suter, whose position was now uncontested, summoned a special meeting of the General Synod. It met in Wellington on April 23rd, 1890. The Bishop of Wellington was elected primate, and the election of Archdeacon Julius to the see of Christchurch was validated, sanctioned, and confirmed.

But larger issues soon occupied the public mind. A waterside strike paralysed for a time the commerce of the country, and introduced the era of "Labour." The predominance of Darwin, with his "struggle to live," gave way to the humanitarian conception of a struggle to let others live. In some respects the new movement was a return towards the principles of Christianity, which had seemed to be surrendered in the war period. As such it was hailed by many minds. The new bishop of Christchurch was welcomed with a general enthusiasm because he came as an avowed sympathiser with the aspirations of labour. But the events did not justify either the hopes of the one side or the fears of the other. Labour gained a large measure of political power under Mr. Ballance and Mr. Seddon. Many measures were passed to secure higher wages, shorter hours of work, more careful sanitation, and better technical training. Yet, as years passed by, the fundamental conditions did not seem to be greatly altered. Legislation could not go deep enough. It could not change human nature. That could only be effected by the diffusion of a spirit of justice and consideration throughout the community. The effort to diffuse such a spirit is the proper work of the Church; and as this truth became clearly seen, the Church felt less and less inclined to throw herself on the side of any political party.

Her own efforts to alter economic laws had not been successful; Marsden, Selwyn, and Godley had found the spirit of individualism too strong for them: was it not clear that the Christian's duty was to concentrate his efforts upon the development of unselfish character in both capitalist and worker; to try to hold the classes together by upholding the sacred character of the State, and the solemn responsibility of each individual for the right use of whatever property or cleverness he might possess; to warn against the dangers of wealth and also against the greed for its possession; to point to Christ and His world-renouncing example?

The Church, as a whole, therefore, went on in the old way, just teaching the "Duty to God" and the "Duty to one's Neighbour," and leaving the State to try to order the social life of the community so as to make those duties more possible of fulfilment.

But if the policy continued the same, the leaders were gradually changed. Bishop Harper was soon followed into retirement by others of his old colleagues. Suter's health broke down in 1891, and on his resignation the diocese set its seal upon his episcopate by electing his old friend and archdeacon, the Ven. C. O. Mules, to fill his place. Before the end of the same year, Bishop John Selwyn was likewise compelled to lay down his office owing to severe illness.

And men said, "Bene meruit"--or, rather,
"He followed in the footsteps of his father."

Not until St. Barnabas' Day in 1894 was his place filled by the consecration of the Rev. Cecil Wilson, who took up the work of the Melanesian Mission with great earnestness.

Meanwhile, the veteran Bishop Hadfield had laid down both the bishopric of Wellington and the primacy in 1893. The delicate youth who had left Oxford in 1837, who had been the first in Australia to be ordained to the diaconate, and the first in New Zealand to receive the office of the priesthood, had rallied again and again from what had seemed the bed of death, and had outlived most of those with whom he began his work. His frequent periods of illness had been relieved by the reading of somewhat severe and philosophical books, and he was able to make good use of his learning in the address which he delivered to the one general synod over which he presided. On his retirement, he lived quietly for some years longer at Marton, and passed away in 1904.

The primacy was now conferred, with general unanimity, on Bishop Cowie of Auckland. For the see of Wellington an English clergyman was selected at the request of the diocesan synod. This was the Rev. Frederic Wallis, who brought to New Zealand the learning of Cambridge and a most genial personality. His episcopate coincided with a rapid expansion of settlement in the more distant portions of the diocese, and he was able to man his parochial charges and missionary districts with able clergy from Cambridge. Under his administration the diocese made solid progress, and became, instead of the weakest, one of the strongest members of the New Zealand Church.

Five days before the consecration of Bishop Wallis at Wellington (Jan. 1895), a like solemn service had been held in the Cathedral at Napier. Bishop Stuart had resigned the bishopric of Waiapu in the previous year in order to go to Persia as a simple missionary. Into the vacant place there was now installed one who had declined it at the previous vacancy, but who was still not too old to take up the burden. This was Archdeacon Leonard Williams, that son of the first bishop, who had in infancy been baptised with the children of David Taiwhanga on the first occasion when any of the Maori race were publicly admitted to the Church of Christ. His life had been spent in the service of the people among whom he had thus been dedicated to God's service, and, though older than any of the bishops who laid upon him their hands, he was able to administer the diocese for fourteen years before laying down the staff in 1909.

No further changes are to be noted before the year 1900. But the twentieth century was not long on its way before the primate, Dr. Cowie, died at his post, after a short illness. The primacy passed to Bishop Neville of Dunedin, the only remaining survivor of the post-Selwynian group. The work of the diocese of Auckland proved too arduous for Bishops Neligan and Crossley, who each resigned the see after a short tenure of office. The last vacancy has been filled by the translation of Dr. Averill, who, coming from the diocese of Christchurch in 1909, took up the bishopric of Waiapu after Bishop Williams' resignation, and has done much to bring the lapsed Maoris back to the fold. His place at Napier was filled by another parish-priest from Christchurch, Canon Sedgwick, whose faith and zeal had been abundantly displayed in the building of the splendid church of St. Luke the Evangelist in that city.

Wellington and Nelson also have had their changes. The health of Dr. Wallis gave way in 1911, and he retired to England. The synod elected one of its own members, the Rev. T. H. Sprott, to take his place; while in Nelson, Bishop Mules was succeeded by an Australian clergyman, Canon Sadlier of Melbourne.

Dunedin still keeps its first bishop, who, after an episcopate of 43 years, ranks as the senior prelate of the British Empire. Christchurch has had but one change. All the other dioceses can reckon three or four. Of the prelates who have at one time occupied places on the New Zealand bench, some have retired to England, while others remain among us and are entitled to a seat, though not to a vote, in the General Synod. Each diocese (except Dunedin) can point to one bishop's grave in some local cemetery; while Melanesia treasures the memory of the martyred Patteson, whose body was committed to the deep within its waters.

The mention of so many bishops calls up pictures of many and various diocesan activities. These should be recorded in separate histories, but can hardly find a place within the limits of this book. One notable effort in which all combined was the General Mission of Help in the year 1910. Fifteen missioners were sent out from England under commission from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. They represented different schools of thought in the Church, and were headed by Canon Stuart of Canterbury, Canon Tupper-Carey of York, and "Father Fitzgerald," of Mirfield. Beginning in Auckland, where they were assisted by some specially selected clergy from the south, they held missions in all the larger parishes of the city and of the country towns. Waiapu and Wellington were next visited. After a pause, the original band, augmented by several North Island clergy, crossed to the South Island and went through Canterbury and Otago. Nelson was the last diocese to be worked, but special farewell visits were made by individual missioners to parishes in which they had laboured in the earlier part of the course. One missioner, at least, gave himself permanently to the New Zealand Church.

It is not possible here to give a full account of the mission, but (to use the words of the official report), "it is safe to say it exceeded all anticipations in the fervour and earnestness shown, and the manifest proofs of the Holy Spirit's presence. Most of the missioners themselves stated that it was a unique experience in their life and work."

Of its after-effects it is not so easy to speak. It did not lead to any departure from the existing methods of work, nor did it initiate much in the way of fresh effort. Its results are rather to be seen in a general quickening of activity in the different departments of the Church's life. A sketch of these various departments must form the conclusion of this book.

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