Project Canterbury

A History of the English Church in New Zealand

By H.T. Purchas

Christchurch: Simpson and Williams, 1914.

Letter from the Most Reverend the Primate

Dear Canon Purchas--

In consideration of my long career as a church-worker in New Zealand, you have honoured me with a request to add to your forthcoming volume of the History of the Church here a short account of my impressions as to her life and progress since 1871, and also my ideas as to her prospects and the chief tasks which lie before her.

I think the most convenient form in which I could attempt to supply the need would be by addressing a letter to you embracing these topics, which letter, should you esteem it worthy, could be printed with your Preface.

In turning, then, to your first question, I have to premise that the life and progress of any institution are very largely affected by attendant circumstances and surroundings for which perhaps the leaders of the institution itself are not responsible. Thus, with reference to our Provincial Church at the period you mention, she was weakened by the loss of not a few of those upon whom she had leaned for counsel and stimulating influence. Bishops Hobhouse and Abraham, Sir William Martin and Mr. Swainson, besides other prominent churchmen, such as Sir George Arney, and others less known, speedily followed their great leader, Bishop Selwyn, to England, or were removed by other causes. Without any surrender to the weakness of a mere laudator temporis acti, I look back to the time of my arrival in New Zealand with a feeling that there were giants in the earth in those days. Many whom we have more recently lost were also with us then--men like Messrs. Acland and Hanmer and Maude and Sewell, Col. Haultain, Mr. Hunter-Brown, and, of course, Bishop Hadfield and Dean Jacobs. Many of these were men of marked ability, men who made the synod halls ring with their forcible utterances, men full of knowledge of the Church and love for her, full of self-sacrificing spirit and determination to make her a praise in the faithful guardian of our Church's influence, Primate Harper. The loss of such fathers of the Church has been felt in the interval under review, and could not but affect the life and progress of the Church. It is not for me to say anything of those by whom their places have been filled.

Another adverse circumstance which must be called to mind in such a review is the long period of commercial depression which followed a short period of fictitious prosperity and inflated values. Misled by the apparently fair prospect of making money rapidly--of which prospect a shoal of interested persons sprang up to make the most--undertakings were entered upon on borrowed capital and properties were bought at prices which could not be realised upon them perhaps twenty years afterwards. The consequence of all this was a widespread desolation. My diocesan visitations were in those days largely made on horseback, and in a journey of perhaps many hundred miles I had to look upon stations and homesteads at which I had formerly been hospitably received, whether their owners belonged to our own communion or not, either closed altogether or left in charge of a shepherd.

Many of the proprietors of these sheep stations had been liberal supporters of the Church, and their ruin spelt disaster to the authorities of the nearest clerical charge, if not also the weakness of diocesan institutions. During those long, long years, diocesan management was a weariness indeed, and not the less so because it was so hard to keep up the courage even of our church-workers themselves. I am thankful to say that no organised charge within my own diocese was closed in that period, but it was manifestly impossible to subdivide districts and so to introduce additional clergy. Little else could be thought of than holding on.

By these circumstances, then, the life of the Church was affected and her progress hindered. New conditions were developed, and the rulers of the Church had to accept and provide for these new conditions. I am far from saying that the large displacement of the pastoral industry by the agricultural was a misfortune either to the country or the Church: as regards the latter, the large increase of the population upon the land has given the Church more scope for the exercise of her ministerial activities; but for vestries and church committees the work is harder, demanding, as it does, so much closer attention to details. In the old days one man might ride round the eight or ten stations within a district, and by collecting £10 to £20 from each would thus easily raise a large part of the stipend of the clergyman, and at the same time enjoy a pleasant visit to his friends. The collecting from a large number of scattered persons is a different matter, and means many workers and much patience. It is not unnatural, therefore, that this outlying work is avoided, and that the church officials rely too much upon the residents in towns and villages. This is a danger of the present, and needs close attention. A vestry easily becomes content so soon as in one way or another it has got together enough money wherewith to discharge its obligations; but there can be no free and elastic expansion unless the interest of all her members is enlisted by the Church, and each is willing to do his part in the establishment of the kingdom of Christ.

I think the progress of the Church of late years has been satisfactory. We have a body of clergy who, in devotion to their work and ability for the performance of it, need not fear comparison with those of other countries, not excluding the average of the English clergy themselves; and I think it high time that that insulting enactment known as the "Colonial Clergy Act" was rescinded. It is an unworthy bar to full inter-communion between areas of the Church which profess to be at one. As to our lay people I can only say that I often stand amazed at the willing and patient sacrifice they make of time and effort in the management of church affairs in synods, on vestries, and committees of every kind for the promotion of her work.

As to the future, the great task of the Church is, to my mind, the instruction both of the young clergy and the young laity as to the Divine Commission and real nature of the Church. Since union through the truth is the only method authorised by Holy Scripture, we must teach and teach and teach. That is the task of our divinity schools and of the clergy in preparing their candidates for confirmation: line upon line and precept upon precept, definite and clear instruction should be given so that the future heads of families may know and value their privileges, and the whole population will be impressed by the strength of our convictions.

I am afraid I have allowed my pen to run beyond the limits you had in view, but you must do what you think well with this letter, and believe me to remain,

Faithfully yours,
S. T. DUNEDIN, Primate.
Bishopsgrove, January, 1914.

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