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Reports of meetings on Māori Church matters, 1872-1888

Nelson, October 24, 1886


October 24, 1886.

To the Most Rev. the Primate of New Zealand.

My Lord Primate,

I have much pleasure in submitting to you an account of my visit to the Islands of the Pacific, undertaken at the request of the Bishops of New Zealand, with the special sanction of the General Synod, after it had heard the interesting facts brought before it by the Bishop of Dunedin, at Auckland, last February.

I shall not enter into details, which can be deferred for another occasion, but simply record what places I visited, what Was the condition of the members of our Church, and what openings there appeared to me to exist for future action.

I first of all, after five and a-half days in the [unclear: Janet Nicol] steamer, landed at Tonga, which was visited by Bishop Selwyn, when Bishop of New Zealand, thirty-eight years ago. Here I did not expect to find many members of our Church, and, indeed, there are not many. In Nukualofa, which is the capital and king's residence, I found fifteen professedly belonging to the Church of England; but the residence of a week or two would certainly bring others to light, besides many who would gladly avail themselves of the ministrations of our Church, were they regularly established.

A European service, as it is called, is held in the two separated churches, by the Rev. J. B. Watkin and the Rev. J. Moulton, on alternate Sunday evenings.

It will scarcely be thought strange or intrusive after what has appeared in the Press, that I should refer to the present aspect of ecclesiastical affairs in Tonga. Visiting all the parties concerned on both sides, I had the opportunity of learning and understanding the position of matters.

It appears to some that the peculiar circumstances of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Tonga, separated as it is into two distinct divisions, with reference to questions, not of doctrine, but of financial and organic arrangement, indicate an opening of which the Tongans might desire to avail themselves for accepting that form of Church organisation from which the early Wesleyan Church, confessedly to its own great regret, felt itself bound to secede.

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Whatever may be the case in the future, this question was not in my view in undertaking this visit, which was, as your introductory letter clearly points out, intended to be made to the members or adherents of the Church of England, commonly so called.

I find, however, that, in spite of any desire to the contrary, we are painfully interested in this question in the proportions it has now assumed, for the result of such divisions has given great impulse to Romanism, which has benefitted by them, as it naturally would. Owing to these divisions, it has commenced missions where formerly there were none; and thus, few though they be, our own people, who formerly had the undisturbed benefit of Wesleyan ministrations, are becoming exposed daily more and more to the erroneous teachings of Romanism. I could substantiate this by instances if it were necessary. So that in spite of ourselves we are interested in this matter, and should do something to protect our own people, few and isolated though they be.

If, in the course of events, the chief feature of our Church should prove a centre of unity, as it did in the primitive centuries, we could not turn a deaf ear to those who wished either to join us, or to adopt a similar organization to our own, but should be bound to help them. I wish to bear record of what I saw of the noble Christian literary and educational work done by the Rev. J. E. Moulton in Tonga, and, if I am to be true to my own impressions, I cannot pass on without referring to the work of, a different kind, though in the very important sphere of Tongan politics, carried on by the Hon. Shirley Baker, the premier, who holds a position of great influence, and has the making or marring of a people in his hands. I can only here express the regret felt by all who know the circumstances that men of such ability should be spending any of their acknowledged powers in artificial conflict. No one can pass through Tonga without regretting that there should be any cause for complaining of the revival of such arbitrary dealings towards Nonconformists to the State religion as call to mind the sinful and foolishly tyrannical acts of those in high authority in England immediately after the Restoration. On the other hand, it would seem right to note that there is a time at which the preaching or teaching of Christianity, after it has done its first work, is in danger of degenerating into the propagation of sects, bearing either an honoured name of the past or some equally honourable territorial title.

While I am sure that a few more Europeans would be found in Tonga to welcome the services of our Church, there will page 5probably be in the future additional settlements in other parts of the Tongan group possessing such fertility and so favourable a climate to attract Europeans.