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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 175


Hokitika, July 2nd, 1874.

My dear St. John,

Since my last letter I have attended two meetings of General Synod, one in 1871, and one in this present year. I shall not dwell upon Synodical legislation in matters of ordinary Church work, much the same here as at Home, except for our Maori and Melanesian responsibility; but at every meeting of Synod we have had to deal with the vital question of our relationship with the Mother Church. When our Synodical system was first established, this question had not arisen. Now it seeks solution, not only in New Zealand, but elsewhere, as in South Africa; it concerns our Church discipline, and order, Church property, and our proper loyalty to the Church at Home. It comes to the front whenever the Colonial Church has to face the problem of ruling its own household. Having thought much of this subject, I have set the ball rolling at each Synod, and so far it has been well received, bringing out an amount of debating power and acquaintance with civil and ecclesiastical law which would do credit to any assembly. Synod is keenly alive to its great responsibility, as a Legislative body, not a mere conference or congress, or even such an assembly as Convocation at Home in its present form.

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This year I went to Wellington by sea. Australian steamers call at Hokitika, and thence proceed to other New Zealand ports; but their hour of arrival is uncertain, and if they arrive at night, anchoring in the roadstead ready to proceed at daylight, it is necessary at any hour to cross the bar in a tug steamer, and join the ship. This happened in my case on a Sunday night. Some of my choir boys, sleeping on the floor of my study, roused me up at 4 a.m., and then, trundling my luggage in a barrow down to the wharf, saw me on board, together with a few passengers, including a Bank clerk, hi charge of several small but very heavy boxes of gold bullion, each box holding 250 ounces; very responsible work, for the boxes have to be hauled up on deck from the tug-boat, which is bobbing about in rough water. All the cabins were full, their occupants asleep until some, at daylight, should leave for the shore; all that the steward could do for me was to arrange mattress and blankets on the saloon table, with which I coiled myself up for a few hours' sleep. Presently down from the deck came two commercial travellers, and I was roused by their talk. "Who's this on the table? Is he a passenger?" "Yes, he came aboard by the tug, and they say he's an Archdeacon." "Don't believe it. I'll bet you a bottle of champagne he isn't. I'll ask him." "Excuse me, sir, but are you an Archdeacon?" "Sorry to disappoint you, I am, and I shall be much obliged to you for a glass of that champagne!"

En route to Wellington, we lay off Westport, in the Province of Nelson, for a few hours. Like all settlements on the West Coast, the town is close to the sea, backed up by forest-clad hills. Gold in the neighbourhood at first attracted population, but page 177recent discoveries of valuable coal has increased the importance of the place. Gold always, except in the case of quartz reefs, after a few years begins to fail, so that country which is merely auriferous is soon deserted. Moreover, the Westport coal seems to be of first-rate quality, especially valuable as it is nearly smokeless, quickly ignited, and burning almost free from ash. There is, also, at present, a minimum of difficulty in working it; the seams, which are thick, lying in a slanting, upward direction from the shore in the hill-sides, which are tunnelled without deep sinking. Besides this steam coal, the West Coast has abundance of other kinds, fit for household use, or the production of gas. In the long run coal will beat gold for value.

Wellington is situated at the southern extremity of the North Island, where Cook's Straits separate it from the Southern Island. It is now the seat of Government, which at first was at Auckland. The harbour is spacious, land-locked, but entered by a narrow passage, passing through some dangerous reefs, and with little waterway. Wellington has the reputation of being the home of all the winds, of which there is more than sufficient variety in New Zealand generally. The town lies upon the slopes of hills, in the form of an irregular crescent, bordered on the sea side by a narrow strip of flat land, which gives room for very few open spaces, or gardens; the houses crowded together, with but little attractive architecture at present; but it is a busy place, being the central port of New Zealand.

Maories, so seldom seen in the South Island, are much in evidence here; the men well dressed in English costume, the women also, but delighting in page 178in vivid colours. They are well to do, having plenty of land reserved to them by Government, intelligent, well-mannered people, many of them able to talk English. I heard a good story of one of the Maori representatives in the Upper House, which illustrates the difficulty English visitors may have in estimating correctly the character of a people lately emerged from a state of barbarism. A new steamer arrived in Wellington for the first time, attracting many visitors, and amongst them this Maori, a fine figure of a man, dressed in a suit of English tweeds, with the bearing of a native gentleman. A couple of English passengers on board, young fellows, went up to him, and invited him to come below and have a drink. He looked them calmly up and down, and, in perfect English, replied: "Thank you, gentlemen, I never drink with strangers, —like yourselves." Then he turned away, and left them to revise their ideas of a Maori Chief.

Six Bishops, with clerical and lay members from each diocese, met in Synod. Two important events had occurred since the last Synod: Bishop Patteson's death in the Island of Santa Cruz, and the consecration of a Bishop for the newly formed see of Dunedin, hitherto part of the diocese of Christchurch. Many subjects of practical importance came under discussion, but I will limit myself to one, the sequel of that constitutional question debated in Synod at Auckland six years ago, and renewed in 1871, viz.: the necessity of self-government in the Church in New Zealand, and her legal right to exercise it. On each occasion it fell to my lot to lead the discussion, of which I give you a summary.

By the terms of our Church Constitution, agreed to by a Convention of Church people in 1857, revised page 179by General Synod in 1865, the Church in New Zealand binds itself to maintain the Doctrine and Sacraments of the United Church of England and Ireland, as contained in the Book of Common Prayer, and declares that the Church in New Zealand has no power to make changes in the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures, or in the formularies of the Church;—Provided that, with consent of Crown and Convocation, any changes in the Formularies of the Prayerbook, or Version of the Bible, adopted in England, may be accepted by the General Synod. And, for fear of risk with regard to Church property, it is provided that if the Colony of New Zealand be separated from the Mother Country, or if there should be a separation of Church from the State in England and Ireland, then the Church in New Zealand shall have full power to make alterations in Services, Articles, and Ceremonies, or in the Version of the Bible, at its own discretion.

To these provisions there is added a clause: "These provisions are fundamental, and it shall not be within the power of the General Synod to alter, revoke, add to, or diminish any of the same."

This is our position as defined in the Church Constitution. Now for the actual position in which we find ourselves. Since 1857 things have changed. It was then supposed that the Church here, being an integral portion of the Church at Home, was subject to the Ecclesiastical authority of the Mother Church, as by law established. New Zealand Bishops held their office under Letters Patent, issued by the Crown. It was thought that the Church in New Zealand could take no action on her own responsibility, either in the matter of increasing her episcopate, or main-page 180taming Church discipline; or in adopting any modification of services; or, in fact, deciding for herself on those changes which might be necessary in years to come for her good government, except with the consent of the Mother Church.

And yet, even in 1857, there were premonitions of trouble. The Church Constitution then drawn up betrays this. It assumes that in New Zealand Churchmen must legislate for themselves. It provides for Courts of discipline. It anticipates the time when the legal connection between the Church in New Zealand and the Mother Church would be found to be non-existent.

In reality that state of things did exist in 1857. Since then it has come to be recognized gradually, but as yet imperfectly, by those whose strong conservative instincts make them shrink from the idea of the Church in New Zealand as responsible to itself for good government.

Meanwhile we stand thus: the Church at Home can exercise no legal control over us. Its control at Home derives its authority from the Crown. The Crown does not recognize the Church in New Zealand, except in so far as it comes under the domain of the Civil Law. The Church, therefore, in New Zealand, is legally left to itself, and must needs rule her own household. Spiritually, the Church here is in close communion with the Mother Church, but that is our own affair; neither Convocation nor Crown can compel it. In fact, the severance which has taken place between the Church at Home and the Church in Ireland places the Church in Ireland precisely in our position in New Zealand. It is responsible to itself alone for its own government,

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During the discussion two points were strongly insisted on by the opponents of my resolution, which contained an amendment of the Constitution, affirming the necessity and the responsibility of the Church for its own self-government. The first of these, I am free to admit, needs very careful consideration; viz.: the risk which our Church property may incur, should any step be taken by Synod legally affecting the right of the Church acquired by, or given to it, as part of the Established Church at Home. That is a question which might involve some civil legislation to establish the identity of the Church here, as it was at first, and as it is now in its altered circumstances.

The other point I regard as indefensible. It was argued that our Constitution ties our hands; that we have accepted the Doctrines and Practice of the Mother Church, and have bound ourselves to make no change or alteration in them. The answer seems complete. If, in 1857, we saw fit to tie our own hands, there can be no reason why we should not untie them in 1874. No external authority compelled our action; it was our own doing; and it was not done in consideration of any value received. We are as free now to modify what we then did, as we were to impose restraints on ourselves. And, no Legislative Body, such as Synod is, can legislate for all time. The Synod of 1857 had no power to tie the hands of Synod in 1874.

Further, my argument went to show the facts of our position. In spite of our Constitution and its restraints, we have been obliged to act for ourselves. We have had to choose and consecrate Bishops, and, in doing so, omit from the service in the Prayerbook that which relates to the Queen's mandate; the oath page 182of allegiance, acknowledging the Queen's Supremacy as Governor of the Church; the Oath of obedience to the Archbishop; also those parts of the services for Ordering of Priests and Deacons which refer especially to the Church and State at Home.

With the exception of the Bishop of Christchurch, none of our Bishops have Letters Patent from the Crown, nor have they any legal status in the Ecclesiastical Courts in England. We have set up our own Ecclesiastical Courts and, by mutual consent, are subject to them. No external authority can interfere with their decisions, unless it can be proved, on appeal to the Civil courts of the Colony, that the terms and conditions of the mutual consent between the Church and her office bearers have not been adhered to.

Much debate ensued. A select committee dealt with the matter, and its report having been adopted, was embodied in a Statute, which provides:—

For the necessary alterations in the Services for Consecration of Bishops, and the Ordering of Priests and Deacons; the acceptance of the Revised Table of Lessons; words to be added to the 21st of the Thirty-nine Articles, viz.: "It is not to be inferred from this Article that the Church in the Colony is hindered from meeting in Council, without the authority of the Civil Power." And to the 37th Article: "It is not to be inferred from this Article that the Civil Power has authority in this Colony to determine purely spiritual questions, or to hinder the Church from finally determining such questions by its own authority, or by Tribunals constituted under its own authority."

It was also provided that the Church in the Colony, which is, in the Constitution, designated as a Branch page 183of the United Church of England and Ireland, shall be referred to and designated as the "Church of the Province of New Zealand, commonly called the Church of England."

So far this constitutional question has reached a stage which practically admits the main point of the position claimed by me for the Church in New Zealand, viz.: her responsibility to herself for self-government. But the actual terms of our Constitution remain as they. were. So far as they assert our connection with the Church as established by Law at Home, they are obsolete. Spiritually, we are one with the Mother Church. It is not probable that such a legislative body as the General Synod, secure against any hasty or ill-advised action by its provision of voting by "orders," should be inclined to make serious changes in the Formularies of the Church, except in pursuance of changes made by the Mother Church after full deliberation. But the fact remains that, whether we desire at any time to follow the lead given by the Mother Church, or to adopt our own line of action, we must do so of our own accord. The Church at Home, as an Established Church, cannot and does not recognize us as subject to her authority. She can advise, but our bond of allegiance to her is not formal. Without doubt her advice will always be sought, but our acceptance of it must always be voluntary.

At some time in future the terms of our Constitution must be brought into line with the facts of our position. It is manifestly illogical and wrong that Bishops, Clergy, and office bearers should have to sign allegiance to a Constitution which they are practically obliged to ignore in so many of its most important provisions.

Synod occupied seventeen days. Wellington pos-page 184sesses three churches, built of wood, one used as a pro-cathedral, but none of them worthy of the Metropolis of New Zealand.

Leaving Wellington by steamer for Lyttelton, I travelled across the mountains to Hokitika in early winter weather, which we call May here, under brilliant sunshine, but keen frosts at night; the road at its best; rivers low, mountain peaks with snow lying deep, glistening like silver; two days' coaching which, for scenery and exhilarating atmosphere, even Switzerland could not rival.

And now I find myself confronted with a question that gives me much thought. Our Church system provides that, in case of a vacancy in a Parish, a Board of Nominators, representing both the Parish and the Diocese, has the right of nominating to the Bishop someone to fill the vacancy. St. Michael's Church in Christchurch, which is the Mother Church of the Diocese, and the Pro-Cathedral, is vacant, and I have been chosen by the Board of Nominators. The Bishop has forwarded the nomination to me, leaving the matter entirely to my decision. You will understand my difficulty. I have been eight years in Westland; the Church has a strong hold on the Community; we have seven Churches, all in good order, doing excellent work; work unlike that of an ordinary parish, as St. Michael's, unlike it in area and in the character of its population. Everywhere I have been met with a whole-hearted and most generous response to all I have undertaken: I am bound to the people here with ties of more than ordinary friendship, and mutual sense of comradeship in a great work. It may be I am specially qualified for it. I am loth to leave, for I feel that one's best work cannot be done in a few page 185years, and being well settled in the saddle, I am inclined to remain there.

"I'll give you two years to stay there," was said to me, when I first came here, by a somewhat cynical visitor, in the early rough days of the place. Eight years have passed, perhaps the most satisfactory I shall ever have. Whatever the failures and defects of one's work may have been, with such evidences of God's blessing in it all, I often muse upon it, and wonder at it, with unspeakable thanksgivings.

Since writing this, the matter has arranged itself. Petitions from all parts of the District have been sent to the Bishop, asking him to exercise his authority, and bid me remain. He has done so, with the proviso that at no very distant date he may have to transfer me to another part of the Diocese.

I cannot help telling you of some words which greeted me the other day, as I was walking in a forest track. Passing a sawmill, one of the men came out, and said: "So we're going to keep you? That's right; they can find plenty to do the work over there, but you belong to us," and, with hearty hand-shake, he went back to the saws, which were hissing through the big white pine logs.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.