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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 204


Timaru, South Canterbury, December 10th, 1881.

My dear St. John,

Things have moved on apace since my last letter. If I am nor boring you, I will give a brief account of an important meeting of General Synod in Nelson. Five Bishops were present, with twenty Clerical and twenty-four Lay representatives. After the Primate's address, in accordance with the ancient custom of the Councils of the Church, a copy of the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures, together with a copy of the same in Maori, the work of Archdeacon Maunsell, were laid on the table. The conservative tendency of our Synodical system, in which the concurrence of all three orders, Bishops, Clergy, and Laity is required to pass any measure, was shown by the fact that, out of eleven Bills proposed, six only were finally agreed to. There was much debate, but in a legislative assembly such as our Synod is, that means no waste of time.

Pardon me if I allude chiefly to one very important measure, of which I was in charge. It arose out of the now recognized fact that the Church in a Colony, having an independent legislature, cannot remain an integral part of the Church in England, as by law established, but must legislate for itself. Further, page 205as time goes on, there can be little doubt that some variations in our Formularies will become necessary, and must be dealt with. But this obstacle arises. Our Church Constitution seems to forbid any sort of change except under the authority of the Church at Home. That authority no longer exists. Yet we are not technically free, for our Constitution in set words declares that its provisions are unalterable by General Synod. To myself and many others it appears self-evident that such a declaration is null and void in itself No Synod can legislate for all time. The Founders of the Constitution were wise in their own generation, but they could not [unclear: ore]see the future; their legislation cannot be unalterable by succeeding Synods. The same authority which saw fit to impose these shackles on the free action of the Church can undo them.

Assuming that this position of affairs was generally recognized, my contention was that we ought to face the facts of the case, and provide carefully for changes in our Formularies, when found to be necessary, in such a way that nothing of the sort should be possible, except with the fullest consideration both by Diocesan as well as General Synod; and further, that steps should be taken to modify the actual terms of the Constitution which forbid change, as being obsolete, and a mere technical hindrance to our proper responsibility for self-government. So I introduced a motion to test the matter, and I give the notice of it which appeared in the papers. "The great debate of the session, extending over three evenings, took place on a motion introduced by Archdeacon Harper, entitled the 'Formularies Bill,' being a statute to limit and define the power of General Synod in reference page 206to alterations of the Services, Formularies, and Articles of the Church, and the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures, and to settle the mode of procedure in reference thereto."

Nearly every member of Synod spoke, the subject creating the liveliest interest, both inside and outside Synod. There is a very strong conservative element both amongst Clergy and Laity, which showed itself in its complete misapprehension of the true purpose of my motion, so much so, that, to my surprise, I found that I was regarded by many as a radical, eager for change, whereas the whole purpose of my motion was to make changes impossible except after the most reasoned and careful discussion, and with full, almost unanimous, consent of the Church. "You wish to open the door" was their line of argument, "and anything may happen."

Well, we move slowly, whether in Church or secular politics, and perhaps safely. At a late hour on the third night, a division was taken, of which I give the results: The Bishops, Ayes 5, Noes 0; Clergy, Ayes 7, Noes 12; Laity, Ayes 5, Noes 14. So the motion was lost, and I was content to lose it, as I am sure that in future some such plan as that which I proposed must be accepted.

Nelson is a lovely place, situated at the head of a deep inlet, sheltered on all sides by hills; its climate the most equable in New Zealand; not a centre of much business, but the resort of retired people, and noted for its schools. It has a reputation as a place where it is "always afternoon."

We have now made a successful start in regard to our parish buildings. The vicarage is complete, a well designed structure in brick; close by it a spacious

page 207

School Church, with room for five hundred, to be used as a Church until the completion of the nave of St. Mary's. Liberal subscriptions have come in, and a design for the new church accepted, but not without much opposition. I was anxious to take advantage of the general enthusiasm shown by Church people, and to get their consent to a plan of the best possible style and material, and of sufficient size to provide for an increasing population, which need not be completed at once. In Westland I came across a young English architect, W. G. Armson, who built some wooden churches for me, now in Christchurch, where he has established a good business. The Vestry agreed to my proposal to employ him and, after some time, during which I had many consultations with him, he completed a very fine design in Early English style, of which the Nave, with accommodation for seven hundred, would suffice for some time to come. In Timaru we have, close at hand, quarries of a purple grey dolerite, excellent for the main fabric, very hard, but taking a fine finish when hammered, and, at Oamaru, within fifty miles, a granular limestone, of creamy colour, easily worked, for the interior.

Great opposition, however, arose when the design was submitted to a general meeting of parishioners for their approval. Without their consent, as the progress of the Church, whether in the matter of church building or support of the clergy, depends here on their contributions, nothing can be done. The opposition was vigorous, and in argument effective. "That plan will not be finished under £16,000; the nave alone will cost £10,000; where is the money to come from? Why embarass the church with debt? Here is a plan by a local Architect, for £5,000; further, the page 208present site is not the best; sell it, and buy another site further south, which can be had at a cheap rate."

The meeting was adjourned to give time for consideration, and to enable us to ascertain generally the chances of adequate financial support for Mr. Armson's design. This was satisfactory, and at the next meeting I found myself in practical command of the situation. Mr. G. Grey Russell, a most liberal churchman, had sent me a cheque for £500, on condition Mr. Armson's plan was accepted, and Mr. R. Rhodes had written to me, stating that his late brother George had given the present site, and that if there were no attempt to sell it, and the proposed plan accepted, he was prepared to contribute liberally, together with the trustees of his brother's family. This was followed up by a subscription list, well filled. By way, however, of a breeze after a storm, objection was raised to the plan of debentures which parishioners were asked to take, in view of the certainty that the subscription list would not provide all the necessary funds. It was urged that, there being no security for these, except the good faith of the Churchwardens for the time being, they were not legally worth the paper they were written on. One objector, in particular, wanted to know what guarantee there was that the church would be here in a few years' time, whereat my Churchwarden, Captain Woollcombe, in his somewhat quarterdeck style, made reply: "Sir, at this distance I can't see who you are, but, sir, I can assure you that, when once the Church comes to a new place, she doesn't run away, and when you are dead and buried and clean forgotten the Church will be here, and doing her work."

Some months have passed, and we have begun well.

page 209

The foundation stone of the nave was laid, with all due ceremony, but, to the great regret of all, the Bishop of Christchurch, through illness, was unable to attend, the Dean taking his place. It was a great day for Church people, and, indeed, for many others, as the interest taken in the Church is very general; a largely attended Social gathering was held in the evening, when the visiting Clergy and others bestowed much commendation on the enterprise of St. Mary's people. "If you can tackle such a building, and complete it," said one, "in future years they will say, 'there were giants in the land in those days.'" Well—our reply is the zeal of the parishioners, and the inspiration that comes from the ideal of a noble building to the Glory of God, such as may be a possession for ever for future generations; difficult, I allow, of achievement, and not to be built in a day, needing much patience, but—

"Never aught was excellent assayed,
Which was not hard to achieve, and bring to end."

sings Spenser, and I do not doubt our success. You will make allowance for my sanguine enthusiasm, when you think of the unique conditions of our work. In a new country, and such as New Zealand, full of promise of a great future, there is a special romance in all pioneer work; one does not build on another man's foundation. Here there is the privilege and responsibility of beginning, with its own charm and powerful incentive, which no one, I think, can quite realize as they do who leave the old world to begin a new life in the uttermost parts of the earth.

The question of finance was serious, and by way of supplementing subscriptions, it was resolved to page 210 hold a bazaar on a large scale. Personally, I prefer direct subscriptions, but there is this to be said for a bazaar; it employs numbers who are eager to work for the Church, but have little in the way of money to give, and it promotes social intercourse amongst all classes of parishioners. We sent home for saleable things which cannot be purchased here, in addition to local contributions, and the result was most successful, though the bazaar closed with a curious incident. A large hall in the Mechanic's Institute was rented for a fortnight for it, and the precaution taken to insure the goods; the bazaar was closed, but a number of things not sold were still in the hall, when a fire broke out, and, hurrying down to it, I was greeted by a voice in the crowded street: "Behold God's judgment on Church Bazaars!" and then the prompt rejoinder from another voice: "You're wrong there, they're insured up to the hilt!" The result was that we received full value for what was burnt, but had to endure many a jibe at our smart way of doing business.

Most parishes, I imagine, have their parochial critic. We have one who takes a chair at the end of the nave, and comments on the sermon, at times, in more than a whisper. Lately, we have had a fortnight's mission, conducted by Dean Bromby, Dean of Hobart, and, after one of his sermons, the critic waylaid him in the porch, and said, "Now, Mr. Dean, we have a chance of hearing the Gospel; we gets lots from him (pointing to myself), but not the Gospel" "Indeed," said the Dean, "that's very serious; won't you come in to the parsonage and discuss it with us?" "I'll come, fast enough," he said, "and you'll hear some plain truth." However, he found the Dean too much for page 211him and, as he left, he said: "Well, I may be wrong in some respects, but it's a good thing you've come, for, like St. Paul, you'll do your son Timothy here a lot of good." Without doubt the Dean has done us all so much good that it will be long before his powerful yet practical sermons are forgotten. He was especially welcomed by several Tasmanian families, who have made Timaru their home, such as Messrs. Arthur and Cecil Perry, and Mr. J. W. White, our principal legal firms.

Sunday School work is progressing; we have started a small branch school in the suburbs, in a rented cottage, under the management of Mrs. Luxmoore, and hope it may lead to the purchase of a site and a building of our own. There is little poverty here, but cases of distress and misfortune are inevitable, and so, to meet these, with the aid of Mr. W. Evans, an old West Coast friend, and others, we have organized a Benevolent Society, of which all Ministers of religion are members, there being no Government system yet of charitable relief. I have also got together a Guild of Ladies for Needlework, who will raise funds for certain portions of the new Church. Things are progressing generally in South Canterbury; whether this will last, I cannot say; in a young country people take short views, and are inclined to let the future look to itself, and, I think, also to live too nearly up to their incomes.

My work is pleasantly varied by occasional visits to Christchurch, one of which was to the Consecration of the Cathedral, of which the nave is completed, with a temporary chancel. Sir Gilbert Scott furnished the design, in Early English style, and, with some modifications, the work has been carried out by Mr. page 212 Mountfort, the resident architect. Owing to the nature of the soil, and the risk of earthquake, the foundations have been laid with great care and considerable cost, though the risk is comparatively slight, as so far as experience goes, the earthquake zone, which has its centre in the North Island, does not extend far to the South.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.