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Letters from New Zealand 1857-1911


page 314


Timaru, January 10th, 1905.

My dear St. John,

During the absence of the Bishop in England, the administration of the Diocese has fallen to my lot. I have had to preside at the monthly meetings of the Standing Committee, and also at the annual meeting of Diocesan Synod. The work of the latter was comparatively easy, as Synod is thoroughly conversant with the procedure of a Legislative body. Moreover, our Diocesan Secretary and Registrar, the Rev. Canon Knowles, one of the oldest clergy in the Diocese, has such a knowledge of its history from its inception, that his advice on any matter of precedent or finance is invaluable to Synod and its president.

On All Saints' day last year the consecration of the transepts, chancel, sanctuary, and vestries of the cathedral in Christchurch, now completed, took place. I had to make all arrangements. The Bishop of Dunedin, Primate of the Province, the Bishops of Auckland, Waiapu, Wellington, and Nelson, were present, with many visiting and nearly all the Diocesan Clergy. There was an octave of services, with sermons, and various hospitable functions to celebrate the occasion.

The history of the cathedral dates from the first page 315arrival of the "Canterbury pilgrims" in 1852, when the Canterbury Association reserved its site in the centre of Christchurch, a commanding position, but not so spacious as one could wish in these days. It would have been more convenient to have had the Diocesan offices and Synod hall, which are in the grounds of Christ's College, within the cathedral site. The Bishop has a scheme for accomplishing this, which may come about, though the available space is small.

The foundation was laid on December 16th, 1864, the anniversary of the arrival of the first colonists, by my Father, the Bishop of Christchurch. Plans had originally been furnished by Sir Gilbert Scott. He had taken the idea of the building from a church in Normandy in the Early French Gothic style. The proportions are good, but there is a lack of ornament or carving; massive pillars, with the plainest possible capitals; open timber work in the roof, suggestive of strength rather than beauty. Perhaps he thought that this severe style of Gothic would suit a cathedral in a new country, and, as if to emphasize that, he had planned columns in the nave of wood, to be constructed out of the massive stems of Kauri pine, which grows in the North Island. His plan was modified by Mr. Mountfort, the Diocesan Architect, who substituted stone pillars for wood.

After the foundations were laid, owing to times of commercial depression, nothing further was done for some years. The nave was then completed, and consecrated by the Bishop of Christchurch on All Saints' day, 1881, the tower and spire being the gift of the Rhodes family.

Christchurch is the only Diocese in New Zealand page 316with a cathedral, dean, canons, and choir, as at home. Elsewhere a Parish Church serves as a pro-cathedral. The choir is quite up to the standard of the minor English cathedrals. Doubts have been expressed of the practical value of a cathedral in a Colonial Diocese. It seems to trench upon Parish Churches and their proper work. That may be so in the comparatively small population at present of our cities. But what does a cathedral stand for? The Diocesan centre of Church work, in which the Bishop finds his seat and Altar in the Mother Church of his Diocese There he can be at the head of all kinds of Diocesan Societies which organize and carry out work in which all parishes share, but which they cannot themselves undertake. There he has his diocesan officers, canons, missioners, and lay-helpers. There, too, he is in his own church, which is his own in a sense that no pro-cathedral parish church can be. This is fortunately the ideal which our Cathedral Constitution, as laid down by Diocesan Statute, had in mind. Fortunately, because somehow in England the old ideal of the cathedral has been lost sight of Professor Freeman has pointed out the fact that "the Bishop has less authority in the church which contains his throne than in any other church in his Diocese," and again, "The tendency of the Middle Ages was to change the Bishop from the immediate and living head of the cathedral body into a mere external visitor." He has been practically superseded by the Dean. We may be glad that our Cathedral Constitution reverts to the old ideal, though at present its work is only in its infancy. There is also the further point that a cathedral well served can maintain a continual daily offering of praise and worship, which cannot be the rule of page 317many parish churches, open to all. No doubt, only a few years ago at home, such Cathedral Services must have often seemed a mere farce. Hardly a score of worshippers in such places as St. Paul's, London, besides the officials. Happily, this is all changed today. Nothing has impressed me more in the course of my occasional holidays than the crowds which may be seen in such buildings, not merely on Sundays. I think we may be sure that, as time goes on, it will prove the great value of the efforts and self-sacrifice made by the churchpeople of Christchurch to build their cathedral. We owe much to the foresight and generous enthusiasm of the founders and pioneers of the Canterbury Settlement.

I have been much struck lately by the appreciation, freely expressed by numerous visitors, of the beauty of our New Zealand homes. They do not only speak of the scenery of the country, which attracts so many, but of the way in which the homeliness of the Mother Country has been reproduced: "It is England all over again! cottages, gardens, country houses, plantations, orchards, tennis lawns and pleasaunces, such as one never expected in a country only occupied a few years ago." I explain that much is due to the character of the people who have made it their home, bringing with them their old traditions and customs. New Zealand owes something to its remoteness. There has been no indiscriminate inrush of immigrants. The people throughout may be said to be a picked lot. And of late the Government have taken precautions to exclude "undesirables." No one can land without something in his pocket to enable him to make a start in earning a livelihood. It is a country which invites the home instinct of our race. Very page 318few leave it, except for a holiday,—a large majority are the descendants of its first settlers.

I have had my usual expeditions to Westland, but of late the journey across the Southern Alps has been less laborious. A railway line on either side of the Otira Pass and its neighbourhood reduces the actual coaching to some eight hours' work. The Government have entered into a contract for a tunnel, with its necessary approaches; the work has begun, but, personally, I have doubts as to its success for a long time. If mining experience goes for much, it is probable that the contractors will meet with great difficulty. Instead of the solid rock which has been bored through in the Swiss tunnels, they will, it is thought, meet with a confused mass of boulders, broken strata of rock, and the stuff called "pug," a sort of spongy clay which once tapped will force its way through anything but heavy walling; to say nothing of hot water springs. Should the tunnel be completed, travellers will miss the romance and grand beauty of the journey in old coaching days.

I have also been to Auckland to attend General Synod. The journey is tedious, by sea and land, occupying nearly four days. Auckland is rapidly becoming the most populous city in New Zealand; an ideal situation on low volcanic hills, surrounding a magnificent harbour, and almost semi-tropical climate and vegetation, so different to the South Island. It is thoroughly healthy and free from the malaria which haunts hot countries. The hot spring district of Rotorua in the Province has become famous as a Sanatorium; excellent hotels and boardinghouses have been built. Large numbers visit the place from Australia and elsewhere, It possesses, I am told. page 319a greater variety of mineral springs, hot and cold, than any other similar resort in the world. It is also a wonderland of geysers and hot lakes. The gold industry of the Province has declined, but the Kauri gum business, which is used for the finest copal varnish, flourishes, and there is a great increase of farming, both agricultural, pastoral, and for dairy produce. The churches in Auckland are scarcely what one would look for in the place where Selwyn first began his work. They are still chiefly of wood, whereas stone and brick prevail in the city.

The constitutional question of the autonomy of the Church came up again in debate. No final result was reached. The delay, I think, is expedient, though it cannot be long before some settlement of the matter takes place. There are still a few ultra conservatives who cling to the notion that the Church in New Zealand has no power to act on her own initiative in any matters of doctrine or practice, except under the authority of the Established Church at home. They rely on the terms of the Constitution which the Church here adopted for itself at a time when everyone thought that we were an integral portion of the Mother Church. Since then events have shown that the Church at home can exert no authority over the Church in New Zealand, save by way of advice and counsel. The Constitution certainly forbids any independent action on our part, and, so far, until repealed, limits our freedom. To this there is reply that what the General Synod did it can undo, and it seems without doubt that Synod can, if it sees fit, so amend its Constitution that it shall sanction what already exists in fact, the autonomy of the Church.

Another aspect, however, of the case has presented page 320itself. General Synod holds a certain amount of Church Trust property under the terms of its Constitution. If those terms are altered, is our title to the property endangered? Could any section of churchpeople take up the ground lately taken by some of the Free Church in Scotland? They claimed all Trust funds when the Free Church united with the older body of Presbyterians. Their plea was that the Free Church has lost its identity by that union, and that they—a very small minority—were the true representatives of the Free Bark.

This was maintained by the decision of the Law Courts. But almost at once that decision was practically set aside by an Act of Parliament and the appointment of a Commission to apportion the property equitably between the two sections of the Kirk.

It goes without saying that the State can interfere in all matters of trust funds, should it be alleged that any associated body has departed from the articles of association under which it was constituted. The Scotch case, no doubt, has its bearing on ours. There must be no risk run with regard to Trust funds. But it will be seen, on reflection, that the two cases are not the same. The Free Kirk by its union with another body was held to have lost its identity. The Church in New Zealand, by remodelling the terms of its condition, would not enter into union with any other body, nor would it lose its identity. The position is this: Our Constitution, in certain respects, is at variance with the facts of our present condition. It assumes that we are part of the Established Church at home; established in the sense that it is regulated by the law of the State. The Church at Home was not established, in the sense of being created, either page 321by Henry VIII or Elizabeth. It was merely regulated. It existed before that time. The regulation of the Church in England by Law, and all that is meant by State authority in directing its affairs, is now found to be inoperative in a Colony like New Zealand. We must needs regulate ourselves.

This is our actual position: we do regulate ourselves. But if ever there occurs any need of, say, a revision of the Prayerbook, there are the terms of our Constitution in the way. If, then, we proceed in General Synod, with all due deliberation, to bring our Constitution into accordance with the facts of our position, we should not be doing what the Free Kirk did. We should but assert in express terms our necessary liberty of action, with all its responsibility, when occasion arises to use it.

But to avoid all possible risk to Trust property, there should be no difficulty in obtaining an enabling Act of our Legislature to sanction, so far, our alteration in the terms of what may be called our Articles of Association.

I use this expression on purpose. The Church in New Zealand has never been established by Law. Like any other religious body, it is a voluntary association of persons, associated for the purpose of maintaining and giving effect to its religious faith and practice. The State has no hold on any such body, except in the matter of its use of trust funds. Should any misuse of them be alleged, then Cæsar's authority steps in. But in all matters spiritual the State has no say. Should it seem fit to any such body to revise or amend its standards of doctrine, it is surely within its own province and right to do so. If this were denied, then the Church in New Zealand, designated page 322in its Constitution as a "Branch of the Church of England associated together by mutual compact," is not a living but a dead branch. It must surely have its own inherent powers of self-development. If it be argued that the terms of our Constitution forbid all such possible development, except under the authority of the State Church at home, which can no longer give that authority, what hinders us from altering those terms? They were not imposed on us by any external power; we adopted them ourselves. Are we to be enslaved for all time by the dead hand of the past? I lay stress on this, not for the sake of change or innovation, but as a necessary condition of our Church life. There may be need of change; the whole trend of opinion, even in such a conservative body as the Church in England, shows this. Debates in Convocation illustrate it. We had an eloquent speech in the Auckland Synod from a well-known Wellington clergyman in favour of some revision of the use of the Psalms. Once free from legal difficulty in the matter of property, and our position clearly defined, our first care should be to provide that no sort of change in our formularies should take place, except after such a process as would clearly indicate the mind of the whole church in the Province of New Zealand. And we might be certain that the Church here would do nothing that would interrupt its true spiritual communion and union with the Mother Church at Home.

With regard to Church finance, the General Synod actually controls only a few Trust funds belonging to North Island dioceses. In general, Church finance is diocesan. General Synod, during its recess, has no executive body which can transact business. Its page 323Standing Committee is charged only with the duty of interpreting the canons and deciding any question that may arise of alleged infraction of Canon Law. But a full statement of the financial position of each diocese is laid before General Synod at its triennial session. So far only is it concerned with Diocesan finance.

Many years ago, Bishop Selwyn, who was something of an autocrat, conceived the idea of one general fund for all New Zealand, under the control of General Synod. At the time it chiefly affected the Diocese of Christchurch, which possessed endowments, made by the foresight of the Canterbury Association, of considerable value. Selwyn's scheme met with the unanimous opposition of the Diocesan Synod, and he was obliged to give way. Had it succeeded it might have neutralized Selwyn's own ideal, embodied in our Constitution, of a federation of Dioceses under a General Synod for general legislative purposes, but each Diocese retaining its own proper independence. This was in accordance with the practice of the Church in its early centuries. Each Diocese complete in itself, bishop, clergy, and people; various Dioceses grouped together in Provinces for general legislative purposes,—a practice which prevailed until the gradual usurpation of Diocesan independence by the centralizing dominion of Rome.

I remember a criticism of the Christchurch Synod on this occasion by one of the acutest and best read men in New Zealand, Judge Richmond, given in a spirit of friendly banter: "Ah, I see that down in Canterbury they have discovered that the Diocese is the essential unit of the Church."

In a country like New Zealand, in which endow-page 324ments are as yet few and quite inadequate for the support of the clergy, we have of course to rely on the voluntary system. No doubt it has its defects. But, on the other hand, it is invaluable in arousing and maintaining the interest of the Laity in the work of the Church. And its results are good. Speaking chiefly for our own diocese of Christchurch, I may say that the average stipend of the clergy compares favourably with any diocese at home. Moreover, they are free from the official fees which are such a hardship at Home. The clergy are not responsible for dilapidations in regard to their churches or vicarages; the cost of these falls on the parish, that is, the Laity. A general endowment fund for the whole diocese, together with special funds of a similar nature, contributed by the Laity in every parish, supply an annual grant to every cure, and an additional grant in the case of the poorer parishes and missionary districts. The voluntary system needs this aid, but without doubt it is the secret spring of that vital interest in Church work which the Laity show in New Zealand. It goes far to make them realize that the Church is not merely the Clergy, but themselves as well. They are not merely passive members of the Church. The Church does not merely consist of an official caste of Bishops and Clergy. Bishops and Clergy are not "Lords over God's heritage" any more than they were in the days of S. Peter and S. Paul, but fellow servants and ministers. The Clergy are not freeholders, in legal possession of their benefices, but priests in charge of their flocks. The Laity support their Clergy. It has taken some time for churchpeople emigrating from home to realize this responsibility. But to a great extent they have done page 325so. The support of the Ministry has become a habit. It is this which constitutes so great a difference between us and the Church at home. There, save in rare cases, whilst most liberal subscriptions are forthcoming for church building, charities, missions, and general church work,—many millions per annum,—very few are asked to support their Clergy.

I am tempted to quote, in connection with this, a conversation I heard of between a Colonial Bishop and a layman in London, a man of earnest churchmanship, and keenly interested in the perplexing question of raising the incomes of so many clergy to a really living wage, which their "livings" fail to supply.

"May I put a plain question to you? I know that you are a most liberal churchman; that you give freely to church work; may I ask you how much you give for the actual maintenance of the clergy who serve you and give you those Sacraments and Means of Grace on which you set such value? Do you pay anything, save a very occasional fee, for their ministrations?"

The reply was, "Well, now you put it in that way, I confess that I pay nothing."

I should like to set against this little practical example of the working of the system at home of socalled "Livings," in which Voluntaryism has little or no share, another view of the case.

I was asked to attend a large meeting of clergy, and give them some account of our voluntary system in New Zealand. Inviting questions, I was met by this objection: "You say that the clergy are paid by their people?" "Yes," I replied, "but not directly; their offerings, which consist of regular Sunday offertories, subscriptions, and donations, are page 326forwarded to the Diocesan Treasurer at headquarters, and are sent by him to the clergy. In every parish, at Easter, at the Parish Meeting, the Churchwardens and Vestry enter into a guarantee to furnish for the year the necessary stipends for the clergy, both vicars and curates, which are supplemented by Diocesan grants.

"But if so," was the rejoinder, "what safeguard have you that the laity will not lay profane hands on the Ark, and practically compel you to preach what they regard as true doctrine, and regulate your practice by their standards of ritual?"

My answer was—"Experience; we do not find that this is the case. The laity know that their voice and opinions have in our Synodical system of Church Government a due share in it. They have an equal vote with the clergy in Synod. I cannot call to mind any instance of what you seem to fear; and, moreover, I do know of cases in which, for a considerable time, there was much disagreement between the Vicar and his congregation, and yet there was no 'starving out,' but a loyal continuance of support."

I should like to add, in regard to finance, that we have made some way towards solving the problem of a Pension Fund for Clergy, and their widows and orphans. It is, of course, a day of small things as yet, but within a few years the results will be substantial. I am again speaking chiefly of the diocese of Christchurch. Hitherto it has been found impracticable to establish a Pension Fund for the whole Province. The principle of the Fund is that every licensed clergyman has to contribute four guineas a year; whilst the capital of the fund is increased by legacies, donations, occasional offertories, and the usual interest page 327accruing from investments. The fund has been most carefully nursed by the Pension Board, which consists entirely of laymen, the Bishop being Chairman. Again, this is a most valuable example of the practical part which our laity have in the interests of the Church. The Board presents its report annually to Synod, and it is then discussed. The scheme provides a graduated scale of pension, etc., according to length of service. In any case there is never any claim of a parish for a pension for its retiring vicar out of its parochial income. If this scheme continues to prosper, in another fifty years or so there will be no need for men really past their work to cling to it to the disadvantage of their people. Again, I wish to insist on the immense value to the Church of the services of its Laity, business men, who gladly devote valuable time to the work. We have been specially favoured by the presence of men of this sort in our Synods, who are the backbone of our financial progress. Work inspired by the sense of responsibility for the welfare of the Church. Their devotion to it relieves the clergy of the necessity of "serving tables." It is the outcome of a system of Church Government which emphasizes the fact that "the body is not one member but many; that the members should have the same care one for another; that we are the Body of Christ, and members in particular."

During the last three years I have been greatly aided by the Rev. J. A. R. Wilkin, a Durham man, from the Diocese of Lichfield, an able preacher, and devoted parish priest. He has returned to his old diocese. I may quote him in favour of the plan, lately suggested, of men serving in Colonial Dioceses for a time, and then returning home. I know that he feels page 328that he has enlarged his horizon of experience, both of Church work and human nature. This is but analogous to the experience of all who leave the common round and daily task of work at home for sojourn in the Colonies. Life here may be out of the main stream of life in the old world. But it is not a stagnant backwater. It has all the characteristics of youth, enterprise, optimism, ready for new adventure. It has the special charm of pioneer work. At first Wilkin admitted to me that he would not easily settle down to these new conditions of work. But I am certain that, in the tumult and smoke of West Bromwich, he will often look back on his years in Timaru as time well spent. Nor will he readily forget his excursions to the Southern Alps, and his trout fishing with his friend, J. Turnbull, who taught him the gentle art.

I am,
Yours ever,

H. W. H.