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Community Work in the Anglican Māori Missions

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Lachy Paterson
14 May, 2021

When “missionaries” are mentioned, many New Zealanders would automatically think of New Zealand before the Treaty of Waitangi, or perhaps of later missions in Africa and other foreign places. Our understandings of missionaries are often negative, as tactless, insensitive and censorious zealots who rode roughshod over indigenous cultures in their quest for a harvest of souls.  People are perhaps less aware that most of the major churches had missionaries working with Māori during the time of the Second World War, some of whom were Māori themselves.  The concept of mission was vibrant at this time, with the Church financing and operating foreign and home missions (i.e. within rural or new Pākehā settlements) as well as Māori missions.  

Because of the size of the Anglican Māori Church, it is not possible to cover everything in a single kōrero.  The Church ran boarding schools for Māori secondary students, and with other Protestant churches helped establish hostels as Māori migrated to towns for work.[1]  There was considerable debates within the Anglican Church as to how and when the Māori church might fade away, so that the two races would worship together as a single church, or gain mana mouhake as a separate entity.[2] Later kōrero cover these and other church-related kaupapa.  This kōrero investigates the Church’s work with Māori communities outside of urban centres, its workers, and the nature of its missions.


Missions staff and localities

 Anglican dioceses ran their own organisations under the the authority of their respective bishops.  Most Māori church work occurred in the Auckland diocese (North Cape to the Waikato River, and the Coromandel Peninsula, with 15 Māori pastorates headed by Māori clergy) and the Waiapu diocese (the Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Hawkes Bay with 12 Māori pastorates).  The Church, largely in response to the losing Māori members to the Rātana Church, had appointed Rev. Frederick Bennett as the Bishop of Aotearoa, the first Māori bishop, in 1928.  Unfortunately his authority was limited; he worked as an assistant to the Bishop of Waiapu, requiring the approval of other bishops to  work within their dioceses.[3]

 Outside of the two dioceses above, the Church’s Māori missionary work was thin at best. In 1943, the Bishop of Waikato expressed dissatisfaction with the Māori Mission work; the Mission Superintendent, Archdeacon Oulds, had his own Pākehā parish to look after, and Canon Karaka was the only Māori priest alongside a few Pākehā women.  The following year, he labelled the work a “farce”, ‘observing that one Maori priest and five or six women travelling about in various parishes could not hope to cope with the work.’  In 1946, he announced that there were now no Māori clergy in the diocese.[4]  In 1941 the Wellington diocese had four Māori clergy (of a total of 99) to cover many scattered Māori communities.  The situation was worse for the South Island; for example the Christchurch bishop in 1939 was hoping for a North Island Māori minister for Kaikōura and a curate for Rangiora.[5]  This was not to be, and the Christchurch diocese had to settle for occasional visits from Māori priests until these too dried up before the war’s end.[6]

The war did not help; because the Anglicans claimed the largest number of Māori adherents, they provided the chaplains for the Māori Battalion, which further put pressure on the church’s staff.[7]  As staff died, retired or were seconded to the military, it became harder to fill positions; for example in 1945, Canon Wiremu Keretene was not only the Superintendent of Auckland’s Māori Mission, but in charge of both the Paihia and Waimate North pastorates.

Finance was a perennial problem for the Anglican Māori missions.  This was reflected in the low stipends paid to the Māori clergy, most of whom had families to support.[8]  In 1937, the Waiapu diocese was paying its Māori ministers a minimum of £200 per annum, up to a half of that might be spent on purchasing a car necessary for them to undertake their work within their large pastorates. It stated ‘we look forward to the time when each parish will be able to make an adequate provision for car expenses, so as to leave the stipend free for the support of the Maori vicar and his family.’ [9]  It appears that the stipend may have been cut, as in 1941, the Waiapu Church Gazette noted that ‘a £1 for £1 subsidy is given after the Maori parishioners have raised the sum of £78 towards the stipend of the clergyman in charge, to bring the total of £156’, although ‘several of the pastorates have considerably increased the allowances for the car expenses of the clergy.’[10]  In Auckland, Pākehā clergy, who also bought their own cars, received just £300 p.a. before tax, less than what many of the men in their congregations earnt.  The diocese raised £3622 for foreign missions, but just £556 for their Maori Mission; the Auckland Māori clergy stipend, however, amounted to just £140 p.a., and the diocese recognised that Māori priests generally needed to take on ‘secular employment’ to make ends meet.  An appeal specifically for Māori ministers’ stipends went out in 1942, but this did little to staunch the steady drop off of Māori priests at this time.[11]

 The dioceses partially made up the shortage of Māori clergy with Pākehā “lady workers”. For example, in 1939 Auckland had two women, and in 1944 Waikato had six ladies in five stations, at Paeroa, Huntly, Otorohanga, Mangapeehi, and Waitara.[12]  The Church Army, an Anglican evangelical organisation, also helped in the Māori mission field; Captain Withers worked in the Urewera, with Sisters North and Robinson operated out of the Waimate North mission house from 1945.[13]  

The Diocese of Waiapu had been fortunate to have some English women volunteer in the mid-1930s and fund their own mission stations.

 For the work of organised Church Sunday Schools, the weekly scripture lessons in the Day Schools, the leadership of Maori companies of the Girl Guides, Brownies, and Girls’ Life Brigade, the regular visiting of Maori homes and the sick in the hospitals, and a good deal of the work of preparing confirmation candidates we are still almost entirely dependent upon our lady workers in the mission houses.[14]

But in 1940s, illness had meant a call for more women for work in Waiapu was required.[15] A woman from Lower Hutt took on the unpaid position at the Te Araroa Mission House that year. The following year the diocese lamented, ‘the present position is that we have seven workers in five Mission Houses, where four years ago there were seven centres, worked by a staff of 18, including three trainees’ and offered ‘Free board and lodging at the Mission House, and £50 a year if experienced’ to prospective women applicants.[16] 


Community Engagement

 Māori associated with the Church also ran local Sunday Schools.  There were five initiated by Māori deacons being run by Māori women in 1941. ‘At Mohaka Miss Esme Huata, daughter of the Rev. Heemi Huata and teacher in the local Native School, conducts a Sunday School of 40 children. There are also schools at Te Kiwi and North Clyde, conducted by Miss B. Tehima and Miss McAndrew, respectively, and Mrs. Whaanga has a Sunday School at Nuhaka.’[17]  The Auckland diocese had their own Sunday School organiser, who visited and guided both Māori and Pākehā Sunday Schools, and children in isolated areas who undertook Correspondence Sunday School.[18]  Many of the Sunday Schools in Northland were run by members of Māori branches of the Mothers’ Union, an Anglican-based women’s devotional organisation, that also attracted a number of menfolk. Mothers’ Union women also visited the sick, and cleaned their local churches.[19]

The Māori clergy often worked with teenagers and adults.  Rev. Wī Huata was particularly active in the Hawkes Bay.  He ran Bible study classes at Kohupātiki, held a large Bible Class rally at Pakipaki in 1941 (see the image with this kōrero), and in 1943 staged a Bible Class Camp at Ōmahu, attracting 270 participants.  While essentially evangelical in nature, these also incorporated Māori tikanga. At Ōmahu, he was ‘ably assisted by Rev. H. Rangiihu, of Te Kaha pastorate, Rev. Turoa Pohatu, of the East Coast, and Rev. Manu Bennett, of Tauranga. The camp was opened by a fine Maori entertainment and concert on the marae at Omahu, which was attended by about 400 people, mainly members of the Maori race.’[20]


Conducting missions

 “Mission” also has a more pro-active meaning, when clergy conducted prolonged events to as a means of spiritual renewal. After attending a six-day mission at Wairoa in 1939, ‘The Rev. H. Huata, Vicar of the Pastorate, said that in the whole 40 years of his ministry this had been the first experience of a parochial mission, and he wished he could have had the experience years before.’[21]   Missions also sought to draw back those who had strayed, and to induce individuals to publicly commit themselves to Christ.  A week-long mission at Te Kao in 1939, for example, attracted 100 people, ‘Anglicans, Ratanaites, and Roman Catholics’. On the final day, ‘after a final appeal, 24 people, young and old, stood up one after another, and in a few simple words professed their faith in Jesus Christ.’[22] 

The Bishop of Aotearoa also undertook a number of missions.  A five-day mission to Pūtiki in 1941 did not gather large congregations, but ‘at the final service on Easter Sunday 20 people stood up to re-dedicate their lives to Jesus Christ, and then knelt at the alter rails to receive the Bishop’s blessing.’[23]  Bennett may have had misgivings over the Church’s antipathy to Rātana,[24] but in the reports at least, there was particular gratification when members of the Rātana and Ringatū faiths were “won back”.  In March 1941, Bennett and Canon W.H. Williams, Wellington’s Māori Mission Superintendent, conducted three missions over two weeks at Wairoa, Mōhaka and Nūhaka.  While at Nūhaka they were able to gather 30 Ringatū at Te Māhia and baptise four infants.[25] 

The Anglican Church had taken a hard line with any of their members who had attended Rātana services, and from 1925 any Anglicans who signed the Rātana covenant were considered to have excommunicated themselves.[26] However the Church was willing to take back those who had erred.  For example, after work undertaken by three Māori deacons and two theological students in 1940 at Mōhaka, ‘the Bishop of Aotearoa, in the presence of a large congregation, admitted back to the Church fourteen members of the Ratana sect. We know also that there are many others in this district considering taking the same step.’[27] Bennett also had success at a mission at Tāngōio in October 1941.

One happy result of this mission was the public readmission to the fold of the Church of an old man of 93, who had been a member of the Ratana movement.  This old man is now a permanent inmate of the Napier Hospital, and for some time has expressed the wish to be received back into the Church so that he might again partake of the Holy Communion before he dies.[28]



We can see that the Māori Anglican Church had serious issues through the war period. In particular, it was short of staff and money with which to pay them, even in Auckland and Waiapu, the two dioceses that saw the most missionary activity. 

Despite these challenges, Māori still engaged with the church and its missionaries.  Māori ran Sunday Schools and children attended; Māori women established their own Mothers’ Union branches; young people assembled to study the Bible; and Māori ministers conducted missions, sometimes attracting large crowds.   This may be put down to a deeper spiritual engagement of that time; practically all Māori professed a faith, and unsophisticated Christian fervour was perhaps less likely to be mocked. 

But there may have been other reasons.  Most Māori still lived rurally, and as the Bishop of Auckland noted in 1943, most of his Māori flock lived in the more remote areas.[29]  Many rural Māori communities suffered from poverty and a dearth of entertainment; what the missionaries offered may have been convivial and fun.  Sunday Schools provided books and Christmas presents to children;[30] young Māori men and women may have gravitated to Bible Class as places to meet; and women certainly appreciated the sociability of the Mothers’ Union services they attended.  Adults and children no doubt all enjoyed watching “lantern pictures” as a distraction from ordinary life.[31]

The war was a major concern to Māori Anglicans.  The Church provided chaplains to the Māori Battalion, and many of the soldiers were Anglican.  In 1941, the Waiapu Church Gazette proudly proclaimed, ‘It is an interesting fact that of the four Maori Battalion Company Commanders, three are sons of our Maori Clergy, and the fourth is a son of a loyal Church family from the Waipawa district. All of them have passed through Te Aute College.’[32]  Māori were justly proud of the Battalion’s exploits.  But in some respects, the war was just a hindrance; there were fewer clergy available and petrol rationing made travel more difficult.  But it is clear that missionaries tried to continue their work just as they always done.


Image: Pakipaki bible class group at Houngarea Marae, 1941, led by Reverend Wi Te Tau Huata. [photograph by H.J. Lovell-Smith] Ref: 878/1616/39317, Knowledge Bank: Hawkes Bay Digital Archives Trust.



[1] For example, see Emma Campbell, “The Māori Hostel Movement”,

[2] See Hirini Kaa, Te Hāhi Mihinare: The Māori Anglican Church, (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2020), pp.85-89.

[3] Kaa, Te Hāhi Mihinare, pp.63-81; W.P. Morrell, The Anglican Church in New Zealand: A History, Dunedin: Anglican Church of the Province of New Zealand, 1973, pp.175-178; Manu A. Bennett. ‘Bennett, Frederick Augustus’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 May 2021).

[4] Waikato Diocesan Magazine, August 1943, p.147; August 1946, p.146-7; Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 August 1944, p.12.

[5] Church News, July 1939, p.27.

[6] Church News, August 1939, p.56; 1 October 1940, p.4.

[7] Church News, October 1942, p.6

[8] Morrell, The Anglican Church, pp.174, 184-186.

[9] Church Chronicle, 1 March 1938, p.24; 1 November 1938, p.156.

[10] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 September 1941, p.9.

[11] Church Gazette, 1 September 1939, p.9; 1 November 1940, p.9-10; 1 February 1941, p.8; 1 November 1941, p.10; 1 October 1942, p.7.

[12] Church Gazette, 1 August 1939, p.8; Waikato Diocesan Magazine, September 1944, p.180

[13] Church Chronicle, 1 June 1939, p.247; Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 July 1940, p.3; Church News, December 1939, p.14; Church Gazette, 1 April 1945, p.7; 1 July 1945, p.11.

[14] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 October 1939, p.9

[15] Church Chronicle, 1 September 1940, p.118

[16] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 January 1939, p.4; 1 November 1940, p.6; 1 September 1941, pp.3, 9.

[17] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 January 1941, p.8

[18] Church Gazette, 1 December 1942, p.23

[19] For example, Church Gazette, August 1939, p.14; December 1939, p.12; 1 December 1941, p.20.

[20] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 February 1943, p.2.

[21] Church Chronicle, 1 July 1939, p.268.

[22] Church Chronicle, 1 March 1939, p.204.

[23] Church Chronicle, 1 May 1941, p.54.

[24] Bennett. ‘Bennett, Frederick Augustus’.

[25] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 April 1941, p.7

[26] Morrell, The Anglican Church, p.175.

[27] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 July 1940, p.9.

[28] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 October 1941, p.10.

[29] Church Gazette, 1 October 1943, p.6.

[30] For example, Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 January 1941, p.6.

[31] For example, Church Gazette, 1 January 1942, p.20.

[32] Waiapu Church Gazette, 1 December 1941, p.3.

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