Our History

Who we are, and what we are, is influenced by our history

Who we are, and what we are, is influenced by our history

Our history dates back to the first Christian church service in New Zealand held on Christmas Day 1814. The service was led by The Rev’d Samuel Marsden on the site of what would become the Oihi Mission Station (now known as Marsden Cross) in the Bay of Islands.

The first church in Auckland was St Paul’s in Emily Place. The foundation stone was laid by Governor William Hobson on 26 July 1841 and the first service was held on 7 May 1843.

History of the Anglican Church in New Zealand

History of the Anglican Church in New Zealand

The Rev’d Samuel Marsden was working as an Anglican chaplain in Australia when he became interested in setting up a mission station in New Zealand after meeting Māori people on Australian trading vessels. That interest strengthened when he met Ngāpuhi chief Ruatara on board a ship traveling to New South Wales.

The Christian Missionary Society supported Marsden’s plans so, after sending two men to New Zealand to find out about local conditions, he sailed to the Bay of Islands with Ruatara, Hongi Hika and some settler families. They arrived on Thursday 22 December 1814 and anchored at Oihi cove under Ruatara’s pa.

At 10am on Christmas Day Marsden led the first Christian service on land in New Zealand. Ruatara acted as translator and 300 warriors danced a haka around Marsden at the close of the service.

The Oihi mission station stayed open for 17 years and the site is now marked by a large Celtic cross, erected in 1907. More mission stations were established at Kerikeri and Paihia under the leadership of Henry Williams and further afield at Waimate North.

The early years of missionary activity were under the guidance of the Christian Missionary Society as Te Hāhi Mihinare (The Missionary Church). With the arrival of a printing press in December 1834 the missionaries were able to publish selections of Scripture and the Book of Common Prayer in te reo Māori. Māori converts spread the message in the context of tikanga Māori.

George Augustus Selwyn arrived as Bishop of New Zealand in 1841 and established the Church in New Zealand amongst the settlers, using customs from the Church of England. These two pathways of Anglican development – Māori and Pākehā – were the start of what became our Three Tikanga Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Through Bishop Selwyn’s efforts, the Constitution of the Church of the Province of New Zealand was signed in St Stephen’s Chapel, Judges Bay, on 13 June 1857. New dioceses were created in Christchurch, Wellington, Nelson, Waiapu and later Dunedin.

In 1992 General Synod adopted a revised constitution which provided for Tikanga Pākehā, Tikanga Māori and Tikanga Pasifika to work together as equal partners in the decision-making of General Synod. The  Church of the Province of New Zealand became The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, made up of seven Pākehā dioceses, five Māori hui amorangi and the Diocese of Polynesia.

History of the Anglican Church in Auckland

History of the Anglican Church in Auckland

Auckland was founded by Governor Hobson in 1840. Shortly after, the city’s first Anglican church, St Paul’s, was established within the precincts of Fort Britomart in Emily Place.

St Paul’s served as our cathedral for more than 40 years. In the late 1840s, small chapels were built to serve settlers in what were then isolated rural communities – Tāmaki, Epsom, and Remuera. These communities were among our earliest places of worship and formed the beginning of many of today’s parishes. Further expansion happened when clergy were appointed to serve the fencible soldier settlements on the outskirts of the city in Onehunga, Howick, and Ōtāhuhu-Panmure.

By 1853, there was need for another parish in Auckland and so the first St Matthew’s was built. Selwyn also set up a new archdeaconry of Waitematā. By this stage, Selwyn was also busy in the islands of Melanesia. Selwyn brought Melanesians to Auckland for training – hence the name Mission Bay, the site of the mission headquarters from 1856 to 1867 and the beginnings of what is now St John’s Theological College.

As Auckland’s population increased, new churches were built in the city, and schools and orphanages were established, including the orphans’ home that was the origin of the Anglican Trust for Women and Children. The country districts were a greater problem as it was difficult to sustain permanent clergy there and so each city priest was given responsibility for a rural district.

South of Auckland, the New Zealand Wars inhibited settlement in the 1860s, and work among Māori came to a virtual standstill. The Great South Road was built to serve military interests but it also opened up the region to farming settlers.

When Bishop Selwyn returned to England in 1868, he left a diocese that seems remarkably small to us – just a handful of parishes around Auckland and in some struggling country areas.

Bishop William Cowie (1870-1902) was the first to be known as Bishop of Auckland. For 30 years he laboured to plant parishes in all parts of the diocese and to respond to new social needs in the city of Auckland. Two important diocesan posts were inaugurated at this time: the first Diocesan Secretary, appointed in 1878 and the Chancellor in 1884. The new St Mary’s in Parnell was designated as the Cathedral of the Diocese in 1887.

Neligan House was built as Bishop Moore Neligan’s residence in his later years but is now used as the administrative centre of the diocese. Education was a top priority for Bishop Neligan (1903-10) with King’s College, Queen Victoria School, Diocesan School for Girls and Dilworth all established during these years. Many new parishes were created, especially in East Auckland and rural areas in the north.

1914 marked the beginning not only of the First World War, but also of Bishop Alfred Averill’s long episcopate (1914-40). Between 1915 and 1927 many new parishes were formed in West Auckland and new country parishes began in Northland, the Hauraki Plains and other areas south of Auckland.

By now, the diocese had become too big. It was impossible to minister adequately to the south of the diocese. And so in 1926, a new Diocese of Waikato was formed, taking in 25 parishes in the archdeaconries of Waikato and Taranaki. A new archdeaconry of Manukau was created alongside Waimate and Auckland to provide for the parishes to the south of the city.

In 1920 Jasper Calder was appointed as the first City Missioner. The Church Army arrived in the late 1930s, and a chaplain to mental hospitals was appointed.

The Second World War brought a need for more chaplaincies in the Army, Navy and Air Force. St John’s College closed during the war (1942-45) and resumed in 1946.

Parochial reorganisation was a feature of these years of Bishop John Simkin’s episcopate. The 1950s brought prosperity and growth; many parochial boundaries changed while several parishes were revived, and others formed. A new archdeaconry of Waitematā was created in 1940 and later the Hauraki archdeaconry was created to deal with rapid growth on the North Shore.

An assistant bishop was appointed for the first time and served from 1955 to 1964.

Many diocesan developments occurred in the1960s and 70s under Bishop Eric Gowing’s leadership, including initiatives in youth work and ministry education. New forms of ministry began or expanded – team ministry and auxiliary (later non-stipendiary) ministry, cooperating parishes, hospital and industrial chaplaincies. The first women were ordained, and Māori ministry was given a higher profile, with the appointment of the first Archdeacon of Taitokerau in 1976. There was enormous growth in the Church’s social services. The Selwyn Foundation began working among older people in 1967, and long-established work with women and children was combined to form what is now known as the Anglican Trust for Women and Children (ATWC).

Many new parishes were created and in 1965, a new archdeaconry of Tāmaki was established in the eastern suburbs.

Since 1978, there have been four diocesan bishops – Sir Paul Reeves (1978-85), Bruce Gilberd (1985-94), John Paterson (1995-2010) and Ross Bay (from 2010), assisted by various regional and assistant bishops and bishop’s chaplains.

Major matters in these years included the publication of A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa; dealing with social issues; and a review of the Church’s constitution.

Diocesan restructuring continued in the 1980s and 90s, and new archdeaconries were established in Hunua (1981) and Maungawhau (1990). Local shared ministry began in the late 1990s. The growing diversity of Auckland’s population pointed to the need for new ministries. A Tongan congregation began meeting in Grey Lynn (1985) and the Asian Mission District was formed. Many church buildings were used by Asian congregations.

Two ecumenical ventures were started to address social service and social justice concerns: Friendship House in South Auckland and the Northland Urban and Rural Mission (NURM).

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1996, with the building of the nave. The gothic chancel had been finished several years earlier, following the laying of the foundation stone in 1957, 100 years after the signing of the Church constitution. In 1982, the historic wooden church of St Mary’s was moved across the road to its present site adjacent to the chancel. The Cathedral was completed in 2016 with the opening of the Bishop Selwyn Chapel.


For more information, please see:

Davidson, A. K., Ed. (2011). Living Legacy: A History of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, Auckland, Anglican Diocese of Auckland.

Derbyshire, N. W. (2006). The ‘English church’ revisited: Issues of expansion and identity in a settler church: the Anglican Church in New Zealand 1891-1945. Auckland, Massey University. Master of Arts thesis.

Derbyshire, N. W. (2013). An anatomy of antipodean Anglicanism: The Anglican church in New Zealand 1945 to 2012. Auckland, Massey University. Ph.D. thesis.

The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia website https://www.anglican.org.nz/About/History