Anglican General Synod

Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia

Te Hāhi Mihinare ki Aotearoa ki Niu Tīreni, ki Ngā Moutere o te Moana Nui a Kiwa


  1. Polynesia
  2. Aotearoa (regions a, b, c, d and e)
  3. Auckland
  4. Waikato
  5. Waiapu
  6. Wellington
  7. Nelson
  8. Christchurch
  9. Dunedin



The Anglican Church in New Zealand had its beginnings in 1814 when the Maori chief Ruatara agreed with the Reverend Samuel Marsden to give protection to three missionaries and their families at Oihi in the Bay of Islands. Missionary activity, including Christian teaching in the Maori language, after initial difficulties, quickly spread throughout the country. The work was guided by the Church Missionary Society under the able local leadership of the Rev. Henry Williams from 1823. The work of the CMS faded significantly during the wars of the 1860s. The missionaries were assisted in many cases by their wives, who toiled and laboured alongside them. The Maori people themselves were vigorous evangelists among their own people, and some of them died for the cause of Christianity.

Bishop Selwyn

With the advent of organised European settlement after 1840, mainly from England and Scotland, a new focus of the church emerged; the formation of the church in the new colonial settlements. This was given firm direction by George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, who arrived in 1842 as a bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland. The settlers were intent on establishing their familiar church in a new land, but without the English connection with the state. A focus was always the Book of Common Prayer, or, in Maori circles, its equivalent, Te Rawiri. Along with that went the hymns and music of the Church of England.


In 1857 a general conference held in Auckland agreed on a constitution for the church, which then became an autonomous province. Bishop Selwyn's original Diocese of New Zealand was sub-divided in 1856 and again in 1858 by the creation of the separate dioceses of Christchurch (8) Waiapu (5) Wellington (6) and Nelson, (7) and in 1868 the remaining part of the Diocese of New Zealand was re-named the Diocese of Auckland. (2) The Diocese of Dunedin (9) formed in 1869, was originally part of the Diocese of Christchurch. The Diocese of Auckland was divided in 1925 when the southern part of it became the Diocese of Waikato. (3)

Late 19th Century

The second half of the nineteenth century was dominated by the work of establishing parishes and churches. Parishioners raised funds to erect buildings, almost universally in the style of the Gothic revival. An emerging significant body at the end of the century was the Mothers' Union (in most places now superseded by the Association of Anglican Women), a product of the late nineteenth century concern for purity and godliness in family life and society. In many respects it gave women a status denied them in the decision-making processes of the church. Although the country gave women the vote in 1893, the church did not amend its legislation to allow women in vestries and in synods until 1922. The church among the Maori people suffered during this period from fragmentation caused by the wars of the 1860s and a general policy of assimilation to European structures and practices.

20th Century

The two world wars and the depression dominated the first half of the twentieth century. The growing social concern was reflected in the work of city missions in the major centres. The younger generation of church people benefited from important developments in Bible classes and youth groups, which were a significant feature of many western countries from the 1920s. The characteristic feature of the post-war phase has been a willingness to build a distinctively New Zealand church. The leadership of the church has at last been found from among New Zealanders themselves. In the fields of liturgy, social attitudes, and the place of women in the ordained ministry, the church has been increasingly confident about its own convictions and insights. The charismatic movement has also made an important contribution to the life of the Anglican Church in New Zealand. After a period of experimental liturgies beginning in 1966, the church published its own revised Prayer Book in 1989, A New Zealand Prayer Book: He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa. Changing social attitudes are reflected in the decision by the church in 1970 to permit the re-marriage of divorced persons in church. Women were first ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and in 1990 the Rev Dr Penny Jamieson was ordained as Bishop of Dunedin, the first woman diocesan bishop in the Anglican Communion.

The South Pacific

From the time of Bishop Selwyn the islands of the South Pacific had been included in the Church of the Province of New Zealand. The Anglican Church in Melanesia became a separate province in 1975. The Anglican Church in the islands of Polynesia (principally Fiji, Tonga and Western Samoa) was established as an associated missionary diocese in 1925. In 1990 the Diocese of Polynesia (1) became a diocese in its own right.

Bicultural Development and Partnership

Since the 1970s the Maori people in New Zealand have moved out of the shadow of European dominance and assimilationist policies. The Church of the Province of New Zealand committed itself to a re-examination of the principles of bi-cultural development and partnership stemming from a re-consideration of the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 between the British Crown and the Maori tribes of New Zealand. In 1978 Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa (2) originally set up in 1928 with a bishop acting as suffragan to the Bishop of Waiapu, was inaugurated as a semi-autonomous body with representation in the General Synod for the first time. A more comprehensive review of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi was undertaken in 1984, and a Commission was set up to examine the constitution.

A Revised Constitution

The General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui adopted a revised constitution in 1992, which provides an opportunity for each of the three partners, tikanga (= way, style, or cultural model) Maori, tikanga Pakeha (European), tikanga Pasefika, to express its mind as an equal partner in the decision-making process of the General Synod and to exercise mission and ministry to God's people within the culture of each partner. With the adoption of this constitution, the Church of the Province of New Zealand became The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia/ Te Hahi Mihinare ki Aotearoa ki Niu Tireni, ki Nga Moutere o te Moana Nui a Kiwa. The seven dioceses in New Zealand and the Diocese of Polynesia remain unchanged, but within Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa five Hui Amorangi (= regional bishoprics) were established, and four bishops have been ordained to serve those areas in conjunction with the Bishop of Aotearoa.

The General Synod / te Hinota Whanui

Christians pray and worship together in many forms of communities throughout the world. The Anglican Communion is a worldwide association of Christians who affirm an expression of the Christian faith in the local circumstances of the nations in which they live. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is an international forum at which Anglicans discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. The ACC has endorsed as principles of the mission of the Church the following five principles:

i) To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom;

ii) To teach, baptise and nurture the new believers;

iii) To respond to human needs by loving service;

iv)To seek to transform unjust structures of society; to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation;

v) To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

In our part of the world, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia ensures that the sacraments of the church are celebrated, and all other aspects of mission are promoted by ministers, both lay and ordained. This mission and ministry takes place in countless cathedrals, churches, and chapels; marae, homes, and halls; schools, hospitals, prisons, workplaces. Some of the ministry is structured; some is spontaneous. The origins of the church as Te Hahi Mihinare – the missionary work in Maori communities from 1814 – began without a national church structure. Since 1857 there has been a representative governing body for Anglicans known as the General Synod. The synod has met regularly ever since and now meets once every two years. The most recent meetings of General Synod have been held as follows:

2020 - Nelson (hosted by the Diocese of Nelson)

2018 - New Plymouth (hosted by the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki)

2016 - Napier (hosted by the Diocese of Waiapu)

2014 - Waitangi (hosted by Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa)

2012 – Polynesia - Nadi, Fiji (hosted by the Diocese of Polynesia)

2010 – Gisborne (hosted by Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa)

2008 – Wellington (hosted by the Diocese of Wellington)

2006 – Christchurch (hosted by the Diocese of Christchurch and te Hui Amorangi ki te Waipounamu)

2004 - Rotorua (hosted by Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa)

2002 - Dunedin (hosted by the Diocese of Dunedin)

2000 – Mangere (hosted by the Diocese of Polynesia)

1998 – Auckland (hosted by the Diocese of Auckland)

1996 – Rotorua (hosted by Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa)

1994 – Nelson (hosted by the Diocese of Nelson)

1992 – Hamilton (hosted by the Diocese of Waikato)

The Anglican Church in our countries was constituted as a 'voluntary compact' – unlike the laws that 'established' the Church of England in England. The voluntary compact included a vision of decision-making and accountability in which bishops, clergy and laity are all required to share in leadership of the church. Thus General Synod is comprised of the three 'orders' of bishops, clergy and laity representatives.

The journey of pilgrimage and faith in the life of our church led to a revised constitution coming into force in 1992. The Constitution's preamble recognised the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and the principles of partnership and bicultural development. It was mindful, also, of the equality of the Diocese of Polynesia as a partner in this church. The General Synod decided, therefore, to embrace a 'three tikanga' structure for our governing body. Thus members of the synod are elected to represent (i) Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, (ii) the Dioceses in New Zealand, and (iii) the Diocese of Polynesia. The current membership of General Synod comprises delegations of bishops, clergy and laity drawn from each of the Five Hui Amorangi of Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, from each of the Seven Dioceses in New Zealand and from the Diocese of Polynesia.

There are three major tasks to be attended to at meetings of the General Synod – to receive reports from the many commissions, agencies and organisations of the church's life and witness; to elect persons to the many bodies that carry out specialist and ongoing support work for the life of the church; and to pass laws that will regulate the common life of the church as a whole. The law-making function of the synod influenced the style of synod meetings for many years past. The parliamentary procedures of Westminster were the model for debating and voting. In recent years under the new constitution, however, it has become customary to suspend the Westminster-based standing orders and to seek to achieve consensus for decisions after the pattern of hui on marae.

For a measure to be passed by General Synod it must receive the support of all three orders and all three tikanga. If a matter is contentious, the preferred course is to caucus in tikanga groups and to negotiate mutually acceptable outcomes rather than to force a vote to be taken. The presidency of synod meetings is in the hands of three co-presidents appointed by each tikanga, and the episcopal leadership of the Primate and Co-presiding Bishops is also recognised by their leading in the facilitation of some parts of synod business. When synod is 'in committee' to go through the details of a proposed new canon or regulation there are a number of people responsible for chairing and recording – again selected to represent each of the three tikanga.

The Church is one body under one head, Jesus Christ. The three tikanga structure of the General Synod/te Hinota Whanui is intended to serve the unity of Christian mission in our part of the world. To this end, the 'common life' of the Church is expressed in a number of Conferences and Commissions that report to General Synod on various aspects of the church's mission and ministry.

Behind the scenes there are many people who contribute to the smooth running of an event such as a General Synod meeting. There is the Standing Committee of General Synod that meets regularly between each biennial session of the synod. This is a microcosm of the synod as a whole with representatives of each order and each tikanga. There is an Order Paper Committee that plans the agenda and order of business of the synod. Finally, there is the church's General Secretary and his office that maintains communications, arranges meetings, takes minutes and performs countless other administrative tasks.

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