Primate of New Zealand

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George Augustus Selwyn was the first bishop of New Zealand.

The Primate of New Zealand is the leading bishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Since 2006, the Senior Bishop of each tikanga (Māori, Pākehā, Pasefika) serves automatically as one of three co-equal Primates-and-Archbishops. Previously, one of these three would be Presiding Bishop and the other two Co-Presiding Bishops; and before that there was only one Primate.

Bishop and Metropolitan[edit]

George Selwyn was consecrated Bishop of New Zealand on 17 October 1841: he was the sole bishop over a very large territory, including all New Zealand and very many South Pacific islands. In his lifetime, as the Anglican ministry in New Zealand grew, that one diocese was divided several times: by letters patent dated 22 September 1858,[1] Selwyn was made metropolitan bishop over the other dioceses and called Bishop of New Zealand and Metropolitan[2][3] By 1868, New Zealand had seven dioceses, Selwyn had come to be referred to as "the Primate", and the General Synod constitution as amended that year used this term.[4]

Metropolitan of New Zealand
From Until Incumbent Notes
1858 1869 George Selwyn

Primate and Metropolitan[edit]

At the same Synod, Selwyn having announced his intention to resign, a Statute was adopted for the election of the Primate (and Metropolitan) from among the bishops diocesan (who retained their See) and Harper, Bishop of Christchurch was so elected (to take office upon Selwyn's resignation). The same statute created the role of Senior Bishop — being the bishop consecrated first (excluding any former primate), and Acting Primate in certain circumstances.[5] Primates of this era occasionally used the style Archbishop of New Zealand; and gained the archiepiscopal style the Most Reverend between the 5th General Synod (1871)[6] and the 6th (1874).[7] An attempt was made in the 21st Synod (1919) to make the Bishop of Wellington ex officio Primate and Metropolitan;[8] this failed in the 22nd Synod (1922),[9] which did, however, amend the Canons and officially grant the title Primate and Archbishop of New Zealand.[10]

Primates of New Zealand
From Until Incumbent Notes
1869 1890 Henry Harper Bishop of Christchurch, 1856–1890
1890 1893 Octavius Hadfield Bishop of Wellington, 1870–1893
1893 1902 William Cowie
1904 1919 Samuel Nevill

Primate and Archbishop[edit]

Throughout the 20th century, the church in New Zealand developed an understanding for the different cultures within it. In 1925, the Diocese of Polynesia began as a missionary diocese of the church. In 1928, the first Bishop of Aotearoa, ministering to the Māori, was consecrated as suffragan bishop to the Bishop of Waiapu. In the 1970s, Melanesia became a separate ecclesiastical province from New Zealand, and the Bishop of Aotearoa became a full-ranking diocesan, with a diocese covering all of New Zealand. Under the primacy of Brian Davis, Polynesia became a fully-fledged diocese and a review of church structures was begun.

In 1992, the General Synod of the church set up five hui amorangi, or regional bishoprics, to serve under the Bishop of Aotearoa. The Church of the Province of New Zealand also adopted its current name, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, to demonstrate its ownership by the three tikanga.[11] The same Synod limited the Primate to a ten-year term, with re-election to one further four-year term.[12]

Primates and Archbishops of New Zealand
From Until Incumbent Notes
1922 1925 Churchill Julius Bishop of Christchurch, 1890–1925
1925 1940 Alfred Averill Bishop of Auckland, 1914–1940
1940 1951 Campbell West-Watson Bishop of Christchurch, 1926–1951
1952 1960 Reginald Owen Bishop of Wellington, 1947–1960
1961 1971 Norman Lesser Bishop of Waiapu, 1947–1971
1972 1980 Allen Johnston Bishop of Waikato, 1969–1980
1980 1985 Paul Reeves
1986 1997 Brian Davis Bishop of Wellington, 1986–1997

Primate with Co-Presiding Bishops[edit]

The 53rd General Synod (1998) reduced the Primate's term from five General Synods (i.e. 10 years) to three (i.e. 6 years); removed the additional style "Archbishop" from the Primacy in favour of "Presiding Bishop"; and conferred the style "Co-Presiding Bishops / nga Pīhopa Aporei" on the Senior Bishops of the two tikanga besides the Primate's, while enjoining them to work closely with the Primate / te Pīhopa Mātāmua and Presiding Bishop.[13]

The 2004 General Synod passed a further Primacy statute[14] which: reinstated the honorific "Archbishop" (removing "Presiding Bishop") to the Primate; required the elected Primate to resign their other See(s); andand, anticipating the coming changes, limited the next Primate's term to two years (renewable once). Whakahuihui Vercoe duly stepped down at the end of that two-year term as Primate in 2006, when the church decided that three bishops shall share the position and style of archbishop, each representing one of the three tikanga, or cultural streams of the church: Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa (the Bishopric of Aotearoa, serving Māori), the Dioceses in New Zealand (serving Pākehā) and the Diocese of Polynesia.

Primates / Pīhopa Mātāmua
From Until Incumbent Notes
1998 2004 John Paterson
  • Bishop of Auckland, 1994–2010
  • Presiding Bishop
2004 2006 Whakahuihui Vercoe
Co-Presiding Bishops / Pīhopa Aporei
1998 2006 Jabez Bryce
  • Bishop of Polynesia, 1975–2010
  • Co-Presiding Bishop (Pasefika)
1998 2004 Whakahuihui Vercoe
  • Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa, 1981–2004
  • Pīhopa Aporei (Māori)
2004 2006 George Connor
  • Bishop in the Bay of Plenty, 1975–2005
  • Bishop of Dunedin, 2005–2009
  • Convening Bishop (NZ dioceses), 1998–2006
  • and Co-Presiding Bishop (Pākehā)

Shared Primacy[edit]

Further changes to the office of primate were its limitation to a two-year term, to allow for greater participation in leadership, and its establishment as a triumvirate of bishops. For the transitional period between the decision at 2006 General Synod and the completion of the necessary legislation, Turei was Primate and Archbishop, and Moxon and Bryce his Co-Presiding Bishops; but they began to act as if co-equal primates, including use of "Archbishop" and the Most Reverend. Since 2008, Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa, the diocesan Bishop of Polynesia and the Senior Bishop of the New Zealand (i.e. tikanga Pākehā) Dioceses have each — co-equally — been ex officio Primate and Archbishop; each one is elected by a body representing their whole tikanga.[15][16]

Primates / Pīhopa Mātāmua
From Until Incumbent Notes
2006 2017 Brown Turei
  • Te Pīhopa o Te Tairāwhiti, 1992–2017
  • Te Pīhopa o Aotearoa, 2005–2017
  • sole Primate and Archbishop, until 2008
  • retirement announced for 31 March[17]
  • died in office
2006 2010 Jabez Bryce
2006 April 2013[18] David Moxon
  • Bishop of Waikato, 1993–2013
  • Senior Bishop of the New Zealand dioceses, 2006–2013
  • Co-Presiding Bishop, 2006–2008
2010 2018 Winston Halapua Bishop of Polynesia, 2010–2018
1 May 2013[19] present Philip Richardson
8 April 2018[19] present Don Tamihere
2019 present Fereimi Cama Bishop of Polynesia since 2019


  1. ^ [1] (Series: Letters patent and other papers)
  2. ^ First General Synod of the Branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand (p. 78, online at the Kinder Library)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Proceedings of the Fourth General Synod of the Branch of the United Church of England and Ireland in New Zealand (p. 21, online at the Kinder Library)
  5. ^ Proceedings of the Fourth General Synod:
    • Final reading of the statue: pp. 3233
    • Election of the primate: p. 38
    • Statute no. 6: pp. 4043
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Proceedings of the Twenty-Second General Synod of the Church of the Province of New Zealand (p. 20, online at the Kinder Library)
  10. ^ Proceedings of the Twenty-Second General Synod (p. 74)
  11. ^ Proceedings of the Special Session of the Forty-Ninth General Synod — Te Hīnota Whānui & Proceedings of the Fiftieth General Synod — Te Hīnota Whānui (online at the Kinder Library)
  12. ^ Proceedings of the Fiftieth General Synod — Te Hīnota Whānui (p. 245)
  13. ^ Proceedings of the Fifty-Third General Synod / Hīnota Whānui (S-8)
  14. ^ Proceedings of the Fifty-Sixth General Synod / Hīnota Whānui (S-13)
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki – Meet the Bishops Archived 2015-01-13 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 5 July 2013)
  17. ^ Anglican News — Maori Archbishop to retire in March 2017 (Accessed 26 August 2016)
  18. ^ Anglican Communion News Service – Williams names Moxon to Holy See (accessed 4 December 2012)
  19. ^ a b Anglican Taonga – New Archbishop 'a community visionary' (Accessed 5 July 2013)

External links[edit]