St Paul's Church, Auckland

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St Paul's Church, Auckland New Zealand 🇳🇿🇳🇿🇳🇿
St Paul's Auckland Logo.jpg
St Paul's logo
Location 28 Symonds Street, Auckland
Country New Zealand
Denomination Anglican
Founded 1841
Founder(s) Governor William Hobson
Dedicated 1894
Architect(s) William Henry Skinner
Style Victorian Gothic
Years built 1894-1895
Parish St Paul's Symonds Street
Diocese Auckland
Bishop(s) Ross Bay
Vicar(s) Jonny Grant
Priest(s) Matthew Bruns

St Paul's on Symonds Street in Auckland, New Zealand, is an historic church of considerable importance, with one of the largest Anglican congregations in Australasia, located in the heart of the city, near The University of Auckland and Auckland University of Technology.[1][2]

St Paul's is Auckland's oldest church. Occupying its third building, it is known as the "Mother Church" of Auckland as the original St Paul's was the first church to be built in the city, in the same year that the original town was established. The St Paul's foundation stone was laid by Governor William Hobson on 28 July 1841 and the first service was held on 7 May 1843. St Paul's also served as Auckland's Cathedral for over 40 years. The current building was formally consecrated by Bishop William Cowie on 1 November 1895, and is now registered as a Category 1 Historic Place.[3][4]

Since new services were set up in 2004, with a core group of about 80 people, St Paul’s has grown to a current congregation of around 1,500. There are four services held on a Sunday: 9am and 11am family services, a 3:30pm liturgical service and an informal 6:30pm evening service. An average of 750 attend each week across all the services. Around 30% of the church community is actively involved in a small group. A strong children’s and youth church operates during the Sunday services, with seven different age groups from 0–18 years catered for.

St Paul’s has a staff of about 20 which includes a vicar, a priest assistant, a worship leader, four in pastoral care, five in children & youth and seven in operations. Members of the staff manage the many volunteers who serve in all areas of church life, giving their time and talents in a variety of ways.[5][6]


Early history[edit]

The Auckland waterfront with Māori waka and the original St Paul's building above Point Britomart, painted in 1852.
The original St Paul's building photographed in the 1880s.

Now in its third manifestation, St Paul’s is the oldest church in Auckland, having been a light in the city since 1841. The first St Paul’s was built in Emily Place, just off Princes St, where a plaque still marks the site of the beginning of God’s church in the city of Auckland.

Old St Paul’s was located in the heart of the colonial city. It occupied a prominent ridge-top site in a prestigious part of the settlement, close to the main administrative buildings, the imperial garrison stationed at Britomart, and alongside the remnants of the old pā, Rangipuke in Albert Park, where Ngāti Whātua had defended their rohe during the Musket Wars of the 1820s. At that time, St Paul’s was the seat of the Bishop of New Zealand, the Right Reverend George Selwyn, and was the locus of ecclesiastical power, and worldly prestige, as the wealthiest settlers worshipped there. As the formal religion of British royalty, the Anglican faith was closely linked to the exercise of colonial power. Many of St Paul’s artefacts, such as Selwyn’s Throne, date from this time of connection to power and political importance.[4][7]

Reverend John Churton was the first minister of St Paul's, occupying that role for 12 years. The Churton Memorial was built to his memory, close to the site of the original church building.[4]

St Paul’s prominence in colonial society shifted as the geography of Auckland developed over time. During the height of the New Zealand Wars in the 1860s, the church was used as a safe haven for women, children and the elderly – its location in the midst of the city, near the garrison, made St Paul’s ideal for this traditional church role of providing sanctuary in times of strife. After the war moved south, however, the congregation dwindled as wealthier attendees moved to the new suburbs of Epsom and Remuera, and St Matthew’s in the City, located further west, served the working suburbs of Freeman’s Bay and Ponsonby.[7]

Changing locations[edit]

The temporary St Paul's building photographed in the 1880s.
Architect's perspective of the third building published in 1894, showing the unbuilt steeple.
The third and current St Paul's building photographed in 1909.

St Paul’s shifted; embracing the changing needs of the city for which it had been built. The Emily Place church was demolished in 1885, and a temporary wooden church, designed by William Skinner, was erected on the corner of Short St and Eden Crescent to house the congregation while a permanent site was identified.

Several sites in the southern reaches of the central city were discussed, but Auckland’s growth since the end of the New Zealand Wars meant that many were not suitably large for the planned church. Only the present site, halfway up the Symonds St hill, was large enough: it located the church once more in the centre of the city. Symonds St intersects with Karangahape Road, the oldest street in Auckland which was, by the 1880s, a thriving thoroughfare and shopping precinct used by both Māori and Pākehā, since the road was a traditional walking track along the ridge from Owairaka (Mt Albert) to Orakei for Ngāti Whātua.

Also located in the vicinity of the new church site was the official municipal burial ground; the Symonds Street Cemetery, on the corner of K’Rd and Symonds St. The Cemetery had been laid out from 1841 onwards with separate areas for all the Christian denominations by then present in the city, as well as a section for the Jewish population. St Paul’s, once central to the colonial seats of power and prestige, was now placed to seek the welfare of the city, amongst the people of the city, at the intersection of race and faith.

The new church was dedicated in 1894, despite the absent corner tower and steeple that had been part of Skinner’s original design. The Long Depression of the 1880s and 1890s had impacted the Anglican Church’s ability to build such a monumental church and the decision was made to keep the interior plain, with any ornament coming from the rose window and the artefacts gifted by Selwyn. This unadorned sanctuary suited the mood of the country and the mood of the congregation, who were largely drawn from the surrounding working-man’s suburbs, Kingsland, Grafton, and Eden Terrace.

St Paul’s was due for another shift. While the church remained on the Symonds St site, a ‘beacon on a hill’, the appointment of Reverend C.A.B Watson in 1908 led to the revitalisation of the church as a bastion of Anglo-Catholicism in a largely puritanical city. Watson, and his successor Samuel Corbin, who served until 1953, shaped the mood and focus of the church for a half-century, bringing in the Sung Mass, a focus on choral music and introducing the notion of spiritual healing. For both Watson and Corbin, however, the prevalent theology of the day dominated, and healing was seen as coming through participation in the sacraments of the church.[7]

20th century revival[edit]

The history of the modern St Paul’s begins in 1953 with the appointment of Father Kenneth Prebble, who was able to look beyond the norm in terms of Anglican practise and embrace a revival of the Holy Spirit as entirely orthodox. Through an encounter with a young Baptist businessman who had entered St Paul’s to pray during his lunch hour, Prebble was invited to a prayer meeting at which he experienced the Holy Spirit. Powerfully moved and convinced of both the orthodoxy of the theology he heard discussed, and the genuine faith of those present at the meeting, he sought advice from the wider Anglican Communion and discovered other Anglicans who were becoming involved in revivals of the Spirit.

Prebble’s experience, the support he received from his wife, and the wider Anglican community, allowed him to transform St Paul’s. Always noted for its music, the church became a beacon of the Spirit, evangelical, contemporary, determined to be both light and salt. The introduction of contemporary music, the establishment of a regular coffee-shop outreach to students and young people, Prebble and his successor Father David Balfour, led by the Spirit, created a church that had real and lasting impact in the lives of many young people in the city of Auckland.

The revival of the 1950s and 1960s married the Anglo-Catholic sensibilities of the previous fifty years with the radicalism of the period, creating in St Paul’s a space where people could experience the Spirit in inward and outward manifestations. Balfour, in particular, encouraged his church to be involved in the issues of the day, to “seek the welfare of the city.” However, by the 1970s, the Anglo-Catholicism that had provided the theological framework for the spirit and justice revival witnessed at St Paul’s had lost its ability to inspire the Word of God. The dynamic outreach of a kingdom-focused church dissolved into a bundle of conflicting theologies without strong leadership or good biblical teaching. The 1980s and 1990s were to be a period of fallow ground for St Paul’s, as the young congregants of the previous period moved away or lost their faith, with a loyal portion of Anglo-Catholics continuing to worship at a church that had supported them for nearly 100 years.[7] At this time a Friday night gospel service was established which became an outreach to immigrant families and students from Asian countries. The group still meets weekly at St Paul’s today as the International Cluster.[5]

21st century revival[edit]

St Paul's on Symonds Street photographed in 2013.
St Paul's Evening Service, 2012.
St Paul's GLOW Carols by Glowstick annual event at Vector Arena, 2011.
Screenshot from The Christmas Story film by SPANK (St Paul's Arts 'n' Kids) 2010.
GOD w/ US, St Paul's debut live worship album, 2012.
Alt Carols Volume One is an album of well-known carols remixed by local artists from the St Paul's Alt Carols events, 2017.

Modern St Paul’s is experiencing a second revival: during the late 1990s and early 2000s, many young New Zealanders came to faith or re-experienced the Spirit at St Mary’s London. Returning home, many of them as new parents or newlyweds, they sought a similar spiritual home in their native city. A team from St Mary’s, after discussion with the Anglican Church in New Zealand, were invited in 2004 to set up new family and young people-focused services in the historic St Paul’s, Symonds St. Mike and Bex Norris, together with a core congregation of about 80 people in the first year, many of whom had previously attended St Mary’s in London, oversaw huge growth, with well over fifteen hundred congregants now registered on the church database. Key to that growth has been the impact St Paul’s has sought to have in its specific location: as a beacon on a hill, a light for the city of Auckland. St Paul’s offers relational, experiential, culturally relevant faith that is dedicated to social justice, attempting to become the place where Jesus and justice meet. Since 2004 the staff of St Paul’s has grown to ensure that the spiritual, pastoral, intellectual and social needs of the congregation and the city can be met. The plethora of courses, groups, activities, worship and fellowship at St Paul’s today – after starting with a roomful of people – reveals the impact on the city of Auckland, seeking once more the welfare of the city.[7]

From 2009 to 2013, St Paul's produced the GLOW Carols by Glowstick event at Auckland's Vector Arena, with around 10,000 people attending each year. A key part of the event were Christmas films produced by St Paul's including The Christmas Story which has had 4 million views on YouTube.[8][9][10] In 2012 St Paul's produced its debut live worship album titled GOD w/ US including the voices of around 800 worshippers gathered across three services.[11]

Mike & Bex Norris left St Paul's at the end of June 2013 to return to the UK. During the interregnum period, as a new Vicar was sought, Mathew Newton was Priest In Charge. Jonny & Esther Grant joined St Paul's in April 2014. Previously serving in pastoral ministry at St Mary’s London, then studying theology at Regent College, Vancouver, Jonny led the St Paul's executive from that time and was installed as the Vicar of St Paul's in June 2015.[12][13] Jonny is the author of a book entitled "Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualised Age".[2]

From 2015 to 2017, St Paul's has produced Alt Carols as an alternative Christmas experience, combining creative elements of music, art and design. Volume One of the remixed carols from the events was released as an album in 2017.[14]


  1. ^ "St Paul's Church (Anglican)". New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Jonathan Grant". Baker Publishing Group. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "History of the Diocese of Auckland". Anglican Diocese of Auckland. Retrieved 19 November 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c "Churton Memorial". New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "St Paul's Parish Profile" (PDF). Anglican Diocese of Auckland. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Team". St Paul's Church, Auckland. Retrieved 26 August 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Where we've come from". Kate Hannah (Research Development Manager, The University of Auckland) St Paul's Church, Auckland. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "Carols by glow-stick at Vector Arena". NZ Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  9. ^ "The story of Christmas - A Kiwi version". NZ Herald. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  10. ^ "St Paul's Arts & Media". YouTube. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  11. ^ "GOD w/ US CD". St Paul's. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 
  12. ^ "Jonny Grant". St Paul's Auckland. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  13. ^ "Find A Church". Anglican Diocese of Auckland. Retrieved 31 October 2015. 
  14. ^ "Alt Carols". St Paul's. Retrieved 21 January 2018. 

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