Organized Methodism in Australia, as part of the Foreign Missions under the direction of the British Conference, dates from the appointment of the Rev. Samuel Leigh to New South Wales in 1815. This, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji were constituted “The Australian Wesleyan Methodist Connexion” with an Annual Conference, affiliated to the Parent English Conference, and the first conference was held in Sydney in the year 1855. The New Zealand Church separated from the Australian Conference in 1913 with the union of the Methodist Church of New Zealand and the Primitive Methodist Church of New Zealand and the first conference was held in that year.
New Zealand is a country with a population of 3,500,000. There are 9,473 Methodist Church members who worship as part of a Methodist Church parish. In addition there is a significant number of Methodist Church members who worship within a cooperative venture where the Methodist Church has combined with the Presbyterian or Anglicans or Church of Christ or Congregational Union congregation of a particular area. The establishment of cooperative ventures has occurred in many regions of the country and particularly in rural areas. These form over half of the parishes for which the Methodist Church of New Zealand is responsible.
At the annual conference in 1983 the church made a conscious decision to work toward becoming a bicultural church. In particular the church made a decision to take seriously the founding document of our nation, the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty was signed by Maori and Pakeha, and the church’s commitment to the bicultural journey affirms that partnership. For this reason we have adopted practices whereby the voice of the Tangata Whenua (the original people) is heard as equal with the voice of the Tauiwi (the people who came after). One of the outcomes of this recognition of partnership is that our church now seeks to make decisions using as much as possible a consensus process of decision-making.
At the 1989 conference, the following statement of mission was adopted for the people of Aotearoa/New Zealand who are associated with the Methodist tradition, both in Methodist parishes and in cooperative ventures. “Our church’s mission in Aotearoa/New Zealand is to reflect and proclaim the transforming love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and declared in the scriptures. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to serve God in the world. The Treaty of Waitangi is the covenant establishing our nation on the basis of power-sharing partnership and will guide how we undertake mission.”
The mission statement becomes the basis on which the mission of the Methodist Church of New Zealand, Te haahi Weteriana o Aotearoa is carried out, and reflects the partnership we seek to embody.
The Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ) is a dynamic, evangelical expression of Methodism in the South Pacific, living out Wesley’s core gospel convictions in the multicultural, secular context of wider New Zealand society. The first Wesleyan Methodist minister to come to the South Pacific in 1815 was Rev. Samuel Leigh, from England. He visited New Zealand for nine months during 1819. With the support of the new (British) Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, Leigh established the first New Zealand Wesleyan work at Whangaroa (near Kaeo) in 1823. The Wesleydale mission was unsuccessful but was re-established at Mangungu in the Hokianga. Wesleyan missionaries, along with Anglicans, were instrumental in supporting the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi; between the indigenous Maori people and the British Crown. Other branches of British Methodism established themselves in New Zealand; in 1844 the Primitive Methodists, in 1860 the United Free Methodists and in 1877 the Bible Christians. These churches, and the main Wesleyan Methodist Church, were all evangelical in theology. Through a series of church unions, all the different Methodist churches in New Zealand had combined by 1913. During the 1930s and after World War II, the Methodist Church progressively adopted a more intellectual style of ministry training, which included a critical Biblical teaching method, pastoral counselling emphases, and a reduced focus on holiness and evangelical/mission convictions. Pacifism, ecumenism, post-war social turmoil, and an increasingly liberal theological ethos became influential in the church. Many evangelical ministers and lay people were concerned at the pluralism of theology, loss of Wesleyan theological distinctives, and from the 1980s the over-riding bicultural criteria which became the benchmark of mission and decision-making. The rise of the charismatic movement in the 1970s and 1980s saw many Methodists join other denominations. Theological disquiet for evangelicals deepened when the 1997 Methodist Conference approved a homosexual minister into full connexion, and in the process contravened proper decision-making processes. The Wesleyan Methodist Movement was formed to co-ordinate the work of evangelicals who could not live in theological conscience with the 1997 Methodist Conference decision. In July 2000 the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ) was formed as a multi-cultural church in the Wesleyan stream to pursue a renewed evangelical missional future. The WMCNZ was founded as an indigenous church with New Zealand leadership, led by founding National Superintendent Rev Edgar Hornblow. Among decisions made at the first conference was to join the Wesleyan World Fellowship of the international Wesleyan Church. In September 2007 the WMCNZ was received as a full member of the World Methodist Council. In August 2012 a new South Pacific Regional Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was inaugurated in Brisbane, Australia, with the constituent national conferences being those of Australia, Bougainville, New Zealand and the Solomon Islands. Rev. Dr Richard Waugh, New Zealand National Superintendent, was appointed the first President. The WMCNZ undertakes mission in an ethnically diverse New Zealand (population of 4.5m) which is now one of the most secularised English-speaking countries in the world. The WMCNZ has 23 churches (2015) and four more churches in current planning, with 60 ordained ministers, licensed ministers, and ministry students (of whom many are women, younger people and culturally diverse). A multi-cultural missional ethos is promoted. The WMCNZ is ecumenically committed, takes an active role in World Methodism, and is a member of National Church Leaders Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Christian Network, and supports many other interdenominational organisations. In conjunction with the Church of the Nazarene and the Salvation Army the WMCNZ sponsors an annual Wesleyan theological symposium.