Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

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The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) is the main Presbyterian church in New Zealand.[1] It is characterized by a blend of Reformed practice and broad evangelicalism. The church has 29,000 members.[2]


Saint Andrew’s (First) Presbyterian Church, Auckland, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Presbyterian Church of New Zealand formed in October 1901 with the amalgamation of churches in the Synod of Otago and Southland (which had a largely Free Church heritage) with those north of the Waitaki River.

Presbyterians had by and large come to New Zealand as settlers from Scotland, Ireland and Australia. Dunedin (founded in 1848) and Waipu (founded in 1853) were specifically Presbyterian settlements, but significant numbers of Presbyterians settled in other parts of the country, including Christchurch, Port Nicholson (Wellington), and Auckland. Ministers came with the first European settlers to Wellington, Otago and Waipu, but generally nascent congregations called ministers from Scotland. Missions to the Māori people focused on the Tuhoe people and led to the establishment of the Māori Synod, now known as Te Aka Puaho.

In 1862 the Presbytery of Auckland had had support from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and also applied for support from the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.[3]

Ethnic diversity grew after World War II with the arrival of Dutch and European settlers and more recent Pacific Island and Asian migrants. In 1969 the majority of Congregational churches joined the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. The word "Aotearoa" became part of the title of the denomination in 1990, affirming the treaty partnership between the indigenous Māori and the subsequent settlers. As of 2014 PCANZ has 419 congregations.[4]

Debate over ministers in non-marriage relationships and same-sex unions[edit]

In 2003, the Church decided to allow ministers in sexual relationships other than marriage. This was overturned in 2004, and in a meeting of the General Assembly of the Church on 29 September 2006, this was confirmed by 230 votes to 124 (a 65% majority). This prevents people in de facto or gay relationships from becoming ministers in the church. It does not apply to people ordained before 2004.[5] However, some liberal clergy have opposed this policy. In particular, St. Andrew's Church on the Terrace in Wellington has announced that it supports same-sex marriage.[6] St. Andrew's church has been blessing same-sex civil unions since 2005.[7] In 2014, when same-sex marriage became legal, St. Andrew's church also began performing gay marriage ceremonies.[8] Other congregations have also chosen to support same-gender marriage.[9]


The denomination has 30,000 members and 430 congregations and 400 pastors in 2006.[10]

International connections[edit]

St John's in the City, Wellington

Breakaway groups[edit]

Several groups have broken away from the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand because of its liberal theology.

In the late 1940s migrants from the Netherlands settling in New Zealand expected to find their spiritual homes in existing churches of Reformed persuasion, particularly the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. Instead they found departures from Reformed doctrine and practice that they could not overlook. A study committee traced the problem to the Declaratory Act of 1901,[11] which made a distinction between the traditional understanding of the Bible as being the word of God and newer view which sees the word of God being contained in Scripture. It was this act which, the committee believed, allowed the Church to accept as office bearers, those who did not believe in a literal virgin birth of Christ (for example) when they subscribed to the Westminster Confession.

As a result, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand were officially established in 1953 at a meeting (synod) in Wellington where churches from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch were represented. One congregation in Bucklands Beach in Auckland left the denomination en masse and joined the new Church. Over the years further congregations have been established, and the denomination now comprises about twenty congregations.[12]

One group under George Mackenzie left in the 1960s and formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

Often confused as a breakaway church is Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, which was actually a group of pre-existing independent churches that united into a new denomination. There is sometimes confusion because the church contains a significant number of former members of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand who have sought a more theologically conservative alternative.

Social involvement[edit]

The Presbyterian Social Services Association (PSSA) – subsequently known as "Support" – began operating in the early 20th century.[13]


  1. ^ "CAA Monthly" (PDF). Changing Attitude Australia. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 February 2016. Retrieved 3 March 2016.
  2. ^ "Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  3. ^ "Presbytery Of Auckland". Daily Southern Cross. 28 January 1863. p. 4. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  4. ^ [1] Archived 22 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Collins, Simon (29 September 2002). "Presbyterian Church votes to exclude gay ministers". New Zealand Herald.
  6. ^ "we are progressive » St Andrew's on The Terrace". Retrieved 4 March 2016.
  7. ^ Ratley, Neil (8 October 2014). "St Andrew's to defy ban on conducting gay weddings". Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  8. ^ Bagge, Holly (8 October 2014). "Wellington church defies same-sex marriage decree". New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  9. ^ Babington, Briar (1 September 2015). "Gay marriage revolt". New Zealand Herald. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Presbyterian Church of Aoteroa New Zealand — World Council of Churches". Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  11. ^ "It was this section in particular which drew their attention: "That this Church disclaims intolerant or persecuting principles, and does not consider her office-bearers, in subscribing the Confession, committed to any principles inconsistent with liberty of conscience and the right of private judgement. That while diversity of opinion is recognised in this Church on such points in the Confession as do not enter into the substance of the Reformed Faith therein set forth, the Church retains full authority to determine, in any case which may arise, what points fall within this description, and thus to guard against any abuse of this liberty to the detriment of sound doctrine or to the injury of her unity and peace."". Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  12. ^ "Reformed Churches of New Zealand Homepage". Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  13. ^ Vine, Gillian (December 2006). "Presbyterian Support Otago marks 100 years". Spanz Magazine. Retrieved 30 May 2012. At the beginning of the 20th century, life was harsh in Dunedin for those on the margins. [...] The plight of orphaned and neglected children moved a group of deaconesses, headed by Sister Mary McQueen, to open a series of children's homes under the banner of Presbyterian Social Services Association (PSSA), now Support.

External links[edit]