Weaving Vision, Heritage and Hope

The Synod of Otago and Southland history is completed and was launched at the Hewitson Library, Knox College, in November 2016.  Synod has agreed that copies be distributed free of charge.  Contact ymwilkie@gmail.com to order a copy.

Weaving Vision

Weaving Vision, Heritage and Hope examines the relationship between the Presbyterian Synod of Otago, southern Presbyterians and the wider New Zealand Presbyterian denomination focussing on its role and function from the time of Union of New Zealand’s two Presbyterian churches in 1901.  While recognising the significance of its financial support to both Church and community, Yvonne Wilkie explores Synod’s struggle to confront its social and spiritual goals in the face of declining membership, shifting demographics, changing social structures and expectations, issues of gender, biculturalism, cross cultural understanding and theological interpretation.  Synod’s quest to meet the needs of contemporary society and to fulfil their Otago Scottish founders’ vision of a ‘godly society’ through its outreach programmes threads its way throughout the book.  This history contributes to the discussion on the ever-changing religious and spiritual landscape in  southern New Zealand.



Coming up for air from writing the Synod History and to assure you I am still in the land of the living I share with you a report of the Rev. John Christie, Minister at Waikouaiti titled ‘Visit to Wellington 1881’.

Christie was representing the Synod at the Northern Church General Assembly, mainly to participate in the Union discussions. His report gives an interesting insight into a Southerner’s ‘superior’ view of Northern happenings. As an anti Unionist the issues of instrumental music and the new law allowing the marriage to a deceased wife’s sister are noted with some cynicism. He briefly outlines his experience of worship and an opinion of the General Assembly debate on Union.

the Rev. John Cairns Christie, Minister of Waikouaiti-Palmerston Parish from 1863

the Rev. John Cairns Christie, Minister of Waikouaiti-Palmerston Parish from 1863

“We left Lyttelton in the evening, crossed the straits between the two islands and entered the fine harbor of Wellington between 11 and twelve o clock. Wellington is a very interesting and promising city. It processes a fine climate, much warmer than Otago… “

“We were very hospitably received. We could not have been more kindly entertained than we were. As we arrived on Friday we had a part of the day and Saturday to look about us. It is very far indeed from passing the size and beauty of Dunedin…”

[Christie preached at two services, one at St. Andrew’s where Rev. Ogg was minister and the other at St. John’s where the Rev. Paterson was minister. He found the order of worship quite different from that in the South.]

“I did not feel very well at home till I got to the Sermon. The collection was taken while the organ played [?] piece of music. Some of the Elders go around with a plate. They find that they raise more money in this way than if leaving a plate at the door. Thus the Hymn Book and instrumental music are in use in the Northern Church…”

“The service is opened with praise. As the Bell ceases the organ immediately begins to play. During the execution of this piece of Music the Minister takes his place in the pulpit and composes himself before commencing his portion of service. When the music ends he rises and announces the Psalm a hymn to be sung. He then pauses and waits while the organ plays over the tune. After which he announces the Psalm a hymn and reads over one or two lines, and intimates how many verses they shall sing.”

“The reading of the psalm is given up and instead there is a rehearsal of the tune. It seems to me that in this way the psalm is made subordinate to the music. Two portions of Scripture are read, between which a whole Psalm is chanted by the choir… “

[An incident he describes was all too familiar to both First and Knox Churches in particular the Salvation Army Band marching to gather its worshippers]

“The first strange thing that I meet was the Volunteers marching to church with a band of music playing. It appears they had got new uniforms and this was the place taken for showing them off. They were accompanied by, and followed by a great noisy rabble and roughs from the streets. Those who had commenced divine serve were disturbed in their worship. Mr. Paterson met Colonel Pearce and he promised not to play while passing places of worship.”

General Assembly Meeting and Union

“The only features differing from our Synod was the celebrating of the Lord’s Supper in which the members of Assembly and members of the Church joined, 100 in all. The numbers of Assembly Clerical and lay would not be more than 30. The business transaction was very similar to what takes place in our own Synod… In regard to the union question … Its is not Union that is wanted.   It is absorption…No it turns out that the whole thing is money they want all the funds their way. [Synod Trust Funds]… I trust the union movement is effectively knocked on the head, and the affair will rest till there is a greater homogeneity[sic] between north and south than now exists.”

“I don’t think there can be any proper union so long as that dirty stepping stone of the deceased wife’s sister lies in the way. It is a downgrade step and will vitiate the work and position of our church and make her a prey to all Ishmaelites around. “

[He offers some suggestions that may bring about Union]

“The Marriage Law within the Church must be repealed, the north must cultivate a sustentation fund. The Otago Church must be more willing than she is now and less needy and willing to part with her property and yield up her identity. The Northern Church needs to get its congregations more in hand. It is almost Congregational. Really I do not wish to embark on the sea of troubles the union has before it.”

Union of the Northern General Assembly and the Southern Synod of Otago and Southland took place twenty years later in 1901.

Ref: John Christie, Addresses and Lectures Assorted, c.1880-1899, DA11/6

Synod Personality 2 : The Rev. Alexander Manson Finlayson

The Rev. Alexander Manson

The Rev. Alexander Manson

The first annual meeting of the newly formed Synod of Otago and Southland in April 1902, appointed the Rev. Alexander Manson Finlayson acting Clerk. At the same occasion they recognised the ‘long and faithful service of 37 years’ of the Rev. William Bannerman by appointing him as Senior Clerk. Bannerman ‘occupied the Clerk’s desk’ from the inception of the Synod, the supreme church court of southern Presbyterianism, from 1866. Finlayson’s initial role as Minute Secretary relieved Bannerman of that responsibility, which for the modern researcher is a blessing as Bannerman’s hand by this time is almost indecipherable.[1]

Finlayson arrived in New Zealand on 15 December 1875. He was born in Bower, Caithness on 2 June 1845 to Peter and Janet (nee Manson) Finlayson, the fourth of eleven children. Little is known of his early years. On completing his theological studies at the University of Edinburgh and Free College he gained a Masters Degree and was licensed by the Caithness Presbytery towards the end of 1874. In April 1875 he applied to the Colonial Committee of the Free Church of Scotland for a transfer to New Zealand, his preference being Dunedin. After fulfilling the requirements of the Committee,[2] he set sail for New Zealand in August 1875 arriving close to Christmas at Port Chalmers.

The Rev. William Johnstone, minister of Port Chalmers congregation, received this newcomer with some apparent enthusiasm, putting him to work within two days of his arrival. He supervised the Port Chalmers ‘grammar’ school exams and the following day preached at the evening Communion Service. [3]  Finlayson would soon relieve Johnstone of a section of his very extensive parish that extended from Port Chalmers to Oamaru, when he was inducted into Blueskin-Merton charge in March 1876.

The Synod at the time of Finlayson’s arrival was full of theological ferment. At his first meeting he confronted the full force of fiery discussions on issues such as the introduction of instrumental music, i.e. the organ, marriage to the deceased wife’s sister, an Act before the New Zealand Government, and the perennial debate over Union between the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches.

The debates drew out the two prominent factions.   The Rev. William Bannerman, a strident Calvinist and a man of decided views and strong will, and the chief union protagonist, and the less traditional and theologically adventurous group led by the Rev. William Will and later the young Rev. James Gibb.

Theologically, Finlayson firmly stood in his Free Church conservatism throughout his entire ministry. Although willing to accommodate some change, any hint at deviation from the doctrines as laid down in Westminster Confession and the Longer and Shorter Catechisms drew a sharp response from him.

A major clash arose with Gibb in 1890 over comments on the Doctrine of Election he made in a Sermon preached at First Church.  Gibb’s language in expressing his distaste around the Shorter Catechism’s statement on election was provocative. My ‘very soul revolts’ against the Shorter Catechism, he stated, when it suggests ‘God having out of his mere good pleasure from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life’.[4] An impassioned debate followed over several Presbytery meetings with Gibb admitting some error in his interpretation of the clause ‘mere good pleasure’ but ‘considered the language he used perfectly justifiable’. The Presbytery concluded that the case be dismissed and regretted that Gibb had ‘inadvertently’ used language to describe the Shorter Catechism that ‘it does not warrant.’ The decision riled Finlayson who immediately sought leave to bring a complaint before the next Presbytery.[5]

Finlayson firmly believed it his duty to raise this dissent, and he did so, as a constitutional issue to the Synod. He appealed to his ordination vowels where he promised to ‘maintain the unity and peace of the church against error and schism, notwithstanding whatsoever trouble or persecution that may arise.’ The unity and peace of the church, he believed, was seriously under threat not through Gibb’s action and misrepresentation of the Confession but by Presbytery not doing justice by its ‘constitution and its relation to ministers and to the synod’. By exonerating Gibb, Finlayson believed Presbytery had set a precedent whereby further challenges to the constitution would be difficult to defend. Presbytery had allowed the Confession of Faith and the catechisms to be attacked rather than defending them at a constitutional level.   Robert R.M. Sutherland, one of the appellants, elaborated this point further by stating the Presbytery had ‘not answered the complaint but offered excuses for the denial of the doctrine’.[6]

The debate that ensued finished at 1.15 am with the final decision, 43 votes to 19, aimed to appease all sides. They agreed to sustain the appeal; reverse the decision; regret Gibbs use of language; and seek reconciliation within the Presbytery and then declared the matter closed. [7]

Gibb’s many supporters including not only the First Church Office-bearers but ‘a monstrous regiment’ of women were in attendance.[8] They displayed their impatience throughout the debate causing the Moderator, on one occasion, to warn them that ‘shuffling their feet’ in an attempt to ‘curtail the proceedings’ was unhelpful to the proceedings. The decision was greeted with loud and prolonged applause. Apparently, the women present ‘vigorously’ displayed their delight with the outcome. One can only assume their delight lay in a favourite Minister no longer considered guilty of an heretical charge rather then their delight that the Presbytery was found to be wanting in their defence of the Confession of Faith.[9]

The Joint Union Committee, 1896.  AM Finlayson, 1st from left sitting in front row alongside James Gibb, Convener

The Joint Union Committee, 1896. AM Finlayson, 1st from left sitting in front row alongside James Gibb, Convener

The 1890 Synod meeting was a watershed for the future of southern Presbyterianism. For the strongly Calvinist Finlayson the realisation that the theological paradigm was shifting within the Church was difficult to accept. Two changes deeply concerned him:  the Declaratory Act in 1893, based on the Free Church of Scotland Act, stripped away the absolute authority of the subordinate standards and the commitment by the Synod to enter negotiations with the Northern Church to ‘mature a scheme for union’, Finlayson recognised as a fait accompli. By accepting a role on the Joint Union Committee in 1896 he worked to ensure that Synod retained as much of its original status as was possible under a Union Church. He argued long and hard, dissenting on a number of occasions until confident the ecclesiastical status of the Synod, the total control of the Synod’s trust funds and property, and oversight of the Theological Hall were secure.

As Clerk of the reformed Synod, Finlayson kept the wheels rolling but its new status demanded new initiatives to move forward into the 20th century. The Synod required a redefinition of its purpose and mission for the southern Church. Finlayson with his dogged Calvinist world-view was not the man to lead the way. The passion within Synod slowly dissipated over his years of Clerkship. Its role within the south lessened in significance and become largely a finance committee responsible for dispersing its Trust Funds; ‘a spectral remnant dealing out doles in the form of Grants’.[10] He remained in the position until 1929 when he retired at the grand old age of 83, well past his years of useful service.

The last meeting he attended was in 1932. Finlayson had been an active participant through the enormous changes that occurred within southern Presbyterianism over his 58 years. At the time of his retirement only the Revs. Alexander Grieg and William Scrogie were still alive from those early years. Alexander Finlayson died January 1933 in his 88th year, William Scrogie died in March 1933 and Alexander Greig in 1938 in his 100th year.


[1] Otago Daily Times, Issue 12316, 2 April 1902, Page 2 and 4.

[2] Micro Film

[3] Reprinted in the Bruce Herald, Volume IX, Issue 811, 13 June 1876, Page 3, from Papers Past.

[4] Otago Daily Times , Issue 8951, 1 November 1890, Page 4

[5] Otago Daily Times , Issue 8835, 19 June 1890, Page 2

[6] Otago Daily Times, Issue 8951, 1 November 1890, p 4

[7] Otago Witness , Issue 1916, 6 November 1890, Page 18

[8] Otago Witness , Issue 1897, 12 June 1890, Page 23.

[9] Star , Issue 7000, 1 November 1890, Page 3. The meeting concluded at 1.15 am it was a marathon effort even for Presbyterians.

[10] Collie, p234.

Untiring Dedication in the Promotion of Missionary Propaganda.

The Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in a substantial fall-off in contributions to the missionary programmes within the Presbyterian Church. By 1929 their major overseas missionary projects in Vanuatu, South China, and the Punjab, India, had reached a substantial outlay with 27 missionaries, oversight of extensive building programmes including schools and hospitals, and the supply of resources for all aspects of its work. Three years into the Depression the funding had reached crisis point. With the difficulties of foreign exchange rates and the depletion of credits held in London, the deficit for 1932 of £5969 ($634,694) had reached the highest ever, setting the Missions Committee into a spin. From the perspective of Committee officials the cause lay at the feet of the Presbyteries that conveyed a sense of independence from their national responsibilities and a ministry who were not sufficiently able to motivate their parishioners. Acknowledging the financial difficulties church members were experiencing in their lives, the Missions Convener, the Rev. Fraser Barton, reminded ministry and members alike, that their obligation to spreading the gospel was ‘a permanent’ responsibility which, even ‘material or economic’ circumstances could not relieve them from.[1]

The resolution: a decade long intensive publicity, propaganda and education programme. Mr. Joseph Hunter, ex Principal of Gore High School, was appointed as a Publicity Officer, a position he held for three years. Described as a ‘somewhat unromantic and certainly difficult task’ his role was to assist office-bearers in promoting missions, organising fund raising programmes throughout New Zealand and encouraging congregations to be responsible for their share in the mission task.[2]

A publicity programme as outlined by the General Assembly held great appeal for Henry Barton, who formed the Missionary Education Committee in 1931 in Dunedin. Along with convening the newly formed Synod’s Mission Committee, Barton began to fulfill his goal to have the Synod’s work linking more closely into the work of the General Assembly. He convened both these Committees well into the 1950s.

A.H. Reed Building, Jetty Street Dunedin. from http://builtindunedin.com/tag/a-h-reed/

A.H. Reed Building, Jetty Street Dunedin. from http://builtindunedin.com/tag/a-h-reed/

Central to the success of the Committee’s Education programme was the establishment of a Missionary Depot to be housed in the Otago Branch Council of Religious Education Room in the AH Reed Building, Jetty Street, Dunedin. Under the supervision of Miss Ethel Calder, well known for her work in the Free Kindergarten movement, the Missionary Depot opened in 1933.[3] Confronted by a constant lack of funding and shortage of resources, Ethel Calder, with the support of women from the local Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, gathered resources locally and made numerous costumes from donated fabrics to be used in missionary plays.   With perseverance the Committee ensured a missionary library was established which included books, magazines, photographs, slides, film strips, movies, and projectors, all of which were in frequent demand throughout the Synod area and beyond. Lack of funding was a constant however. The GA Youth Committee paid for rental and power costs and the Missions Committee for publication costs. Anything extra such as new slides or teaching resources was provided by the Women’s missionary organisations and interested supporters. The Synod eventually granted £10 for general use from its office expenses;[4] an amount which did not increase for over 20 years.

Imperial Building 1 Dowling Street, Dunedin

Imperial Building 1 Dowling Street, Dunedin

By October 1943 the Missionary Depot had outgrown its space and the decision to move into the second floor of the Imperial Building, at the bottom of Dowling Street, meant it became closely linked to other Presbyterian Offices. The Imperial Building had been the home of the Synod Office and Committee Rooms, and the Presbyterian Social Service Association (PSSA) since 1940. Some pleasure was expressed that the southern Church had, at last, a centre, which they could call their own. The arrangement lasted into the 1960s when the PSSA relinquished their lease and moved into the Cameron Centre on First Church grounds in 1965 and the Synod Office moved to Cargill House. The Missionary Depot continued from a room in Burns Hall at First Church where it remained until the early 1980s when it’s services were no longer in demand. Laurie Williams, Synod Clerk at the time believed what was left of the very old costumes were disposed of.[5]

The Missionary Education Committee became well known for several significant projects; the publication of the prayer calendar and the annual Missionary projects for children from primary level to Junior Bible class, which survived into the late 1970s.[6] The small and dedicated Committee undertook an important role in maintaining a liaison between the missionaries in the fields with the various church missionary organisations and the church papers. They ensured that missionary information reached as many Presbyterians as was possible through preparing studies, special Sunday Services and displays.

Miss Ethel Calder.  She was a member of Caversham Parish, Dunedin.  Presbyterian Research Centre PL-6-34

Miss Ethel Calder. She was a member of Caversham Parish, Dunedin. Presbyterian Research Centre PL-6-34

The success of the Depot lay with the women who voluntarily staffed it for almost 50 years giving of their time into old age. Miss Pearl Hutton followed Ethel Calder and served for 12 years retiring from the position in 1955. Miss Mary Chisholm, Miss Elizabeth Kaye MacFie and Mrs A. Dick followed. They carried out their work with total dedication and commitment. The responsibility for the Depot became part of the Synod Mission Committee in 1963 when the Christian Education Department of the Presbyterian Church took over all other activities of the Missionary Education Committee.


[1] Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, General Assembly Proceedings and Reports, Foreign Missions Report, 1932, p. 151 [2] GA Proceedings and Reports, Foreign Mission Reports, 1934, p156; 1935, p.89; 1937. P80. [3] A.H. Reed purchased the building in 1925 for his business the Sunday School Supplies Stores, which he had established in 1907. See further information about the building at http://builtindunedin.com/2014/03/ [4] The Ecclesiastical and Education Trust Funds narrow definition for the disbursement of funds limited any genuine support for mission work. Anything outside what was understood as church buildings or theological education, even when Mission Education was perceived as education, fell outside the criteria. Some flexibility occurred through the Education fund with the withdrawal of support for University appointments in the late 1940s and the division of the Ecclesiastical Fund in 1991. [5] What happened to the lantern and glass slides, films and photographs no one has knowledge of, but this material does not appear to have been donated to the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College. [6] References for the Missionary Education Committee are from Committee Minute Books, GA29

Difficulties of Post WW2 Travel -Scotland and New Zealand

Four Overseas Visitors at the Synod of Otago and Southland Centenary Annual, Meeting, 1948. V. Rev. Dr. John Bailiie 3rd from the left

Four Overseas Visitors at the Synod of Otago and Southland Centenary Annual, Meeting, 1948. V. Rev. Dr. John Bailiie 2nd from the left dressed in the traditional Church of Scotland Moderator’s attire.

The Very Rev. Professor John Baillie and the Synod of Otago and Southland soon discovered it was no easy task to organise travel for visitors from Scotland to New Zealand following World War 2.  In May 1946 the Church of Scotland confirmed Professor John Baillie as their representative and  ‘guest of honour’ at the Otago Centenary celebrations.

Their immediate task was to organise travel arrangements from Scotland to New Zealand.  Initially, the bookings were in the hands of the Baillies’ to negotiate from the British end with the assistance of the Rev. Alan Whitelaw, a New Zealand minister visiting Scotland.  Frustrated by several months of ‘reaching dead ends’ and the apparent non-availability of early bookings Whitelaw approached the New Zealand High Commissioner, William Joseph Jordan, in January 1947, who informed him that a serious shortage of shipping meant some thousands were on the waiting list.

Although there was still 15 months before the Centenary, the High Commissioner warned Whitelaw that the situation would more than likely worsen under the new arrangements for the assisted-passenger scheme about to be introduced by the New Zealand Government.   The bookings for 95% of the allocated passages were handed over to Travel Companies to administer, leaving the remaining 5% the responsibility of the NZ Government ‘to facilitate the movements of big businessmen’, and allocated on application at the Government’s discretion.  It would be nigh impossible for them to make any further headway without official input, Whitelaw advised the Committee.

At this point several Church officials in Wellington began communications with the Department of Internal Affairs seeking assistance to obtain a passage from Scotland.  With further input from Jordan, the High Commissioner, the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser was alerted to their difficulties.  He took a personal interest in the case, requesting the Synod’s centenary programme and information on the extent to which Baillie would be travelling throughout the country.  In an air of continuing uncertainty, but with much faith, the Committee began to finalise an itinerary and seek bookings and permits where possible.

To the relief of the organisers, some five months later, in January 1948, a letter from the Prime Minister confirmed the Baillies’ date of arrival and advised them that Professor and Mrs Baillie would be ‘guests of the Government’. This was indeed a surprise, but one of great relief.  Peter Fraser, a staunch Presbyterian, no doubt considered this a worthwhile project that fell within the Governments 5% allocation, and one that displayed continuing support between Great Britain and New Zealand in the immediate post war era.

As guests of the Government the Internal Affairs Department took over the travel and accommodation arrangements for the Baillies.   The planning Committee had already been confronted with the  difficulty of arranging travel between destinations.  Petrol shortages meant applications to the Oil Fuel Controller in advance of any long travel with precise reasons for extensions beyond normal use.  Much to the Committees’ delight, the Government made available a 5-seater Chrysler Windsor, with the all-important chauffeur, for the total eight week stay, beginning at Lyttelton the point of arrival.  They also provided free travel permits on public transport for other invited overseas guests along with ration cards.  As an aside, the Minister of Railways also gave approval for reduced rail fares for all representatives attending the Centennial Synod meeting in Dunedin.

One has to admire the patience of Mr. Furlong, the Government Clerk however, as he dealt with the extensive travel arrangements and the many and regular alterations made to the itinerary over several months. Just two weeks prior to the celebrations, for example, the Assembly Clerk noted that Furlong, ‘wasn’t very happy about [the changes] and he hoped there would be no further changes’.  The alterations and hotel cancellations kept coming though.  In a somewhat cryptic tone Furlong expressed his surprise that as a ‘guest of the Government’ the Baillies were staying one day only in Wellington.  ‘It’s a pity’, wrote the Assembly Clerk, ‘but under the circumstances I suppose we can do nothing further about it.’  Peter Fraser however, spent the whole day with the Baillies in Wellington attending both Church services where he was guest preacher.  Baillie noted, ‘ Peter Fraser was most kind to us again in Wellington.  He loaded us with five books about New Zealand’.

Visit to the Presbytery of Mataura, 1948.  Prof John Baillie, 5th from lt in front row.

Visit to the Presbytery of Mataura, 1948. Prof John Baillie, 5th from lt in front row.

The itinerary placed huge expectations upon Professor and Mrs. Baillie and was obviously exhausting.  In a letter from Wanganui he wrote, ‘ the pace is all I can stand-another straw would break the camel’s back.’  By this time they had travelled 4667 kms in the South Island alone, and had addressed 50 meetings including broadcasts, attended numerous civic receptions and met with Presbyteries, parishes and Women’s groups.  By the time they reached Auckland to fly to the USA Baillie had given 73 speeches, interviews, broadcasts and sermons.

From the Church’s perspective the extensive tour of Professor Baillie beyond the main centres gave church members a ‘spiritual uplift’ and ‘new life’. People turned out in large numbers to hear one of the great Presbyterian theologians and scholars of the time.   In reporting back to the Church of Scotland the Assembly Clerk noted, ‘Dr. Baillie made a very wonderful contribution to the life of our Church and we are in debt to the Church of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh for making him available to us’. The tour of Professor Baillie could be considered an introduction to the new movement that the Presbyterian Church would launch at its 1948 General Assembly that would flower into the New Life Movement of the 1950s.

 Although exhausted at the end, they considered the tour ‘an immense success’.  Mrs Jewel Baillie wrote,  ‘I shall never forget the packed churches and the volume of singing that went up from the congregations – wholehearted and thrilling – I wish our congregations sang with the same abundance.’  One lasting memory was the service for the laying of the foundation stone at the small Hakataramea Church in South Canterbury.  ‘I hope’, she wrote, ‘the little community thrives and is blessed’.

Laying the Foundation Stone of the Hakataramea Church, 1948. Prof. John Baillie standing in from of stone offering dedication prayer.

Laying the Foundation Stone of the Hakataramea Church, 1948. Prof. John Baillie standing in from of stone offering dedication prayer. Parishioners looking on

Their travels did not end in New Zealand.  They then flew across the Pacific, landing at Fiji and Honolulu, where Professor Baillie addressed a large gathering. Professor Baillie continued his visit to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Texas, Chicago, New York, Pittsburgh, Princeton and Chautauqua.  He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Princeton University and Doctor of Laws by Muhlenberg College. With Mrs. Baillie he returned to Britain by the “Queen Elizabeth,”.  Professor Baillie then attended the first General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in late 1948.  In 1954 at the World Council of Churches Assembly he was appointed one of the seven Presidents.

Presidents of the World Council of Churches Assembly 1954.  W. Rev. Dr. John Baillie, 2nd from lt back row

Presidents of the World Council of Churches Assembly 1954. W. Rev. Dr. John Baillie, 2nd from lt back row

Synod Personalities No 1 Part 2 V. Rev. Henry Havelock Barton

Henry Havelock Barton’s nomination for Moderator-Elect of the General Assembly in November 1934 was greeted with warm and enthusiastic support.[1]

From early in Barton’s ministry his national church profile began to emerge with several convenerships of General Assembly Committees, most noted, the Theological Hall and the Women’s Training Institute Committees. The latter Committee he served a record 33 years as a member, secretary and Convener, as well as lecturer.  One deaconess recalled a somewhat challenging question thrown at them during one lecture, when he asked,  ‘Why did God not kill the devil?’  Unfortunately, she does not reveal their conclusions!

As a consequence he was known to a large number of ministers and deaconesses who passed through these training Halls. But it was his time as Secretary of the Foreign Missions Committee where Barton inspired the most confidence not only among the missionaries but also the wider Church community.  An enthusiastic supporter of the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, Barton also reached a wide audience with his regular ‘Foreign Missions Jottings’ and missionary study guides in issues of its magazine, The Harvest Field.

Presbyterian Women's Training Institute Committee, Henry Barton 2nd from rt, front row.. 1928

Presbyterian Women’s Training Institute Committee, Henry Barton 2nd from rt, front row.. 1928

Barton was a very popular choice as Moderator among those in the Synod South.  Theologically, he grew up within a conservative Free Church heritage at a time when new questions arose from science and ‘higher criticism’ that challenged the inerrancy of the Bible in particular.  No doubt influenced by his tutors, especially Professor Dunlop, who admitted his interest in the works of German theologians, and Prof William Salmond, a controversial figure in Southern Presbyterianism, Barton could be viewed as  ‘mildly liberal’ with a strongly evangelical ethos.

It is rather curious that in the many accolades and descriptions of him and his activities over the years no mention is made of either his evangelical missionary or pastoral zeal, which is so apparent in all his parish ministries and wider Church work.  For his colleagues it was his administrative skills and his gentle manner that received most praise. The Rev. James Robertson, his nominator for the Moderator’s position, described Barton as ‘courageous, kindly, tactful, patient, well-informed, and sound in judgment’. Barton had developed a reputation for solving problems and conducting delicate negotiations.[2]

The Assembly met at its usual time of November 1935 when Barton was installed as Moderator.  One of the first significant functions as Moderator is his address to the gathered ‘fathers and brethren’ and visitors.  Generally viewed as one of the most important if not prophetic of addresses to be received by the Assembly, those present expected to be challenged, both at the level of the ‘body politic’ and personally.   The sermon was just that. Titled, ‘The Church Militant’, it highlights for us today the deep-seated concerns at what appeared as uncontrolled changes taking place within a post-war church and society.[3]  “No thinking man can look out upon the turbulent situation of our day without the realisation that these are indeed ‘perilous times’,” stated Barton, quoting from Basil Mathews.[4]

Barton’s central message to his fellow brethren stressed their main task was to ‘preach Christ as the great Physician’ so that the abundant ‘light that only Christ gives’ reaches out to everyone.     This strongly evangelical message was framed within a context that highlighted the reality of the world’s political issues of extreme nationalism, offering Germany and Italy as examples, and communism with its ‘anti-God campaign’.  Worse, however, was the ‘weakening of Christianity by the forces of materialism’ that resulted in a growing secularism. The traditional signs of a successful evangelical and personal faith, they and previous generations knew regular church attendance, observance of the ‘Lord’s Day’, prayer meetings and family religion were all on the decline.  The moral chaos where the ‘trinity of  evil –impurity, intemperance, and gambling-‘ continue to remain the enemies of ‘the Church militant’, he argued.

To confront this decline and its causes, the church should not involve itself in what he describes as ‘Outposts’.  Issues of dogma where many seek refuge had taken primary place and caused bitter disputes that few outside the church understood.  Here his ‘mild liberal’ thinking is revealed when he suggests, for example, that ‘[g]ood men have claimed for the Bible what it never claimed for itself’; or his response to the evolution debate that would have, no doubt, upset many in the new Evangelical movement emerging in the New Zealand Presbyterian Church since World War 1.[5]

What does it matter, from the point of view of evangelical Christianity, whether we hold with the great majority the doctrine of evolution or not?  It is not to abandon the faith … to believe that God has revealed his truth…through the patient labours of the scientist nor to minimize His power and His wisdom if we accept this as a method of His working.

The gathered, however, may have felt some reassurance when he appealed to their Scottish Presbyterian roots by referring to the Shorter Catechism, noting that ‘The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God…’. [6]

Barton emphasised the importance of a teaching ministry that would clearly develop what the Church stood for with an unambiguous precise every-day language that made the ‘old gospel’ exciting and life-changing.  Yet he was equally concerned that the Church not expend its energies on matters that best be left to the experts, such as the economy; an issue that had involved the Presbyterian Public Questions Committee through the years of the depression.  A man of his time however, he held onto to the evangelical message that by righting a person’s inner spiritual being, the causes and consequences of the ‘evils of the day’ would be resolved. He concluded, ‘Let our Church lift up her voice.’

Just what affect his sermon had on those present we will never know.  The Assembly debated and agreed to some of the issues he touched on in his sermon, such as supporting the League of Nations to bring about world peace. They did not however, agree to the ordination of women as elders.  Barton encouraged women’s work and noted that the role of Eldership would see some’ Deborahs’ join with the men to assist in ‘stemming the tide of worldliness’. They did not receive that privilege until 1954.

Following his term as Moderator Barton was called to Weston-Totara Parish in North Otago and retired from full-time ministry in January 1945.

he V. Rev. Henry and Mrs Barton, centre front, with the Taumarunui Presbyterian Women's Missionary Union, during his Modertorial tour, 1935.

he V. Rev. Henry and Mrs Barton, centre front, with the Taumarunui Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, during his Modertorial tour, 1935.


[1] Synod Parishes prior to becoming Moderator of the General Assembly 1935.  Limestone Plains 1918-1911, Maori Hill 1911-1921, Lawrence 1927-1936

[2] Outlook, 4 December 1935, p.14

[3] Outlook,  11 November, 1935, pp 5-7.

[4] Basil Joseph Mathews was a prolific writer on the missionary and the ecumenical movement. Editor of various missionary magazines.  From 1942 to 1949 entered the academic world first appointed Professor of Christian World Relations in the School of Theology of Boston University and at the Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, Massachusetts and later Union College, University of British Columbia,.

[5] Rising Tide, Evangelical Christianity in New Zealand 1930-1965, by Stuart M. Lange, Otago University Press, nd.  p21

[6] ‘Church Militant’ Sermon, Outlook,  11 November, 1935. p5

Synod Personalities No 1. The Very Rev. Henry Barton 1880-1966

Henry Havelock Barton, began his three year ministry training at the Knox Theological Hall under the tutelage of Professors Michael Watt and John Dunlop in early 1902. Belonging to a new generation of ministers, HH Barton, as he was generally known, spent 58 of his 61year ministry in the Otago/Southland area.   A scholar of English Literature and French language in which he received a Master of Arts, first class honours degree, he excelled in his theological studies gaining the top honours in 1904.

Beginning Ministry:

The only parish outside of Otago and Southland Barton served was his first at Westport, on the west coast of the South Island, from January 1905 to July 1907. Westport was an old gold and coal-mining centre that had moved on from a frontier town to an emerging major port for the region. The population stood at around 3000 in 1901. The parish of some 150 families included a large and often inaccessible outlying area, north and south of Westport, made up of small coal mining communities where many Scots resided; a future focus of mission outreach for the newly installed Barton.

Barton immediately impressed the congregation and Session with his preaching and administrative strengths and by 10 July 1905 the Session rejoiced at the largest attendance ever at a Communion Service. His evangelical zeal encouraged the congregation to support the opening of a Home Mission Station at Denniston and Burnett’s Face, isolated coal mining communities high on a plateau overlooking the Tasman Sea. By July 1905 a missionary was in place and a section purchased for a church.

Burnetts Face coal mine, above Denniston. c.1900

Burnetts Face coal mine, above Denniston. c.1900

Although an encouraging beginning in these initial years it would never be an easy ministry and visiting church leaders found few positive words of support for the community.    The Rev. George Budd, Superintendent for the Home Mission, in 1925 found Denniston and Burnett’s Face to be ‘dismal’, and dotted with  ‘crude residences’.   It struggled as a mission charge with the support of Westport parish until the early-1960s. With the modernising of the mining industry Denniston was no longer viable and the families moved on.

During 1906 while Moderator of Westland Presbytery Barton aimed to raise interest among the local Congregations in overseas missionary activities. The women of the Westport parish formed a Women’s Missionary Union under his direction, the first in the region and one of the earliest within the national Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union that formed in 1906. The Presbytery visitation report carried out on the eve of his departure to Limestone Plains Parish in July 1907, noted an improved spiritual tone, increased attendance at worship, the establishment of young women’s and men’s Bible Classes and also a Christian Endeavour group. All important for the survival of rural parishes the report noted with pleasure the building of a new manse and the increased payments in stipend. He left a disappointed Westport congregation in ‘excellent heart’. Barton’s first ministry at Westport set the pattern for all his future parish ministries, which are reported on with enthusiasm, highlighting his unflagging determination to bring the ‘riches of the Bible and God’s grace’ to his congregation.

Foreign Missions Committee:

Henry Havelock Barton and his wife Dora on their missionary tour Canton, South China in 1922

Henry Havelock Barton and his wife Dora on their missionary tour Canton, South China in 1922

In 1921 and a break from parish ministry he took up a position as secretary for the General Assembly’s Foreign Missions Committee, replacing Alexander Don, a position he held until November 1927. In taking up this position Barton experienced some conflict between a sense of his real desire for parish ministry and his passion for mission. During his term he visited the three mission fields in South China, the Punjab and Vanuatu. The experience he ably used while touring New Zealand, speaking at conferences, to women’s missionary groups and writing study material, especially for the Bible Class Movement. In 1926 he was the principal secretary and organiser of the John Mott Conference in Dunedin. John Mott, a highly prominent figure, can be described as the founder of a new ecumenical movement when he formed the World Student Christian Movement in 1895. At the time of his visit to New Zealand in 1926, he held the position of International Chairman. Barton’s skills as an organiser were further enhanced with a successful New Zealand wide Presbyterian mission campaign under the leadership of the South China Missionary, Rev. George McNeur, while Moderator, in 1927. He resigned in November that year and returned to parish ministry at Lawrence, a small rural town in the Clutha district, once known as the gateway to the goldfields.

Mission Campaign Team in Auckland 1927. Henry Barton Secretary of Foreign Missions Committee 6th from the left back row, The V. Rev. George McNeur centre front row.

Mission Campaign Team in Auckland 1927. Henry Barton Secretary of Foreign Missions Committee 6th from the left back row, The V. Rev. George McNeur centre front row.

Synod of Otago and Southland:

While Moderator of the Synod in 1930 Barton successfully moved the Synod from an unimaginative church court, which reflected a general air of malaise, towards a Synod with a greater focus on its purpose as understood by the 1901 Union Act of Agreement. This he interpreted as encouraging a far closer spirit of cooperation between the Synod and the national Church. The previous decade or more, the Synod had focused on its responsibility of grant disbursements and little else. By re-introducing the Synod Missions Committee, which had gone into abeyance during World War 1, to support the national church to disseminate foreign mission information and church extension work to southern parishes Barton believed would reignite some fervor into its activities . The establishment of an Advisory Committee to assist Presbyteries was another means of supporting the work of the wider church but in its first incarnation had a short life..

Barton remained active on the Synod Mission Committee until the early 1960s. He liaised with the Otago Bible Society and was its President for many years, and the Colportage Society in which Synod was actively involved. He also served on the Synod Theological Hall Committee for 10 years first as Secretary and later as Convener. His initiatives in 1930 opened up new opportunities for Synod within its narrowly defined function under the General Assembly and have enabled the Synod to continue to broaden its horizons today

The extension of the Kingdom of God was his greatest desire, he believed in a personal evangelism as a means of renewing a society, which required ‘the light that only Christ can give’.

The General Assembly appointed Barton as Moderator in 1935. Part 2 of this post will develop his story further.

Ref:  Presbytery of Westland Minute Book, Presbyterian Outlook, Foreign Missions Committee Minute Books.