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The publication of Shaping a Colonial Church marks the sesquicentenary of the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch

Reprinted from University of Canterbury’s “Chronicle” - 18/08/06

To mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Henry John Chitty Harper as the first Anglican bishop of Christchurch, ten experienced historians have produced a commemorative volume of essays.


Henry John Chitty Harper, first bishop of the diocese of Christchurch, 1856-1890. Photo: Dr A C Barker, Christ’s College Archives
Henry John Chitty Harper, first bishop of the diocese of Christchurch, 1856-1890. Photo: Dr A C Barker, Christ’s College Archives

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Shaping a Colonial Church: Bishop Harper and the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch, released this month by Canterbury University Press, tells the story of the setting up of a branch of the Church of England in a new colony. It highlights the people – bishop, clergy, lay people – who shaped this story.

“Most rewarding has been the recovery of the vigorous life of the M ori Anglican church, often almost invisible in the records,” says one of the book’s editors, Dr Marie Peters.

The book is edited by historians and former Canterbury University staff members Colin Brown and Dr Peters, and Diocesan Archivist Jane Teal. Together with a team of authors they provide a new assessment of the Harper episcopate set in the context of the wider development of colonial society and the Anglican Church worldwide.

“We hope our work is all the more valuable because it can be seen as a case study of these broader matters,” says Dr Peters. “The book certainly allows a re-examination of the reality behind the myth of ‘Anglican Canterbury’ and of the significance of religion in creating new communities – an influence often downplayed by New Zealand historians.”

New research on the rich records left by Harper and others allows the authors to illuminate in fresh ways the process by which the English church model was adapted, at least in part, to a very different land. By the time Harper retired in 1890 the diocese was arguably the most successful in New Zealand.

“It has been very exciting to be able to give such immediacy to the story from the bishop's detailed correspondence ­ a source probably unparalleled in Australasia and one we have been able to supplement from other collections, such as the extensive papers of the bishop’s son-in-law, J B A Acland, in the Macmillan Brown Library and letters and diaries in Canterbury Museum.”

Written for a general readership, Shaping a Colonial Church is generously illustrated, many of the photos being published for the first time. Publication of the book was made possible through a generous grant from the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch.

Shaping a Colonial Church will be launched on Thursday 10 August at St Michael’s Parish Hall in Christchurch. The launch will be preceded by a service at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, which was Bishop Harper’s pro-cathedral until 1881.

Some of the authors and editors are taking part in a panel discussion at the Canterbury Museum to discuss their contributions to the book on 11 August. This will be held in the Bird Hall from 6pm to 7pm and is open to the public.

In September and October a series of four free weekly lectures will be given in St Margaret’s College Chapel, Papanui Road, by authors of the book and Professor John Cookson of the School of History at the University. It has been organised by Theology House with the support of the Canterbury History Foundation.

Shaping a Colonial Church, edited by Colin Brown, Marie Peters and Jane Teal, published by Canterbury University Press, August 2006, RRP NZ$45, paperback, 316pp, b/w & colour illustrations. ISBN 1-877257-44-

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