Methodism started as an 18th-century breakaway from the Church of England, led by two Anglican priests, the brothers John and Charles Wesley. Their followers called themselves Wesleyans and their highly disciplined behaviour earned them the mocking nickname of Methodists. This later became the accepted name for their faith.
By the early 19th century Methodists had thousands of adherents across the English-speaking world and a vigorous missionary programme. They believed in the importance of personal salvation through moral and virtuous living, and looking outwards to help their communities. Methodism had a strongly evangelical focus.
The Māori mission
The Wesleyan Missionary Society in Britain established its first New Zealand mission at Kaeo, in Northland, in 1823. Further missions were established during the 1830s and 1840s on the west coast of the North Island, leaving the east coast for the Anglican Church Missionary Society missions. Methodist mission stations were operating at Hokianga, Kaipara, Manukau, Kāwhia, Waipā, Mōkau and New Plymouth by 1840, and South Island missions were established at Waikouaiti and Cloudy Bay during that year.
In 1848 the Methodist Church opened a large school for Māori at Three Kings in Auckland, where girls learned domestic duties and boys were taught agriculture and carpentry. One of its early pupils was young Waikato woman Martha Pātene, whose father was a Methodist minister. Martha and her brother later ran their own boarding school at Karakariki, west of Hamilton. It was described by a government inspector in 1863 as ‘the happy and only promising result of the native education enterprise’ that he had seen.1
In 1845 the church tried to meet the shortfall in ministers and funding by establishing a Native Institution in Auckland, where Māori ministers could be trained to preach to Māori communities.
The New Zealand wars of the 1860s were a turning point for the Māori mission. Methodist ministers took the government’s side in the conflict, a move which undermined their cause with Māori communities.
From the early 1860s the church shifted its main emphasis to tending to Europeans, though its work with Māori continued on a limited scale. The training of Māori clergy – suspended during the land wars – resumed in 1877, and missionary work in Māori communities was increasingly done by Māori ministers. The Māori mission continued through the 20th century, forming a separate Māori board (later known as Te Taha) in 1973.
Methodist missions in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea were jointly administered by the Australian and New Zealand Methodist churches until sole control moved to Australia in 1913. New Zealand took charge of the administration of the Solomon Islands mission from 1922 to 1968.