New Zealand Methodist Church OnLine History
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Knowledge & Vital Piety by Susan J Thompson -
Education for the Methodist ministry in New Zealand from the 1840s




CHAPTER ONE Early Beginnings, 1845-75
The Grafton Institution, 1845-48
Textbooks and Saddlebags

CHAPTER TWO Training on the Move, 1876-1928
Three Kings and Prince Albert College, 1876-1906
Maori training, 1876-1928
Pukekawa and Dunhoime Colleges, 1907-28

CHAPTER THREE Reverent Modern Scholarship, 1929-40
The opening a/Trinity College
Training aims of the 1930s
A new level of scholarship
Theology in the New Zealand context
Maori ministry education
Ministry formation

CHAPTER FOUR Being a Practical Wesleyan, 1941-62
The college in war time
Changes in the post-war context
Academic teaching
New pastoral directions
Maori students in the IQ^OS

CHAPTER FIVE Shaping a Therapeutic Ministry, 1963-70
Responding to the world's impatience
"Exploring the personal"
Maori ministry education
The academic programme

CHAPTER SIX Becoming Ecumenists, 1971-79
Training aims in the 1970s
From the city to the suburbs
Options, assessment and accountability
Training minita-a-iwi
New waves of protest

CHAPTER SEVEN Training Field Theologians, 1980-88
An uncertain and challenging future
In the home setting
Contextual theology
Partnership at Meadowbank
A theology degree
The challenge of diversity



APPENDIX ONE Heads and staff of the Methodist Theological College, Wardens of St John's College

APPENDIX TWO Methodist students in training, 1876-1988

APPENDIX THREE Maori ministry trainees, 1840-1929

APPENDIX FOUR Methodist students of the Methodist Theological
College 1876-2010


After many years of dreaming and planning, the new Methodist theological institution Trinity College opened in Grafton, Auckland in 1929. For nearly half a century, the college's distinctive three-storied, red brick buildings remained a centre of Methodist educational activity and a focus of Methodist identity. During the 1950s and i96os Trinity housed a busy community of around hfty lecturers, students and staff.

Today, the Trinity site is still busy. Increasingly surrounded by new office and apartment blocks, the old buildings retain a commanding position over Auckland's Southern Motorway. Their use, however, has radically changed. Until recently Aucklanders would have known the site as the home of the Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design. Classrooms for the teaching of theology were converted into studios for the creation of works of art. In 2007 the Trinity buildings were purchased by the Church ofScientology and await renovation and restoration for a new use.

Often mobile, Methodist ministry education itself moved on to the joint Anglican-Methodist College at Meadowbank and for a period to the Methodist Ministry Training Unit in Pitt Street. In the early twenty-first century, Trinity College is no longer a place but is the name given to a range of distance and residential programmes for the training of Methodist clergy and lay people. Students preparing for Methodist leadership are offered a mixture of face-to-face and online learning experiences which incorporate block course modules, field trips, intensives and one-on-one tutorials.

Knowledge and Vita] Piety tells the story of Trinity College and its contribution to Methodist ministry education in New Zealand, focusing on the years from 1929 to 1988. As historian Allan Davidson notes," the history of a college can be told at a number of different levels. At one level it can tell the tale of people and events, issues and controversies, achievements and struggles. The story of Trinity College is rich in narrative, containing a diverse cast of engaging characters grappling with academic discovery, church conflict and spiritual growth. At another level, the history of a college can seek to identify and interpret the forces behind events and the meaning to be drawn from them. In presenting the history of Trinity College, I have attempted to show that matters of ministry education have been closely bound up with the question of identity.

Identity has often arisen out of the long-standing tension in Methodism between knowledge and vital piety.2 This polarity was present in the differences

between the Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist streams, the result of nineteenth century splits in the movement.3 Characterised by a relatively high church theology and practice, Wesleyan Methodists often demonstrated a willingness to be informed by the intellectual and social changes taking place in the culture of their day. In contrast, Primitive Methodists were more evangelical in nature, tending to stress the importance of the Bible and the need to be good Christians, which at times gave them a counter-cultural focus.

Although Trinity College was opened well after the New Zealand Church achieved full denominational union in 1913, Methodism was never a homogenous entity. Instead, Wesleyan and Primitive Methodist emphases remained distinct and continue to influence the denomination into the twenty-first century. As a result, controversies that arose over ministry training were not only debates about varying styles of education but expressions of wider tensions and conflicts within the Connexion. Issues of identity and control were at stake.

Debates about Methodist ministry training tended to focus on the weight to be given to different priorities. Knowledge and Vital Piety explores how Methodist theological educators struggled with the tensions between an emphasis on intellectual and academic scholarship on the one hand, and active piety and practical training on the other. The book outlines how a number of Trinity principals sought to hold together different aspects of preparation, sometimes successfully and at other times not. In one sense, this intention gave Methodist ministry training a rather pragmatic flavour, and there was a tendency for decisions about preparation to be determined by short-term practicalities rather than out of theological or educational conviction. In another sense, however, the attempt to hold diverse ideas or priorities in creative tension was an approach dating back to Methodism's father John Wesley, and its concern for integration may be described as "inspired pragmatism".

Exploring the influence of Methodist identity issues in theological education led me to consider wider questions about the interaction between Trinity College and New Zealand Methodism as a whole. This interaction has been both creative and divisive. At times, various training emphases promoted new understandings and models of ministry; they contributed to the development of fresh priorities for church life. Yet, as a national institution in a connexional church, Trinity inevitably became a place in which people invested their hopes for the denomination, and proved an easy target for criticism when those hopes were frustrated. As the American Thomas Trotter observed in his essay "The Seminary as the Church's School", the relationship between church and seminary is one that has often been chequered, erupting on occasion into "brisk and even heated" warfare.5 This book traces a continuing pattern of church unease with the college, manifest in suspicion of its teaching, battles over the appointment of staff, and a desire for scrutiny of its work. A sense of exclusion was expressed by groups who believed their specific needs were not being met. These concerns raised questions about whether and how well Methodists were able to own the college's work.

Trinity College's Maori, Pacific Islands and women students have been among those voicing feelings of disquiet over the nature of clergy education. While the number of such groups in training was low between the l84os and 1988, Knowledge and Vital Piety examines the distinctive nature of their experience, recognising that history is not monochrome, and that the recovery of stories that have been hidden offers valuable insights into issues of power and identity. A growing awareness of the monocultural nature of the Methodist college resulted in the eventual rejection by Maori of residential theological education in favour of a more indigenous contextual mode of preparation. Women students also searched for alternatives to college training and became increasingly vocal in challenging its assumptions.

While denominational influences played an important role in shaping Methodist ministry education, I have placed the activities of Trinity College within the larger context of more general church and social forces. The book explores, for example, the extent to which Methodist training in New Zealand followed worldwide trends in ministry preparation. And it takes account of the particularities of the New Zealand setting, noting the way social, political and economic forces brought their own demands to church agendas. Influences such as colonisation, war, economic depression, the growth of urbanisation, movements of protest, and a declining interest in formal religion all affected styles and emphases of training.

In reflecting upon the role of the New Zealand context, I have also sought to discover whether Methodist training programmes showed an awareness of the need to prepare students for ministry in the local setting or simply replicated educational initiatives from overseas. James Belich in Making Peoples and Paradise Reformed argues that Pakeha society developed in the form of a "neo-Britain".6 lan Breward, in an essay in Religion in New Zealand Society, similarly reflects on the notion of a "colonial status" in the field of religion, suggesting that New Zealand's mainline Protestant churches did little that differed from churches in Britain in areas such as liturgy, church architecture, preaching and theological scholarship.7 This book considers the balance between imported and indigenous features of Methodist training.

While the story of Methodism's nineteenth and early twentieth century colleges has been told by Eric Hames, Aylesbeare Arthur, Nora Buttle and Robert Fordyce, only two previous books have focused on Trinity College itself. John Lewis, author of the 1978 The Trinity College Story, was a lecturer and later principal of the college. His book covers the college's work from 1929. A valuable source, it is rich in detail and perceptive in its insights into personalities and changes. Within a comprehensive study of Anglican training at St John's College, Sclwyn's Legacy by Allan Davidson includes the history of Trinity from the early 1970s, when the Methodist and Anglican churches entered into a partnership on the Meadowbank site. While primarily concerned with Anglican ministry education, Davidson reveals a sound and fair-minded understanding of Methodist issues. His analysis is helpful in relating the story of the college to diverse views of training, the needs and expectations of the church constituencies and to the New Zealand context.

While writing this book, I made extensive use of written records held by the Methodist theological college, although frequent changes in the location of ministry training before 1929 made tracing some of the material a challenge. I supplemented college records with reports in the minutes of Methodism's annual Conference, available from 1855. New Zealand Methodists have been keen journalists, and church newspapers published from 1870 provided insights into the occasionally contentious opinions of those at the Connexion's grassroots. The use of oral history to gather personal stories and reflection enriched and complemented written records.

In studying the period preceding Trinity College's opening, I have concen-trated mainly on educational programmes within Wesleyan Methodism, as it was the only branch of the Church to establish New Zealand-based training institutions. There is, as yet, no modern general history of the Primitive Methodist, Bible Christian or United Free Methodist churches in New Zealand, and this is a major gap in the denomination's historiography. A number of short, descriptive histories by various authors of the smaller branches of New Zealand Methodism exist, among them Fifty Years of Primitive Methodism in New Zealand, The Primitive Methodist Church in New Zealand i8()^-i()i2, "The Bible Christian Church in New Zealand" and "Free Methodism in New Zealand: An Outline of History".

Knowledge and Vital Piety focuses on Trinity's role as an institution for training students for ordained ministry, although on occasion the college had some responsibility for educating lay workers and deaconesses. That story also remains to be told, as does the history of Trinity hostel, which from 1929 offered accommodation to students attending Auckland University College. In con-sidering Trinity's teaching programmes, I have highlighted the need for more work to be done on the thought and intellectual contribution of some of Methodism's most significant theological educators. Recent essays on the thinking of John Lewis** have begun this process, but further studies are required.

I have chosen to order this book chronologically, beginning with an introductory survey of Methodist ministry education in the years before 1929 and followed by chapters aligned to the appointment dates of the college's succeeding principals. This framework acknowledges the role each principal played in shaping the direction of training at a particular time.

In a small church such as New Zealand Methodism, connexional institutions often become a focus of intense pride and debate. From its opening in 1929, Trinity College had such a role within the denomination. As a symbol of Methodist achievement and a centre of teaching and theological thinking. Trinity was regarded with respect and pride by many Methodists. Generations of former students were grateful to the college for the way it shaped, equipped and educated them for the demanding task of ministry. As an area for Methodist struggles over questions of identity, however, Trinity also aroused vigorous debate. The nature of the clergy training to be carried out at the college became a critical issue in the ongoing contest over what it meant to be a Methodist.

Whatever their view of Trinity, Methodists have had a tendency to be passionate in their response to the college. This makes writing a history of the institution a challenging undertaking. Everyone involved with the college has their own perspective and, as a former student of Trinity, I acknowledge my own subjectivity. Yet, some would argue that passion balanced by reason is a quintessential Methodist quality. It is appropriate that Trinity College's chosen motto when it opened was "Spiritus ubi est ardet", often translated by an early principal Harry Ranston as "Where the Spirit is, it burns and glows".