April 11, George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

George Augustus Selwyn was born on April 5, 1809, at Hampstead, London. He was prepared at Eton, and in 1831 was graduated from St. John’s College, Cambridge, of which he became a Fellow.

Ordained in 1833, Selwyn served as a curate at Windsor until his selection as first Bishop of New Zealand in 1841. On the voyage to his new field, he mastered the Maori language and was able to preach in it upon his arrival. In the tragic ten-year war between the English and the Maoris, Selwyn was able to minister to both sides, and to keep the affection and admiration of both natives and colonists. He began missionary work in the Pacific islands in 1847.

Selwyn’s first general synod in 1859 laid down a constitution, influenced by that of the American Church, which was important for all English colonial Churches.

After the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, Selwyn was reluctantly persuaded to accept the See of Lichfield in England. He died on April 11, 1878, and his grave in the cathedral close has been a place of pilgrimage for the Maoris to whom he first brought the light of the Gospel.

Bishop Selwyn twice visited the Church in America, and was the preacher at the 1874 General Convention.


I    Almighty and everlasting God, we thank thee for thy servant George Augustus Selwyn, whom thou didst call to preach the Gospel to the people of New Zealand and Melanesia, and to lay a firm foundation for the growth of thy Church in many nations. Raise up, we beseech thee, in this and every land evangelists and heralds of thy kingdom, that thy Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II    Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant George Augustus Selwyn, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of New Zealand and Melanesia, and to lay a firm foundation for the growth of your Church in many nations. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Genesis 12:1-4

Ephesians 2:11-18

Matthew 10:7-16

Psalm 28:7-11

Preface of Apostles

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

* * *

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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24 thoughts on “April 11, George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878

  1. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new. The Psalm is a substitute for Psalm 96: 1-7 or Psalm 98: 1-4.

  2. New Hebrew reading: Verses 1-3 seem to fit, but do we need verse 4?
    So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

    Bio. He needs a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement.

  3. First paragraph, 2nd sentence: “was prepared at Eton, and was graduated from ..” This passive voice sentence makes him sound like an entree. Recast in active voice, please.

    Third paragraph: Not clear to me what is meant about other colonial churches. Recent events in the Anglican Communion suggest that American-style polity is indeed NOT well understood in some of the formerly colonial churches in the global south. Clarification, please.

  4. Paragraph 1, Sentence 2: Although I was taught in my youth that “was graduated” is correct, it has become anachronistic. So is “prepared” as in “preparatory school” (which, in British usage Eton isn’t–it’s complicated). Change the sentence to: “He attended Eton, and in 1831 was graduated from . . .”

    Paragraph 2, Sentence 3: Change “English” to “British.’ Presumably there were some Scots, Welsh and Irish involved as well.

    • Paragraph 1, Sentence 2: Anachronistic habits die hard. Change it to “He attended Eton, and in 1831graduated from . . .”

      • Usually we give a person the benefit of the doubt and say ‘he was educated at Eton’.

      • The goal here was to change “graduated” from passive to active, since some commentators found the use of the passive incorrect or at least anachronistic (although I prefer the passive). I like your solution because it creates an elegant ambiguity as to the voice of “graduated.” Good suggestion!

  5. Thank you John for this revision. And thank you even more for “graduated from.” One of my [probably too many] pet peeves is “He graduated high school…” That means he went carefully around it and markd off lines of measurement – as in one of the few things I remember from high school chenistry – a graduated flask. Hrrrmph!

    • Yes, thanks to John M for that catch.

      I’m a little baffled by “He began missionary work in the Pacific islands in 1847.” What was all that conversing with the Maori from his arrival in 1841? (I take it the 10-year was already in full swing?)

  6. Today I decided to use this collect in my Noontime devotions. I enjoyed the clear message that we have all been given a gift and are called to share that gift. The Holy spirit is with in us and we are blessed when we share the Gospel. I thank God for the life and works of Bishop Selwyn.

    Peace & Love

    Amanda J Murphy Venezia

  7. Bishop Selwyn was able, almost from Day 1 in New Zealand, to speak directly with the Maori and that seems to have won their approval. He served as or tried to serve as a mediator of the conflict between the Governor/British colonists with mixed results (at first) until a resolution was achieved. I perceive him to be
    worthy of the appelation “Apostle to The Maori” because he was able to connect vitally with them and was
    able to proclaim the Gospel so as to draw many of them into the Body of Christ. That his grave in Lich-
    fiel is a place of pilgrimage for the Maori is a clear sign of that enduring connection. What he did for 20+ years in Lichfield might be of interest as well. I have no awareness of this.

  8. There’s so much more to this man — as Christian, bishop, missionary, educator, and explorer — than HWHM mentions. And what little it does mention lacks context.
    Following his ordination as a deacon (1833) and priest (1834), he served as curate to the vicar of Windsor. That was his highest ecclesiastical office before consecration as bishop.
    The Pacific Islands he evangelized (and explored!) were those lying between 34 degrees south longitude (what the Colonial Office meant to be the northern boundary of his diocese) and 34 degrees north longitude (what the Letter Patent actually read, thanks to a “scribal error”). The establishment of his diocese and the evanglization to the Maori kept him busy from 1841 until 1847, which explains the delay.
    In addition to learning the Maori language on his first voyage to New Zealand, Selwyn also learned navigation, mapping, and ship-handling, so that he was able to act as his own sailing master on his voyages of exploration and evangelism. One sailor noted that “To see the Bishop handle a boat was almost enough to make a man a Christian.”
    Selwyn had objected strongly to wording in his Letter Patent which authorized him to ordain priests and other ministers. That authority, he insisted, was his by right of episcopal consecration. It was not in the Colonial Office’s power to grant or withhold. He won that point, but he let the longitudinal error pass in discreet silence.
    His reforms and advocacy established New Zealand as an independent part of what later became the Anglican Communion. The theological college he founded at Aukland (St. John’s, in 1843) was, from its beginnings, open to both white and Maori candidates. Selwyn’s insistance that all ordinands know Greek meant that the first Maori (Rota Waitoa) was not ordained until 1853.

    • That would be an interesting practice to take up (we’d have to backtrack quite a bit, though). That added, along with “Who s/he is and why s/he merits inclusion”– plus dates & locations– by Golly, we’re getting someplace! 🙂

      • This thread reminds me of a tombstone’s epitaph in the Key West, Florida, cemetery which reads:
        “I told you I was sick.”

  9. George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878
    This is a fascinating person, but one I couldn’t appreciate until reading the other comments, especially Steve Lusk’s. I hope much of it can be added, given the sparsity of what it is now.
    I agree with Cynthia about “he was prepared.” It DOES sound like he was cooked in one place and, I expected, “served” somewhere else!
    Paragraph 3: WHAT was important for all English colonial Churches: the constitution approved at Selwyn’s first general synod in 1859, or the American Church’s constitution? It’s not clear.
    Paragraph 4: I felt teased and confused by the missing explanation of why he had to be “reluctantly persuaded” to accept the See of Lichfield. Possibilities include (a) there was a reason to remove him from New Zealand so they were “kicking him upstairs,” to Lichfield, against his own inclination; (b) he had a personal need (health, money, family, etc.) he could address only if he moved, yet didn’t want to leave New Zealand; (c) Lichfield was an undesirable place to be, so it took persuading before he would acquiesce. My point is, the article should not leave the reader guessing.
    Paragraph 5: It seems odd he dies in paragraph 4 and preaches (with an earlier time stamp) in paragraph 5. Shouldn’t that be mentioned prior to his death date? Also, was there any significance in his visits to America, or consequence to his convention sermon? If not, it sounds like this is just boasting for the fun of it.
    COLLECT: “Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;…” I like the collect, including its “so that” clause. In addition to “raising up [specialized] evangelists and heralds” I would love it expanded to include all the baptized, in their own circumstances, proclaiming “by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” – with whatever wording is most convenient for the collect. (It’s not just an ordained person’s job or the institution’s responsibility as such.)
    READINGS: These are excellent selections! Thank you for choosing them so well. The portion of Psalm 28 chosen bears witness to YHWH for answering a plea for deliverance in deadly circumstances (with retribution-in-kind for mortal opponents – justifiably and discretely omitted), yet the bio tells nothing about Selwyn’s (or his flock’s) prayer life, much less any big prayer issue with which this portion might resonate. Regardless of the psalm, it would be good to include something of the spiritual pulse of this ministry.
    (I especially love verse 9, “Therefore my heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise him” – following v.8, “my heart trusts in him (YHWH), and I have been helped.”). These are all excellent!

    • Collect: This collect has an uncanny similarity to the Collect ‘Of a Missionary” (page 247 of the BCP 79). It is hardly original. Does not this wonderful man deserve his own collect?

      • That explains why my first reaction to the collect was ‘this is a much better collect than most that have been offered here’! I said in one of my earliest posts on the subject that we would do better to use the common collects on pp 246ff of the BCP and adapt them as appropriate, and this good example of that policy strengthens my preference for that.

        The only change I’d make would be in one of the added clauses; I’d drop the words ‘the growth of’. It doesn’t quite fit the ‘foundation’ metaphor. Foundations are built on—things only grow on them when the building is a ruin. ‘ To lay a firm foundation for Your Church in many nations’ doesn’t seem to say any less than the wording in the collect.

  10. I am too lazy to look in my NZ Prayer Book, butis he commemorated there? Do they have something like HWHM? It might be worth looking.

    • Cynthia,
      I thought I might be able to check this out online, so I searched for “NZ Prayer Book” and I found out that the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia actually has a compromised relationship with the copyright holders of the text of its own Prayer Book, and does not own the rights to digitize or post the book. In fact, apparently some churches who have posted liturgies, etc on their own websites have been told to cease & desist.

      I share this in appreciation of our own Church, which certainly doesn’t get everything right, but at least doesn’t quibble at putting our prayers, liturgies, and commemorations (including HWHM!) available for anyone, anywhere. Isn’t that Christ’s intended audience?

  11. I would read the posts more often if the Welcome was replaced by a sentence about the Holy Woman or Man mentioned in the title. I’ve read the welcome many times, after the first reading it is unnecessary and it keeps me from seeing the first sentence about the Holy Man or Woman that could capture my attention.

  12. I suggest a better subtitle would be: “Missionary and Peacemaker”. He is not listed simply because he was a bishop.

    Line 2, first paragraph: substitute “educated” for “prepared”. (Eton is not a “prep school”, it is what the British call a “Public School”.)

    Line 3, third paragraph: substitute “British” for “English”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: add “at Lichfield” after “died”.

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