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Meet New Zealand’s Barefoot Bishop

The Rt. Rev. Justin Duckworth, who founded a new monastic community before becoming Bishop of Wellington and goes by BarefootBishop on social media, was elected May 22 as primate of Tikanga Pākehā, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia’s branch for people of European descent.

He succeeds Archbishop Philip Richardson, Bishop of Waikato and Taranaki, who served as senior bishop of the tikanga for a decade and stepped down last June.

“I’m looking forward to the privilege of serving across the Church, particularly in the three Tikanga space. I think what excites me is the potential in the breadth of the Church and the diverse gifts that we bring and working together to enhance those gifts,” Duckworth told Anglican Taonga, the province’s media outlet.

Duckworth’s election at the church’s General Synod was welcomed by delegates from the other tikanga. Delegates from Tikanga Polynesia, which includes Anglicans in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the Cook Islands, greeted him with a song of thanksgiving. Members of Tikanga Māori, which serves New Zealand’s Indigenous community, followed with their own tribute.

“Both Tikanga Māori and Tikanga Polynesia look forward to extending the fullness of their whanaungatanga [kinship] and aroha [love] to Archbishop-elect Justin, Jenny, and the family. We are incredibly excited about what the future holds,” said Archbishop Don Tamihere, the primate of Tikanga Māori.

Urban Vision and Missional Discipleship

Duckworth came to faith as a teenager through Youth for Christ, an evangelical parachurch ministry, and he and his wife ran a home for teenage girls and engaged in street ministry among the homeless and sex workers in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital and third-largest city.

In 1997, the Duckworths founded Urban Vision, a new monastic community in which young Christians live among people from the margins. As the movement expanded to several sites across Wellington, it affiliated with the Anglican Church, which recognizes it as an apostolic order.  Now based at a rural monastery about an hour outside Wellington, it includes communities across the country.

Duckworth was ordained to the priesthood in 2005 and continued to lead Urban Vision until he was elected as Bishop of Wellington in 2012. He will continue as diocesan bishop while leading the tikanga.

A major focus of his ministry, Anglican Taonga said, has been “deepening its culture of missional discipleship,” including the founding of 14 “missional edge communities” in which members live together and commit to serving a particular group of neighbors. The diocese’s efforts were featured in a keynote presentation at the 2022 Lambeth Conference by the Rt. Rev. Eleanor Sanderson, who was then a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Wellington.

Duckworth is well-known in New Zealand for his hairstyle, bare feet, and casual approach. He has an large following on social media, describing himself on X as “just a dreadlocked bloke helping others find their purpose in God’s love & healing justice. Oh, & bishop of Wellington.”

Three Tikanga, One Church

Since 1992, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia has been structured as a union of three tikanga, a Māori word for cultural streams. The church’s primacy is shared among three archbishops, each elected by one of the tikanga. The church’s constitution commits it “to maintain the right of every person to choose any particular cultural expression of the faith.” Seven dioceses serve Tikanga Pākehā, five serve Tikanga Māori, and Tikanga Polynesia is a single diocese.

In a 2018 census, 314,913 New Zealanders identified themselves as Anglicans, about 6.7 percent of the total population, making the Anglican Church the nation’s second-largest. Forty-eight percent of New Zealanders described themselves as having no religious affiliation.

The church dates its origins to mission work among the Māori begun in 1813 by the Rev. Samuel Marsden, an evangelical Church of England minister who was serving as a chaplain in New South Wales.

The Rt. Rev. George Augustus Selwyn, a high churchman, was appointed as a missionary bishop in 1841, as large waves of European settlers began arriving in the region. He oversaw the planting of numerous churches and institutions during his 26-year episcopate, as well as expansion into the Polynesian and Melanesian islands.

In recent decades, the church has become more theologically progressive, and General Synod authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in 2018, while maintaining traditional teaching on marriage. Tikanga Polynesia, which serves several nations in which same-sex marriage remains illegal, was exempted from the change.

The Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand was founded by GAFCON in 2019 to serve a small number of parishes that left the church after its decision to bless same-sex unions. Most conservative parishes remain within the church.

The Diocese of Nelson is a center of conservative evangelicalism under the leadership of Kenyan-born Bishop Steve Maina. Maina is also the bishop protector of the Community of Saint Mark, a church-recognized fellowship for parishes that maintain traditional teaching and practice.

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