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Agency of Hope: The story of the Auckland City Mission 1920-2020
by Peter Lineham (Massey University Press, 2020) $49.99
Reviewed by Judith Nathan

agencyofhope_v7Noted historian Peter Lineham has done a meticulous  job chronicling the complex history of the Auckland City Mission, founded by the Anglican church.  He has clearly waded conscientiously through the records of countless meetings over the years.  What emerges, in varying intensity throughout its history, is a surprising number of tussles with the diocese (with which it now has only tenuous links) and with other agencies, such as the Methodist Mission and the Salvation Army.  Alongside these are the many variations in the mission’s diverse activities as it adjusted to meet the changing needs of its clientele – sometimes seen as city-wide but now focussed on the inner city.

The most fascinating section of the book is its account of the first quarter century when the mission was headed by a charismatic, eccentric individual, the Rev Jasper Calder. In the 1920s its activities included a doss house with 100 beds, clothing shops and a soup kitchen that served over 100,000 bowls of soup in its first year.  For 80 years it ran a hospital library.  In a city theatre it held weekly services that included entertainment with a paid orchestra and at their height attracted over 10,000 people at a time. These continued till the mid-1940s.

In the 1950s under a more sedate leader, Douglas Caswell there were various innovations (described by Lineham as an “odd assortment”). These included founding Selwyn Village, intended for poor elderly. This separated from the mission in the 1960s and changed its focus (and clientele) to selling licences to occupy.  There were ongoing issues over the division of assets and grants between the mission and the Selwyn Foundation.

The energetic, long-serving missioner, Diane Robertson, (1997-2015) was the first woman and the first lay missioner. She maintained a high profile for the agency which grew rapidly. By 2000, soon after she left, there were 110 full-time staff.

Peter Lineham

Peter Lineham

For many years the mission’s main income was from its shops (and at times it was difficult to make ends meet), but it is currently 40 percent government funded through a deliberate policy to seek funding to establish and run new activities. Having identified the resurgence of homelessness (and its often-associated addiction issues) as the overriding central city concern, it is currently constructing a $110,000 million accommodation and office building due to open in 2021.  Its various other activities include distributing food parcels – it estimates 80,000 families rely on these.

Peter Lineham regrets that, despite his best efforts, he was not able to obtain much feedback from mission clients.  Had he succeeded, the book might have had more of a focus on its outreach and impact, and comparatively less coverage of its tensions with the church (at times described as fraught) and other agencies.  Like other missions founded by the Anglican church it now somewhat downplays its religious associations in order to broaden its appeal to clients, funders and potential staff.

This comprehensive 250 page history has a good index and a bibliography to assist readers who may wish to follow a particular service or one of the many individual workers named in these pages.

Click here for Massey University Press’ Q&A with the author.