Historian Peter Lineham wrote Agency of Hope to mark the centenary of a remarkable organisation which has helped countless vulnerable Aucklanders since it started its work 100 years ago.
The first City Missioner, the charismatic outspoken Jasper Calder, ruffled a great many feathers in the Anglican church. But he drew the working class back into the fold in large numbers through his entertaining sermons held, not in a church, but in the Princess Theatre. A keen racing man, he was evidently once visited by police and warned about giving racing tips after one of his church services.
Each Decade has presented new challenges for the Auckland City Mission. The biggest was the great Depression in the thirties. It was a desperate time for many Aucklanders due to huge unemployment. As well as running a doss-house they handed out enormous amounts of fuel, food, and warm clothing.
There have been times when the Auckland City Mission was not afraid to go where others feared to tread. During the AIDS epidemic, a time when many viewed gay people as immoral and promiscuous, it established the first respite centre for HIV/AIDS patients.
It was also a trailblazer in the provision of accommodation for the elderly when it set up Selwyn village as clusters of small cotttages which old people much preferred to the usual style of hostel accommodation.
There was many a rocky time which Peter Lineham does not gloss over, internal squabbles and struggles to remain financially viable. The Auckland City Mission is dependent on a variety of sources, contributions from the church, its opshops, fundraising events, generous donors, bequests, and government assistance. But when there was an economic downturn e.g. during the share market crash, while more Aucklanders needed a helping hand, fewer donations would flow in to cover the increased costs. At times, the Auckland City Mission was also in competition with other charities.
The nature of social work and the way trusts are managed have changed over time. They have become more professional and the Auckland City Mission has followed suit. But poverty remains entrenched in Auckland as has been so clearly shown during the COVID-19 pandemic, so its task is by no means done.
As I read this meticulously researched book I learnt that the work of the Auckland City Mission has been far broader than the op shops, food banks, night shelters for the homeless and its annual grand Christmas dinner which I was familiar with.
It has filled me with admiration for the dedication and the compassion shown by all those who have worked for the Auckland City Mission over many years to support the poor, the marginalised and the homeless. I found it a very thought-provoking book.
Reviewer: Lyn Potter
Massey University Press. RRP $49.99.