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“Gracious and Godly” missionary bishop dies

For immediate release August 9, 2005

“Gracious and Godly” missionary bishop dies

Bishop Max Wiggins, a New Zealander who was a missionary in Africa for 31 years, before returning to serve as an Anglican bishop in Wellington, has died.

The Rt Revd Maxwell Lester Wiggins, who was 90, passed away in Christchurch on Sunday, August 7.

He was born in Sumner in 1915, one of the seven children of Herbert and Isobel Wiggins. He attended Christchurch Boys’ High, and as a teenager came under the influence of Canon Willy Orange, an evangelical Anglican vicar. Max decided to offer himself as a missionary, and studied languages at Canterbury College (the forerunner of the University of Canterbury) with that vocation in mind.

He studied theology at College House in Christchurch, was ordained a priest in 1939, and served his curacy in Merivale. After a brief posting in Oxford, he was accepted for missionary service by the Church Missionary Society, and in 1945, with his new wife Margaret (nee Evans) and two small children he set sail for Tanganyika, as Tanzania was then known.

He held numerous positions in Tanganyika, and including one as principal of one of two original secondary schools in the country, as well as provost of the Anglican cathedral in Dodoma, the capital.

He later directed the country’s major Anglican theological college, before being chosen as Archdeacon of Bukoba, on the shores of Lake Victoria – a territory that covered an area larger than New Zealand.

In 1959 he was consecrated as the Assistant Bishop of Central Tanganyika, and from 1963 to 1976 he served as the first Bishop of the new Diocese of Victoria Nyanza.

Bishop Wiggins was in Africa during a period of great transition, and helped develop national leaders who would serve Tanganyika once British colonial authority ended in 1961. He also worked to set up structures and systems to make gains in health, education and agriculture.

He was unashamedly evangelical, a Christian leader during the East African Revival – a period when the church in East Africa doubled in size in five years, then doubled and redoubled within the next ten years.

He returned to New Zealand in 1976, and was Assistant Bishop of Wellington from 1976 until 1981.

Rt. Revd. David Coles, the Bishop of Christchurch, describes Bishop Wiggins “as man of great humility who, with the support of his wife, dedicated his life to the work of overseas missions.

“The urgency of proclaiming the gospel,” says Bishop Coles, “never left him. Even as an old man he continued to have a great heart for the gospel.”

Rev. Bob Glen, who served under him in Tangayika, says Bishop Wiggins was a man for “a critical time in East African history, when Tanganyika was emerging from colonial rule into independence.

He says Bishop Wiggins was able, in his work as a principal of a leading secondary school and as a senior bishop, “to jump cultures, and to help shape the emerging leadership of the country.

“He made a significant contribution to the life of the church and society in Tanzania.”

During his Wellington phase, Bishop Wiggins also chaired a council that oversaw the birth of World Vision International.

Peter McNee, the former head of World Vision New Zealand, and himself a former missionary, recalls Bishop Wiggins as a “gracious and Godly man. He was committed not just to the institution of the church – but to the church in society.”

On his retirement, Bishop Wiggins moved back to Christchurch, where he served, for a time, as General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society.

He is survived by three children and their families.

Bishop Wiggins’ funeral will be held at St Barnabas, Fendalton, at 2.00pm on Friday.


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