Reverend David Mortimer Taylor, 1910-1995

Clergyman and pacifist

David Taylor was ‘one of New Zealand’s most vocal champions of world peace and justice’. 1

An outspoken opponent of  ‘the appalling slaughter and destruction’ 2 caused by World War II, Taylor opposed New Zealand involvement in the Vietnam War and was active in the anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear movements.

General secretary of the National Council of Churches from 1964-1974, he exhibited a tenacious concern for a range of social justice issues such as equality for women, and closer ties with Ratana, Ringatu and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Early life

David Mortimer Taylor was born in December 1910 in Bradfield, Berkshire, England, and was the eldest son of Reverend Frederick Norman Taylor (1871-1960) and his wife, Dorothy Warburton (1885-1976).

A father's influence

David Taylor and his two brothers, Roger and Humphrey (both born in New Zealand), grew up in a strongly pacifist household. All three brothers became clergymen, following in their father Frederick's footsteps.

Frederick Taylor was ordained as a priest in the parish of Worcester in 1903.

The family emigrated to Christchurch in 1913 and Frederick Taylor was appointed vicar of St. Luke’s Church. He served this parish until 1936, and is remembered by his parishioners as a great teacher with a good sense of humour, and as a brave, determined, and fearless man who always displayed the courage of his convictions.

Frederick Taylor was one of a group of Anglican clergymen who renounced “just war” dogma in the aftermath of World War 1 and embraced pacifism.

Education and ordination

David was educated at Christ’s College from 1923 until 1928, after winning several scholarships. He studied Greek at Canterbury University, graduating with a Masters of Arts degree in 1933, and was awarded a licentiate of theology with first-class honours by the Church of England.

He also studied at Melbourne University and was awarded a Bachelor of Divinity with honours in 1944. In 1954-5, he studied in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship.

Ordained as a priest in 1934, he served as a curate in Timaru, then was appointed vicar of the Chatham Islands from 1937; Fairlie from 1939; Akaroa from 1943; Hinds from 1946; and Belfast from 1948. He also became an assistant lecturer at College House in 1948, and in 1951, was appointed vice-principal, where he remained until 1959. In 1935, he married Celia Muriel Stephanie Twyneham, with whom he would have six daughters.

Pacifism during World War II

The Taylor family never hesitated to promote its pacifist views, through sermons, letters to the editor and in publications. In 1935, Frederick and David moved a successful motion at the Christchurch Diocesan Synod ‘heartily associating’ the synod with the Lambeth peace and war resolutions of 1930. 3

David wrote pamphlets for the Conference on Christian Order during the 1940s, including Our sins against God and society (1947). In 1941, he published a book, Religious education: a part of reconstruction. He directly challenged government policy by writing an open letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, which urged them to ‘do your utmost to bring about the immediate end of the appalling slaughter and destruction’ of war. 4

In 1943-4, David Taylor circulated a petition seeking to end indefinite sentences for military defaulters, and in August 1945, he preached in Akaroa what he called ‘possibly the most unpopular sermon ever preached from this pulpit, for which I was attacked anonymously in the correspondence columns and actually booed in the Oddfellows Hall’. 5 In the sermon, he argued for the setting up of a high court of appeal to hear defaulters’ cases.

The war’s end brought no change to Taylor's pacifist convictions, and in 1948, he and his family were instrumental in establishing a New Zealand branch of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship in Christchurch.

Post-war work and the National Council of Churches

During the 1950s, Taylor lobbied tenaciously for improvements in training for the ministry through his work at College House, publishing Dreams of the day: a plea for better training of men who offer for the ministry in 1959.

At the same time, he became actively involved in the ecumenical movement, an interest which developed during his tenure as associate general secretary of the Australian Council of Churches, 1959-1962. He published several works on church unity and inter-church relations in the early 1960s, and carried this enthusiasm into his work with the National Council of Churches (NCC).

Taylor was appointed associate general secretary in 1963, and replaced Alan Brasch as general secretary in 1964. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1974. He took the initiative in establishing relations with both the Ringatu and Ratana churches, attending their hui in the 1970s, and also fostered contacts with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Liberal Catholic Church. He founded the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Peace and social justice activism

While working at the NCC, David became involved in a wide range of peace, social justice and human rights movements. He was impressed by Australian schemes for the reception of refugees and worked to establish similar resettlement programmes here.

He was a vocal opponent of  New Zealand’s involvement in both the Vietnam War and sport in South Africa, and was concerned also about human rights violations in such countries as the Philippines, South Korea, South America, and the Soviet Union.

Moves by the NCC to address issues of racism and the position of Māori in New Zealand owed much to his advocacy. The NCC joined the New Zealand Race Relations Council in 1970 after a stirring address on racism by Taylor at that year’s annual general meeting. Later the organisation made regular submissions and resolutions on race issues, as well as organising seminars and debates. In 1973, the council gave a grant to the Auckland Polynesian Panthers for a community worker.

Anti-nuclear stance

Taylor and his wife were also heavily involved in the anti-nuclear movement, and Taylor wrote and spoke widely on the issue. He fully supported Celia’s offer to board the frigate sent to the Mururoa testing zone by the prime minister, Norman Kirk, in 1973, the couple having decided together that she was the better sailor.

Taylor died in Christchurch on 3 July 1995, a staunch pacifist until the end. Mourners at his funeral were asked in lieu of flowers to donate to the World Court Project, a global organisation which works to hold governments legally accountable for their nuclear disarmament obligations.

Further information


  1. 1 Obituary, The Press, 7 July 1995, p. 35
  2. 2 Haworth, G., Marching as to war?, p. 181.
  3. 3 ibid, p. 160
  4. 4 ibid, p. 181
  5. 5 ibid, p. 178


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