The Rt Revd Dr Eleanor Sanderson (née Grourk) was Assistant Bishop of Wellington in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, from June 2017 until 2022. Eleanor was the first female bishop in the Diocese of Wellington and the fourth in New Zealand.
She was born in Hinderwell, near Whitby in North Yorkshire in 1977, and spent her childhood at the family’s home of over four centuries in Tideswell, Derbyshire; the first Bishop of Hull, Robert Pursglove, was a native of Tideswell and is commemorated in the Parish Church.
Her husband Tim is from Wellington and works as a mechanic; this is his first time living away from Aotearoa New Zealand. Their sons are Joseph (Joe) and Zachary (Zach).
Eleanor came to faith whilst a student at Bristol University, where she studied geography. This discipline, along with International Development and the intersection of spirituality and faith, have been close to her heart since that time: leading into a Master of Development Studies (2003) and PhD in Geography (2006), both at Victoria University of Wellington, and a further Masters in Theology (2013) through the University of Otago. She is currently Fellow in Public Theology within the Centre for Anglican Communion Studies at the Virginia Theological Seminary, and remains a Research Associate at Victoria University of Wellington.
Eleanor was ordained in 2005 in the Diocese of Wellington and served in a wide range of roles within academic and not-for-profit development organisations. Prior to commencing her role as Assistant Bishop, she was Vicar of the Parish of St Alban’s, Eastbourne and Chaplain to Wellesley College, and the Diocesan Canon Theologian.
Within Wellington Diocese, she led intentional discipleship programmes to resource Christians to go deeper in their relationship with God and equip them to build up mission and discipleship with others.
Recently the family participated in building intentional Christian communities for young adults. They lived near the University of Wellington and took part in building a residential community with students which grew to five houses, each with house leaders, daily prayers, weekly discipleship night and weekly patterns of mission together.
Eleanor commented, “Living and breathing this community has been an important part of role modelling and supporting missional discipleship in my role as bishop in the last five years. It will be really hard to leave these folk, but the community is at a good stage of being led without us now.”
She added, “One of the hardest parts of saying goodbye will be the rich life of our ‘Three Tikanga’* Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. Part of my doctoral research was working in partnership with Melanesian Communities in Fiji and then later with women from the Mothers’ Union in Tonga. My ordinations took place in mats woven for me by the women of these communities and symbolised my belonging and connection to them. So, our family has a deep sense of belonging in these Pacific Islands.
“But personally I feel really keenly the connection with William Wilberforce and Hull. The Melanesian communities in Fiji are a consequence of indentured labour. During my time in Wellington I’ve spoken at our Parliament in co-ordinated work seeking to prevent modern day slavery - so that connection feels quite fresh to me.”
* The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia consists of three tikanga or cultural streams: Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia.