In the pioneering days, families longed for the consolation of the Church and, to meet this need, services were held ‘wherever two or three were gathered together’; in home, woolshed, hotel or in the open air. Later, the school became the centre for church services of varied denominations.
As early as 1838, Bishop Harper is recorded as having conducted church services at the Levels sheep station and by 30 December, 1866 a meeting had been called in Pleasant Point to discuss the erection of a building suitable for divine worship and also a school. By the end of the meeting, subscriptions amounted to fifty pounds and, within a short time, increased to sixty pounds.
Within six months, a twenty-eight by fourteen foot building situated on the corner of Nikau Street and 60 Te Ngawai Road was opened for public worship. It is reported in the Timaru Herald that the Right Reverend Lord Bishop of Christchurch delivered an excellent sermon taking for his text, Psalm 109, verse 1.
“The service was held in the evening and attendance was large. He stated that, if promised subscriptions were paid promptly, the building would shortly be painted and finished.”
As communities developed, separate denominations were established, each with a clergyman given charge of the whole of South Canterbury. Anglicans led the way.
On 9th January 1860. Rev. George Foster was licensed on behalf of the Anglican Church to the curacy of the Pastoral District of South Canterbury, an area extending from the Rangitata to Waitaki rivers and inland to the Southern Alps.
In 1865, Rev. George Barclay was ordained as Presbyterian Minister for Timaru and surrounding districts. It was he who was responsible for founding the majority of the parishes now making up the South Canterbury Presbytery.
The stories of his adventures are legend. He travelled on horseback or by buggy to every part of his parish and was once forced to watch one of his horses drown in the Opihi river when his vehicle overturned. Yet he unharnessed the other and rode on.
On another occasion, he leapt out of his gig as it was swept away with the horse by flood waters and yet again, he was found unconscious in a paddock whilst his horse grazed quietly at a distance. It is said that Barclay often preached in torn garments with bleeding hands and the water squelching from his boots.
Other denominations were also active in the early days. In the Timaru Herald, mention is made in 1884 of the Salvation Army “having secured a local habitation in the shape of a large building once used as a blacksmith’s shop which they have fitted up as Barracks, steadily prosecuting their works with some success.”
In the same article, reference is made to “the periodical Wesleyan services in the school room being well attended."
The article also states: “If we cannot claim to be a highly religious community, we can at least boast of about as many samples as our neighbours.”!!
About that time, the Roman Catholic Church was also becoming established in South Canterbury.
When Rev. Barclay began to conduct services in Pleasant Point, the village consisted of a smithy, an accommodation house and one or two necessary adjuncts. Services were at first held only on the rare occasions when Mr Barclay had the opportunity to conduct them. They were held in the schoolhouse or school.
Within ten years, the growth in population led to more regular services and the congregation began to see the need for a permanent church. So, when Rev. Barclay was made minister of Temuka, it was decided to join in with the rest of the parish in engaging Rev. Murray for six months as Rev. Barclay’s assistant. Pleasant Point was to contribute twenty-five pounds towards his salary. However, at the end of the six months, it was decided to do without this assistance.
In November 1874, less than two years after Pleasant Point had become part of a Temuka based parish, the township's Presbyterians opened a subscription list towards their proposed church.
A site on the hill was offered by Mr. James Gammie, free of any charges. It was situated next to his residence in what is now the western corner of the church grounds. After careful consideration, this offer was accepted in preference to one made by Mr McLellan of Timaru.
Plans were prepared gratis by Frank Wilson, a Timaru architect and such was the progress of the undertaking that construction began in early 1875 and was finished before the year was out. The church was built of wood and had seating for 120. The opening day services were conducted by Rev. Barclay on 21st November 1875.
In the ensuing years, the arrival in South Canterbury of more and more settlers increased the work of the church and the interest in it. Proposals were being made for further division of the pastoral areas and, within two years, the possibility of having a resident minister in Pleasant Point as the result of such division, was being investigated.
In 1878, it was finally decided that the Pleasant Point district should form a separate parish extending to the proposed Geraldine boundary in the north and including Washdyke, Cave, Totara Valley and Pleasant Point.
This proposal was accepted by the Presbytery and the old Temuka Parish was divided into three — Temuka, Pleasant Point and Geraldine which included the Mackenzie Country. This became effective on May lst 1879 and, on ZIst July that year, the Rev. A. Alexander was inducted as the first resident minister of Pleasant Point.
With the arrival of a full-time minister, it became possible to establish places of worship at Cannington, Totara Valley, Kakahu and Albury until it became part of the Mackenzie parish in 1890.
Important milestones in the history of the parish before the turn of the century included the erection of the first manse in 1881 and substantial enlargements to it in 1897. This wooden residence, still in good repair, stands in Manse Road over the crest of the hill from the existing church. In 1890 the little limestone church of St. Paul was built in Totara Valley.
In the early years of this century, the work of the church expanded further with the arrival of new families at Rosewill settlement and the sub-division of Levels Station following its purchase by the Government from the New Zealand and Australian Land Company. In those days, the parish had ten preaching places.
With modes of transport being so limited, it was necessary to take the church to the people in out-lying areas. For a long time, services and Sunday school sessions were conducted in the local schools. Such an extensive programme of worship required the minister to take three or four services each Sunday and to call on the assistance of lay preachers as well.
As early as 1907, the Parish Board of Managers declared the need for a bigger church in Pleasant Point but it was not until 1910 that a canvas for financial support was taken.
Hopes were dashed when the lowest tender of two thousand and fifteen pounds was almost twice the estimate but in June 1911, tenders were again called for a modified plan. The lowest tender of thirteen hundred and five pounds from Kennedy and Meecham was then accepted.
Within a month, parishioners had assembled with horse teams, ploughs and scoops to excavate the site and a start was made on the quarrying of the stone for the walls which came from the Sutherlands property of Mr Alexander Sutherland.
The foundation stone was laid by Mrs Sutherland on 19th October 1911 and the new Church of St. John’s was opened on 9th March 1913. The original wooden church higher on the hill became the Sunday school and continued in that role until it was demolished in 1954.
It was also used for the many social functions associated with the church and, in 1923, a kitchen was added to the back of the building. Older residents today recall the old copper used to boil water for the numerous cups of tea served at such functions. Concerts, socials and Bible class dances were held there and school candidates for matriculation have memories of sitting their examinations to the accompaniment of swarms of buzzing bees in the old bell tower.
In the late 1950s, the interior of St. John’s was redesigned, the old choir stalls and pulpit rails being removed. The completion of this work was marked by a war memorial window in 1959. A second window presented by an anonymous former parishioner was unveiled to mark the 90th anniversary of the parish and an electronic organ replaced the little old harmonium of yesteryears.
When St. John’s was built, one of the cost-reducing modifications to the plans was to leave out the bell tower. For many years, the bell remained in the tower of the old church and, following its demolition, a separate bell-stand was set up by the new church. In 1972, Mrs N. E. Oakley, widow of a former parish minister, Rev. N. Oakley, provided the nucleus of a belfrey fund as a memorial to her husband. In 1974, when sufficient money was raised, a belfrey was added to St. John’s. Significantly, its design was based on a sketch by Robert Oakley, architect son of Rev. Oakley.
Parish boundaries have changed over the years. For instance, Albury, originally part of Pleasant Point Parish, was transferred to Mackenzie in 1890 and then, in 1909, was established as a separate parish. It continued so for sixty-three years until, in 1972, it was again linked with Pleasant Point.
The more recent history of the parish includes the building of a new manse in front of the church in 1941. Originally a single storey structure in the flat- roofed, Spanish style popular at the time, its appearance has since altered completely.
Because of acute shortage of space for a family, the building of a new manse was, at first, considered. However, as the building was structurally sound, the problem was solved by the addition of an upper storey for bedrooms. Work began on this project in February 1977 and was completed a year later. Many men and women of the parish gave innumerable hours of voluntary work to this project.
The present Church Hall was built in 1954 to replace the old church when it was demolished.
The life of the parish today is centred mainly at St. John‘s with twice monthly services at Totara Valley, Albury and St. David’s, Cave. It remains an integral part of the lives of those whose forbears first established the Presbyterian church in the district more than a hundred years ago.
Ministers of the Pleasant Point Parish have been as follows:
|Rev A. Alexander||1879–1880|
|Rev D. McLennan||1880–1885|
|Rev W. White||1885–1890|
|Rev J. White||1892–1908|
|Rev G.S. King||1909–1918|
|Rev J.T. Gunn||June 25–July 20 1919|
|Rev G. Falconer||1919–1926|
|Rev W. McNeur||1926–1939|
|Rev I. Dixon||1939–1944|
|Rev N. Oakley||1945–1953|
|Rev I. Powell||1953–1964|
|Rev J. Van Royen||1965–1975|
|Rev W. Marshall||1975–1982|
|Rev B. Ayres||1982–1989|
The Anglican Church, like the Presbyterian, had its beginnings as part of the wide South Canterbury curacy until the growth of small townships made its division necessary.
The Parish of Temuka and Geraldine was established in December 1870 by the presiding Bishop Harper. It embraced a wide area along the Opihi and Te Ngawai rivers and extended into the Mackenzie Country.
In those early pioneering days, it was accepted practice to hold Anglican services in local schools and it is recorded that Bishop Harper ‘conducted divine service in the school room at The Point on 11th May 1873’.
Even then, a strong bond of friendship and understanding was evident between the Presbyterians and Anglicans of the district. A year after the Presbyterian church was built, it was made available to the Anglicans who regularly held services there.
No doubt this arrangement encouraged the Anglicans to aspire to greater things and it was not long before they were planning their own church. Within two years of a meeting at Pleasant Point to discuss the subject, the first Church of St. Alban became a reality.
On 2nd October 1879, a little wooden-framed church with plaster walls and solid totara beams was consecrated by the Bishop. The Diocesan Trust Board had bought land on the corner of Harris and Acton Streets (where the Play Centre now stands), from H.J. and F. Le Cren.
The church was built at a cost of five hundred and fifty-seven pounds, fourteen shillings, of which sixty-eight pounds, eighteen and sixpence was raised in England by sisters of parishioner William Howell.
In 1881 Rev Chaffers Welch was appointed Vicar of Temuka and he conducted services at The Point. Throughout 1882, plans were in motion to create a parish in the district separate from Temuka and, on 13th January 1883 Rev. Welch relinquished his Temuka responsibilities to become vicar of Te Ngawai parish.
With Pleasant Point as its base, the new parish had boundaries stretching from Pleasant Point to the Pareora river and beyond Fairlie into the Mackenzie Country with the Opihi river as its northern boundary a formidable area for a vicar whose only means of transport was the horse.
After the resignation of Rev. Welch in 1883. Rev. T Hamilton was licensed as temporary curate for six months until, on 30th December the same year, Rev. Jasper Smyth was appointed vicar of Te Ngawai.
He became a well known personality as he rode around his extensive parish. He was described as ‘the sporting parson’ because he owned a number of greyhounds. The dogs accompanied him on his Sunday travels and enjoyed the thrill of the chase as they hunted hares amongst the tussocks. Rev. Smith spent nine years in the parish.
Rev. Hamilton again took up duties for a short period to be followed by Rev. Stanley Hinson who established a record of thirty-one years as vicar. During his curacy, a significant change of boundaries occurred. In 1907, the Fairlie district became a parish in its own right, reducing the Te Ngawai parish accordingly.
The original Vicarage, situated at 65 Te Ngawai Road and still in good repair, was built for Rev. Hinson who planted many beautiful trees around it. A big Wellingtonia still stands in the grounds today.
At the time the Vicarage was built, it was Diocesan policy to set aside ‘a few acres adjoining the Vicarage to be used by the vicar for grazing the vicar’s cow and horse.’ This glebe land remains the property of Church Property Trusts and is the paddock between the old Vicarage (65) and Melody Lodge (101) Te Ngawai Road. The Church Property Trust still owns other land in that area, namely, where Read Engineering and Cyclemakers are situated, as well as the paddock opposite which skirts the creek. Rent from all this ‘Endowment’ land assists in payment of the vicar’s stipend.
Te Ngawai Parish has been richly endowed with such property. As well as local land, the parish owned fifty acres in Fernside which was sold in 1959. It had also been purchased with money raised by friends of Wm. Howell in England, at a cost of three hundred and fifty pounds. In all, they raised four hundred and thirty-three pounds twelve shillings in England for the parish ‘as an endowment for resident clergymen and general Church purposes.’
Throughout the 1920-30s when the country was undergoing an economic depression, the parish experienced financial difficulties. The problem was so acute that, in 1932, a decision was taken to reduce the guaranteed stipend from two hundred to one hundred and sixty-six pounds which the Rev. Oldham agreed to accept. It was not until five years later that the parish finances had improved sufficiently to restore the stipend to its former amount.
Rev. Oldham’s was the last of the clergy families to occupy the old Vicarage in Te Ngawai Road. When he retired, his successor, Rev. Geoffry Schurr took up residence in the present Vicarage in Harris Street which had been originally built for the local doctor.
Mid-way through the second World War, the parish was again in financial trouble and, at one time, its status as a parish came under threat with only twenty-two pounds between success and failure. Fortunately, the extra funds were found and the parish survived as such.
With the problems of the 1940s overcome, the next decade began with an air of confidence and prosperity. When the Rev. Perkins took up duties in 1953, the building of the new Church of All Saints at Cave was under way. It was not long before he had plans for the replacement of St. Alban’s at Pleasant Point to meet the needs of the growing community in the township.
The parish was fortunate in obtaining the site on the corner of Harris and Munro Streets, directly opposite the Vicarage and Mr T.S. Gillies, who had built All Saints Church at Cave, tendered successfully for the construction.
At weekends, young and old parishioners selected and carted suitable boulders from local river beds for the walls of the new church and the foundation stone was laid by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Warren on 26th May, 1956.
A year later, he returned to dedicate the completed church. It is interesting to note that the altar rail and vestry doors from the old church were preserved and reinstalled in the new church.
Another milestone in the parish was the dedication of the new Parish Hall on 12th March 1967. This, too, was built by TS. Gillies and fulfilled a great need in the community. Prior to this, an old wooden building, once the Albury I.0.0.F. Lodge, had, in 1948, been transported from there to the old church site to serve as a hall. It was later removed to the present church property where it remained until construction of the new hall commenced. It is still in service as the Marchwiel Anglican Church hall.
As well as St. Alban’s in Pleasant Point, the Te Ngawai Parish continues to embrace St. David’s at Raincliff, St. Martin’s at Albury and All Saints at Cave.
|(both above as part of the Temuka Parish)|
|Rev Jasper Smyth||1883–1892|
|Rev T. Hamilton||1892|
|Rev Stanley Hinson||1892–1924|
|Rev Duncan McPherson||1924–1927|
|Rev Charles Oldham||1927–1939|
|Rev Geoffrey Schurr||1939–1946|
|Rev R. J. Witty||1942|
|(Priest in Charge)|
|Rev F. L. Allen||1946–1952|
|Rev J. S. Perkins||1952–1958|
|Rev T. A. McKenzie||1958–1960|
|Rev R. Okey||1960–1964|
|Rev C. Clark||1964–1968|
|Rev S. Edwards||1968–1973|
|Rev J. Riley||1972|
|Rev Wm. Cunliffe||1974–1980|
|Rev G. Nicholson||1980–1982|
|Rev T. Alve||1982–1989|
The first service held in Pleasant Point was about 1885 when Holy Mass was said in the billiards room of the Railway Hotel. Later services were held in the school in Harris Street.
The Rev. Father Flauvel was appointed Parish Priest of Temuka in 1876 and, just as the other two denominations had their local beginnings as part of that parish, so too did the Catholics.
Before long, parishioners were setting their sights on a church of their own in the township. At that time, the Catholic community owned two acres of land near the site of the present public school but it was considered unsuitable for the purpose and disposed of.
Mr Jas. O'Sullivan then donated a central site for a church and school grounds and fund-raising began in earnest. The foundation stone of St. Mary’s Church was laid on 30th December 1888 and, next day, the following report appeared in the Timaru Herald:
Yesterday afternoon, Rt. Rev. Dr. Grimes, Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, assisted by local clergy, laid the foundation stone of a Catholic Church at Pleasant Point.
Advantage was taken of the season and the railway to make the gathering for the occasion as large as possible by running a special train from Timaru. The afternoon was beautifully fine and about three hundred adults accompanied by a good number of children availed themselves of the means and opportunity to attend the ceremony. Early in the afternoon, traps of all kinds began to arrive and there was a long string of farmers, carts from the surrounding district, resting their wheels on a vacant lot nearby, and a good many smaller groups hard by.
The train left Timaru a little after the advertised time, 2.30pm, and ran out in forty minutes, picking up a few passengers at Washdyke and Levels. The site of the church is immediately behind the railway passenger station, separated from it by a roadway only, and arrivals had no difficulty finding it, for a gay string of bunting, stretched on tall scaffold poles, was placed all round the foundations.”
The foundations of concrete had all been put down, a vacancy being left at one corner to be filled with the formal ‘corner stone’, a small block of dolerite bearing the year ‘1888’ and this was slung ready for lowering into place.
Soon after the arrival of the train, a small procession was formed at Mr T. Geaney’s cottage, a hundred yards away, to escort the Bishop and his assistants to the site...
There must have been a thousand people on the ground, old and young, and the light summer dresses of the ladies, with bunting flying overhead, made the scene a bright one.
Five months after the laying of the foundation stone, St. Mary’s Church was almost completed and it was decided to hold a concert to raise money for the building fund.
On Thursday evening, May 16th 1889, the building was filled to capacity, four hundred people being present to witness a parish concert.
Anticipating wide support for the official opening of the church, an advertisement in the Timaru Herald and Temuka Leader on 23rd May 1889, stated that admission was by ticket only, five shillings per ticket, which would admit a whole family.
The church was opened by Bishop Grimes on 26th May 1889. At the close of the ceremony, a collection yielded eighty-five pounds, including money from ticket sales. The total cost of the church was seven hundred and fifty pounds approximately and, on opening day, a debt of three hundred pounds was outstanding.
St. Mary’s was described as “early English” style of architecture known as ‘Perpendicular Catholic”. It is sixty feet long by thirty feet wide with concrete foundations, brick walls finished with cement compo on the outside and ordinary plaster on the inside. The open gothic roof is constructed of selected rimu oiled and varnished.
About twenty yards from the church, Rev. Father Fauvel had built, at his own expense, a two-room cottage where he could stay on his visitations to Pleasant Point.
Mr Jas. O‘Sullivan, who had donated the church land, made a gift of bells and, in 1896, Rev. Father Kerley had a tower added to the church and the bells mounted.
Some time later, a three-faced clock was installed on the tower. It was made by a Temuka watchmaker, Mr AB. Gytts in 1913.
It is said that Mrs Nelligan, a local lady of the township and wife of the hotel proprietor, canvassed the district for money to purchase a ‘town clock’. There were many irate residents — not of the Catholic faith — when it was discovered that the clock was to adorn the tower of St. Mary’s but, by then, she had collected sufficient money!
After seventy-five years as part of Temuka parish, Pleasant Point was established as a separate Catholic parish in February 1952, Father E.J. Brosnahan being appointed as the first Parish Priest. He took up residence in the small, two-roomed cottage built in 1899 by Father Fauvel.
The need for a new Presbytery became apparent and many fund-raising activities were organised towards this end. On 12th October 1952, Bishop Joyce laid the foundation stone on the site in Kabul Street and it was followed by many working bees by the men of the parish to defray the cost of the building.
Within four months, the building was complete at an estimated cost of five thousand, one hundred and sixty pounds. However, the many voluntary hours contributed by parishioners reduced this cost to three thousand eight hundred pounds.
The church sanctuary was considered too small for the needs of the parish, especially for ceremonies such as an ordination so the confessional was removed and a new one built at the rear of the church. A low extension, the full width of the church by about twelve feet long, was added to the southern end for a new sacristy. The old one was then removed, making the sanctuary at least twice its original size.
These alterations were finished just in time for Pleasant Point’s first ordination on December 18th, 1954. It was that of Father Paul Shirres, a local boy of the parish.
In 1963, St. Monica’s at Cave became part of the Pleasant Point parish after fifty years’ membership of Fairlie Parish.
The history of St. Mary’s Parish would not be complete without mention of Kerrytown which had very strong affiliations with St. Mary’s when the Kerrytown school and convent existed. In the early days, Mass was said on the first Friday of each month and on St. Patrick’s day only. Benediction was held every second Sunday.
In 1984, it was announced that Pleasant Point was to lose its parish Priest, although still remaining a parish in its own right. It has since been serviced from Temuka.
The social life of the parish centred around the ‘Cottage Hall’, a building moved from Waitohi in 1948 at a cost of eighty pounds. Euchre evenings, social gatherings and meetings were all conducted there. In 1967, “Cottage Hall” was replaced by ‘Kerry Hall’, shifted from Kerrytown where it had served as a school for the Catholic community.
From the time of Rev. Father Fauvel’s appointment as first parish priest of the district, centred at Temuka, many others served and assisted in St. Mary’s Church. The following have served since St. Mary’s became separate parish:
|Rev Father E.J. Brosnahan||1952–1957|
|Rev Father Daniel Healey||1958|
|Rev Father Joseph Kelly||1958|
|Rev Father Patrick Joyce||1959|
|Rev Father John McHale||1960–1961|
|Rev Father Peter O’Hara||1961–1967|
|Rev Father Kevin Clarke||1967–1968|
|Rev Father Leo O’Connor||1968–1973|
|Rev Father D.K. Sullivan||1973–1983|
The sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent have had a strong influence on the religious life and education of the parish.
The convent, standing on the corner of Afghan and Khan Streets, was established in 1927. Originally built for a Mr Butchers, it had been the property of Dr Patterson, local G.P., when purchased for twelve hundred pounds.
This building served as the convent until 1987 when the sisters moved into the Presbytery. In its heyday, it accommodated seven sisters and many local Children received their music tuition there.
Children from the public school came for tuition during their lunch hours and those living close to the township came after school.
After the departure of the parish priest to Temuka. Sister Bertrand undertook parish duties in the community. Her work for all in the district after the March 1986 flood will be remembered.
The old convent is now let but plans are afoot for the property to be replaced by flats for the elderly of the district under the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in association with St. Mary’s Parish Council.
Today, these three denominations are united in the religious life of the district. Combined services in Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas time. World Day of Prayer services and combined activities such as the Wool Festival, an annual event instigated in 1984, demonstrate the part our local churches are playing in the ecumenical movement.
“In 1883 Mr and Mrs James Agnew along with Mr and Mrs William Exell commenced gathering to the precious name of the Lord Jesus in a little cob cottage which was the Exell home.”
By that time, James Agnew was a well known figure as he rode from door to door handing out Gospel tracts. It was easy in those days to knock on the door with your stick whilst remaining on horseback and, as an Irishman would, have a chat with the householder before moving on. He had been converted during the ’39 revival in Ireland and he wanted others to share the experience.
Without doubt, the young widow Elizabeth Exell was equally well known as, in her capacity of midwife, she Visited the homes of the district and brought many ‘bonnie bairns' into the world of Pleasant Point.
Soon others joined the assembly. There was James Gliddon, a sailor from England who had met with the Brethren in Plymouth and Archie Carson from a similar background in Ireland. Bob Knox, also from Ireland, used to tell how he had been deeply convicted of sin and converted when working as a teamster on a Totara Valley farm. He joined the fellowship about 1900.
Some years before that it had become obvious that the Exell cottage was too small to accommodate the growing congregation and Alex Agnew added a suitable room to his parents’ limestone house at 110 Te Ngawai Road which was used until the beginning of this century.
In the meantime, the Oddfellows Hall had been built, offering a central meeting place which was readily let for Sunday services and other functions and finally purchased by the Brethren when the new Town Hall was built in 1928.
In the mid 1890s, Archie Carson married Mary, the Exells‘ only child. This was one of several weddings solemnized at a Brethren meeting in the Oddfellows Hall as young People of the district associated with the little company. Here, the Agnew girls met and married James Gliddon, Richard Redcliffe, John Crawford, James Esler and Alex Robinson respectively. There were already a number of third generation Agnews before the turn of the century from whom Bob Knox chose his bride, Isa.
George and Alex Gliddon had both married and settled in the district so that, when the Goslings arrived from Bluff and, in 1910, the Lienerts from Southland, there was a thriving Sunday School.
When the Bob Davie family came to live in the little house on the corner of Russell and Harris Streets, Alice (Ada) Botherway was their maid. Through Mrs Davie, she joined the Brethren, was baptised and, before marrying Bill Pettigrew of Timaru, associated with the local believers. For a number of years, the baptisms took place in the creek near the Sawmill or at Murphy‘s Crossing.
In 1912, Mrs Jas. McLeod of Taiko brought young Victor Wilson from Mosgiel who later married Rona Gliddon. Mrs McLeod expertly supervised the catering for the annual Easter Conference first held five years after her arrival. Her efforts also saw the Stratheona girls at Sunday evening meetings and may have influenced the Plunket Society in the choice of the Hall cloakrooms for their clinic.
When from about 1900 meetings were held regularly in the ante room of the Oddfellows Hall suitable furnishings were introduced. A kauri cupboard was purchased for 2 pound 10 shillings in 1909 and another cheaper one in 1911. A curtain and lamps were also provided and wall decorations in the form of a large poster about ‘Man's Ruin and God‘s Remedy’ and a small chart of ‘The Two Roads and Two Destinies’.
A street lamp and extra hymn books were purchased to encourage the singing at Open Air services which were conducted under a big pine tree where Atkinson and Dossett’s garage now stands. The pine tree provided shelter for larrikins as well as for singers and preachers!
The company was further swelled when the Cramptons bought a farm at Sutherlands and the Cecil Smiths moved from Mona Vale to the “White Elephant” in Te Ngawai Road. Also on that road lived Mr Butler, noted for his singing. When, during the 1914-18 war, some of the boys went off to the Front, a Belgium Fund was started.
From time to time, overseas evangelists would visit and hold a series of meetings at which many would claim to have been converted. Amongst them was Forbes McLeod from Scotland at whose meeting Mr Wilkin the gravedigger and his wife were converted. Their daughter married Tom Monteith who came from Ireland in 1925 and lived in Pleasant Point until the 1986 flood.
Lily Barker who worked at Gosling’s Store, had been saved through Blind Johnstone at the Presbyterian Church but had learnt of baptism by immersion from Mr Gosling. Jean Welch of Welch’s Bakery had attended Sunday School with Olive Knox since 1924 but was saved during a meeting conducted by Mr Stout of the Shetland Isles in 1929.
As soon as the Oddfellows Hall became Brethren property, they sold a hut, an outbuilding the carbide plant and two doors for the total sum of 19 pound 2 shillings and sixpence. At the same time 152 pounds 16 shillings and 1 penny was spent on lawyer's fees, electrical work, carpentry, joinery, painting, blacksmithing and a Town Board licence. Although everyone lent a hand responsibility for the work was shouldered by local tradesmen associated with the Brethren.
Willie Wilson with his apprentice Rowlie Gliddon put in the wall between the extension and the main hall, thus providing a supper room large enough to seat 100 at tables as well as a small side room. E.T. Lienert made a substantial surround of Southland beech wood and an adjustable lectern for the old stage. Jim MacMillan saw to the painting and Alex Gliddon the smithing. The old carbide shed became a dry closet for which sanitary fees had to be paid.
Soon, tables and trestles, a railing heater, a new stove, curtains and a sign all helped to give the hall a new look to match its new name of ‘Gospel Hall’. Linoleum was laid in 1937 and more electrical work done in 1939. It is not clear when the copper was set outside the back of the ante room and a servatory made to receive the boiled potatoes.
It was in 1929 that E.T. Lienert made the first motorised Bible carriage to replace the old horsedrawn one which had been used for taking ‘the Word’ to outlying areas. In his enthusiasm, Mr Lienert forgot to take into account the size of the van and was somewhat nonplussed to find that the finished article would not go through the door of his workshop!
In 1930 Peggy Smith was commended as missionary to Argentina and, in 1938, to Uruguay with her husband Bill Goodson. This was a Brethren wedding of note when they were married at the Gospel Hall before leaving for Uruguay where they still live with their family. The romance, it is said, originated from a love for the Spanish language.
The second World War brought an interest in Burnham Camp and the cancellation of the Easter Conference and, when the latter was recommenced, the catering responsibilities were in the capable hands of Mrs Rowlie Gliddon. The 1983 Conference became a Centennial with "descendants of some of the earlier members present and many from all parts of New Zealand who had previous associations with the assembly".
The demise of the old carbide shed came in 1976 when the sewers were introduced. Two toilets were built into a front cloakroom by Richard Earl who had purchased the 2 roods 27 perches of adjoining land.
Mr and Mrs Jim Rogerson came from Southland in 1969 and, in 1986, Mr and Mrs Gabites arrived from Otago. The Sunday School, which had lapsed for some years, was revived and the picnics at Pioneer Park again became memorable occasions even if the tea meetings can hardly be compared with the early bun fights.
The next major operation came as a result of the 1986 flood which swept through the entire building. Insurance payments, private gifts and gifts from other Open Brethren Assemblies brought in a total of $12,000 and more which made major repairs possible.
The floors of the main hall were covered with hardboard and carpeted, a removable wood partition replaced the curtain dividing the main hall in two, the 1897 extension was completely reroofed and part of it was jacked up to renew the piles. A large Zip water heater, a sink bench and cupboards revolutionised the ante room and the whole building received a fresh coat of paint in time for the 1987 Easter Conference.
Well known for its excellent acoustics and uncomfortable seating, the Gospel Hall has been the venue for the Good Friday meeting since 1917 when the unaccompanied singing is something to be heard.
Nowadays a caravan with Bibles and other Christian literature is taken to a number of A and P shows, thus continuing in a small way, the tradition of the old Bible Van.