A Brief History

The First Stone Church ….

The Durham Street Methodist Church is a Victorian Gothic building which was opened on Christmas Day, 1864—the first stone church built on the Canterbury Plains, just 14 years after European settlement.

The supervising architect, Samuel Farr, modified the original plans submitted by Messrs Crouch & Wilson of Melbourne. It was Farr’s largest building to date, and probably the first time he worked in stone. Farr went on to build homes for a number of parish trustees.

The church was built from local stone, in a mixture of Halswell and Port Hills basalt with lighter facings being Charteris Bay sandstone.

The church was designed to seat 1200 people—at the time, one quarter of the population of Christchurch. This indicates something of the confidence (some would say hubris) of the early Methodists in a Church of England settlement.

Some 500 people were at the opening morning service, led by Rev Charles Fraser (from St Andrew’s Presbyterian, and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand) and Rev James Buller. The Lyttelton Times noted, “The former reverend gentleman preached a very able sermon, selecting as his text the eighth verse of the ninety-third Psalm, ‘holiness becometh thine house for ever’.”

Pre-Church History

The Church is on the approximate site of Puari pa. In pre-European times, Otautahi (Christchurch) was the general location of a number of small Maori settlements. All the land between the Waitaki and Ashley Rivers was sold to the Crown by Ngai Tahu in June 1848 under “Kemps Deed”. The price paid was £2,000 sterling, and reserves for the use of Ngai Tahu were to be surveyed off after the sale. These promises were never kept in full, and the purchase became the subject of a claim before the Waitangi Tribunal.

The first Methodist preacher and evangelist to lead worship in Canterbury was Tawao-nui-a-Tane, who visited Koukourarata (Port Levy) in 1839/40, in advance of the missionaries Selwyn, Pompalier and Watkins and the Canterbury Association surveyors. A stone cairn at Port Levy marks the spot.

The Canterbury pioneers who arrived in December 1850 were mainly Anglican, but there were Methodists among them. The first Methodist minister was the Rev. William Kirk, in transit to Dunedin, and the Rev. John Aldred, who took up a regular appointment in 1854. Aldred ministered to Methodist congregations in Lyttelton, Christchurch (High Street), Kaiapoi, St Albans and Riccarton. In 1864, the first Methodist Chapel at High Street was sold, and the new church at Durham Street was built.

Architectural Features

The figures above the main doors originally represented John Wesley and James Buller, the Church’s first minister. But the noses of each were damaged when the figures were installed, so the heads were turned into oak leaves, acorns and a bunch of grapes!

Originally there was to be a spire on the south-east corner. The pinnacle which topped the centre took on a dangerous lean following an earthquake in 1888, and was removed.

Entering the main doors, we find a window installed in 1994. Above the window, a painted inscription reads, “Enter his courts with praise”. This was painted in the 1920s, and successive church annual general meetings in the 1990s did not reached consensus on a suitable replacement in more inclusive language!

From the front porches, stone staircases ascend to the gallery, which was built in 1869. Rumour has it that for decades, certain class distinctions had working-class people sitting in the gallery and exiting the church via the porch doors, while the more well-to-do left the church via the main doors. This was because the gallery seats were “free”. Pew rentals were charged downstairs—and were only abolished in 1944.

Inside the church itself, the galleries are such a dominating feature, it is hard to imagine how the church looked when it was first built. It was essentially a preaching barn in the English chapel style, with a choir platform in the north-west corner, and a pulpit against the back wall. The galleries had to be added only 5 years after the completion of the church, because of pressure of numbers.

The 8-day gallery clock is thought to have been installed in 1869. It still keeps preachers to time—despite have been stolen in 1994 and subsequently returned by the police.

Some of the windows still have the original green glass lattice pattern. Four sets of coloured stained glass windows were donated as memorials in 1908 (“Consider the lilies”); 1958 (“He was known of them in breaking bread” — Memorial Chapel); 1961 (“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these”). No information remains on the fourth set of pictorial stained glass windows.

Down beyond the piano is what is known familiarly as “the graveyard” or “museum” — a number of wall plaques commemorating notable personalities and events:

  • Robert Dawson (1838-97), local preacher, class leader and trustee
  • George Gould (1823-89), one of the group of influential laymen who gathered around James Buller and donated large sums of money to the building fund
  • William Morley (1842-1926), minister at Durham Street 1876-78, 1888-91, and President of the NZ Methodist Conference and of the Australasian Methodist Conference
  • Hannah Watson (1835-98), wife of William Morley (“She hath done what she could”)
  • James Buller (1812-84), minister at Durham Street 1859-66, 1873-75. Buller was responsible for the building of the church in 1864. He envisaged Durham Street as “the Cathedral of Methodism” for New Zealand.
  • Charles (1839-1927) and Annie Overton (1856-1937), devoted office-bearers. Audiophones were installed in their memory for the benefit of the hearing impaired.
  • The wreck of the SS Tararua (29 April 1881) — Revs John B. Richardson and John Armitage, and Messrs Ebenezer Connall and Eltenton Mitchell all drowned in the wreck of the Tararua off the Catlins coast en route to Melbourne for the Australasian Methodist Conference. 131 lives were lost.

The Pulpit

The pulpit is cedar, reached by a double staircase (11 steps) with carved balustrades. The original panelled interstices were crimson silk velvet.

The brass cross was donated by Mr and Mrs W. Wallace in memory of Mrs Edith Wallace’s sister, Alice Maude Chamberlain.

The Pipe Organ

The first pipe organ (hand-pumped) was installed on the back wall in 1874. It required the services of a blower, who was paid initially £5 per annum (The organist’s salary was £64 p.a.). In 1901 a Mr Risk was appointed. The Parish Minutes of 2 April 1901 record: “The organ blower asked for a higher allowance. It was felt he was too old for the position.” In 1902, Mr Richardson Green was appointed at a salary of £8 per annum.

The present organ was ordered in 1906 and installed at a cost of £1,854 in 1907 by Messrs Ingram, from Hereford, UK. It had three manuals and pedals, 30 stops, and an electro-pneumatic action. Additional stops and some re-modelling have altered the design of the instrument a little, but it is substantially the same as when originally installed. The present replacement value of the organ is estimated at $1 million.

In 1945, fire devastated the choir seats, organ console and immediate area, requiring the building of a new console in 1946 by Hill, Norman and Beard of Melbourne. The cost of renovations amounted to £1,761. The choir seating was remodelled and added to at that time. (There has been a choir at Durham Street throughout most of its history. In its heyday, the choir was limited to 150 members.)

The Memorial Chapel

The Memorial Chapel was commissioned in 1951, and dedicated to those who lost their lives in World Wars I and II. The carving was donated by the Barrell family. In 1953, a Union Jack was presented to the church by Chaplain Major H L Blamires who used it on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915 and also in France and various troopships during the 1st World War. The flag was stolen in the 1980’s but the pole remains.

The Lecterns

The brass lectern was presented in 1943 in memory of Rev. and Mrs S. Lawry.

The carved Maori lectern – Tuunga Waahi Tuturu o te Repo

The wooden lectern in the church was carved by Karl Woods of North Beach, Christchurch. The name Tuunga Waahi Tuturu o te Repo is carved low on the back of the lectern, and translates as “A firm place to stand amidst the swamp”.

The lectern is carved from a single block of totara wood which was retrieved from the Waimakariri River by a contractor in 1992. Totara is the preferred wood for formal Maori carving, and this particular tree has been estimated to be 1200 years old.

The lectern takes the form of the stern-post of a waka or Maori war canoe. Just as Charles Wesley crafted new hymns around the popular tunes of his day, so the powerful image of the waka has been used to express the dynamic and awesome vitality of the living word which is proclaimed into the world, resonant with potentiality.

Traditionally much taller than the bow, the stern-post rises behind the body of the ancestor, Jesus Christ, depicted resting at its base. It is Jesus who called the church into being, and the waka belongs to Jesus, the helmsperson.

The feet of the ancestor are not resting on the base. The legs are carved and the feet merge into the base because they are rooted in the earth of this place. The lectern itself is an extension of the ancestor’s body.

Jesus’ right shoulder is held higher than his left, a sign of the weight of the kete (flax basket) filled with good food — kumara, eels, shellfish, and leaves. All these foods were shared and traded at Puari Pa (the site of the Durham Street Church and the nearby law courts), close by the river Otakaro (named by the English settlers as the Avon). Jesus still provides for the church in abundance as the prince of hospitality, and invites us to share what we have in justice and compassion with one another.

This Jesus has a firm gaze. His posture is staunch, potent and uncompromising. He knows about being tangata whenua, people of the land, and about being disenfranchised and colonised in one’s own land.

The flowing pattern of the koru on the stern-post above Jesus’ head represents the perfect and unchanging nature of God’s truth and law, taught by Jesus and reflected in his life.

On either side of the lectern, the taniwha, which traditionally represent the struggle between divine and human force, are here portraying the struggle and victory of life and love (ka ora) over the powers of ka mate (sickness and death). The hands of life can be seen around the throat of death.

The top of the lectern is carved like a bowl. It reminds us of the sacramental bowls of baptism (through which we are welcomed into the community of faith), and of communion (through which we are sustained in community). Compared to the rest of the lectern, the top is rough adzed. The incompleteness contrasts the unfinished nature of the church, and of our life within it, with the perfection of the great love of God.

The lectern was gifted to the Christchurch Methodist Mission and Parish by Rev. Timothy Langley, Superintendent from 1987 to 1997, in appreciation for the love and support offered to him and his family by the Mission, Parish, and whanau of Rehua Marae. It was named after consultation with Mrs Katarina Daniels, wife of Montero Daniels, Chairperson of the Rehua Marae Trust Board.

The Atrium

In 1987 an atrium was constructed to link the church with the Aldersgate building.

The Poupou or column in the atrium was designed by Cath Brown. The painting tells the story of Maori beginnings.

Moananui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean) is storm-tossed and overturns Te Waka o Aoraki (the canoe of Aoraki). Aoraki with his brothers Rakirua and Rakiroa cling to the capsized canoe, and are turned into stone. They are now part of Nga Tiritiri o te Moana (the Southern Alps), while the canoe forms the base of Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island).

Nga Pakihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha (the Canterbury Plains) are spread over some of the area of the canoe and are clothed in bush. Here are found the pukeko, the putangi-tangi (paradise duck), and the piwakawaka (fantail). Then there is Otakaro (the Avon River), which contains more tuna (eels) and pataki (flounder) for all the Waitaha people, who are standing in the sun’s rays.

Glass Sculpture — “I am – I AM – We are” (Exodus 3:14)

The glass sculpture in the atrium was created by Rev. Bill Wallace in memory of his parents, William and Edith Mary Wallace, who were members of the Durham Street congregation.

The sculpture is thought to be the largest glass work of its type in New Zealand. It was dedicated on Sunday 7 March 1999. The theme of the sculpture is “inclusiveness”. Bill has written:

“Inclusiveness is not simply an intellectual awareness but the wisdom that comes through experiencing the depths of both grief and ecstasy in which all divisions melt and we become one with –the earth and sky

      • the rivers and the sea
        the creatures and the plants
                  and all human kind.

“For the spark of divinity in each of these is the same spark that is in every human being, and the drop of blood and the tongue of fire are one and the same in the wholeness of divinity.”

Bill offers the following reflections:

  • At the centre of the Universe/Life/Psyche is the I AM, the shimmering incandescence at the heart of the mystery.
  • The blood of birth and the blood of death are the same blood – the tears of joy and the tears of pain come from the same river of life.
  • We are all part of the vast web of life.
  • In all and through all there is the I AM, as Mechtild of Magdeburg said: “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.”
  • In that awakening, we perceive that the many and the one are two faces of the mystery’s inclusive life-giving reality.

From http://mmsi.org.nz/church-history.html


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