By Maureen Bishop
Fifty years ago this month, Presbyterians in the Rakaia area were celebrating the opening of their new church.
This Sunday (August 20) they will mark that milestone with a special service of remembrance at the church, St Andrew’s on Bridge Street, or State Highway 1.
The red brick church, which sits in the shadow of two huge Wellingtonia trees planted around 1892, was opened on Saturday, August 5, 1967.
The architect was Mr C.B. Wells and the builders Bradford Construction Ltd.
The church and adjoining buildings came at a cost of $57,536.41, including furnishings.
The parish raised $39,536.41 and a mortgage of $18,000 covered the balance.
Again the parish rose to meet the challenge and repaid the 10-year mortgage in eight years, leaving a debt-free complex in just 12 years.
The opening and dedication service on the Saturday afternoon was conducted by the Rev H.A. Bartlett, who was moderator of the Ashburton Presbytery at the time.
The opening was followed by a banquet and variety concert in the Rakaia Community Centre and on Sunday, a special communion service was conducted in the new church by the incumbent minister, the Rev Graham Archibald, assisted by former ministers of the parish.
It is reported the church and foyer were packed.
The new church replaced a much earlier wooden church on the site. The original church was opened on August 7, 1892. The last service in the old church before its demolition was on July 11, 1967, just under one month short of 75 years of service.
It means that this Sunday’s service will be held just over 125 years after the original church was opened.
A golden tree will be planted to commemorate the jubilee and a plaque unveiled.
A shared lunch will follow and an anniversary cake will be cut.
An open invitation has been extended to anyone who wishes to attend.
At one time, the church had a roll of more than 230 members.
Like many other churches, things have changed. Now services are held at St Andrews three times a month, with one a combined service with the Anglican parishioners.
Dorothy Knight, a pastoral and worship leader, said the parish had been without a minister 17 or 18 years, although the Rev Robyn McPhail, formerly of St John’s in Methven, oversaw the parish, as did Rev Louisa Fruean. Now the church is part of the combined Plains Presbyterian Parish which includes Rakaia, Methven and Mayfield. The minister is the Rev Arii Taimataora.
Mrs Knight said the church complex was used a lot by the community for such things as exercise classes for children and adults, meetings of a friendship club and movie afternoons.