Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010
(by Lud Sparks, Secretary of the Paeroa Co-operating Parish.)
Over the week-end of August 1 and 2, 2009, the members of the Paeroa Co-operating Parish celebrated one hundred years of worship in the former St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. A number of the past ministers and members of the parish joined in the celebrations, which consisted of a bus trip on Saturday afternoon, a dinner that evening and a service of worship (including the celebration of communion) on the Sunday.
Special guests among passengers on the bus trip were descendants of the building's architect, Edgar Gillman. The worship service on the Sunday was led by the Rev. Christina Morunga (niece of Miss Jo Brocket, who has worshipped in the church for over eighty-five of its one hundred years); the Rev. David Gordon, past minister of the parish preached the sermon; the Rev. Tau Lasi, current minister of the co-operating parish, celebrated communion; and during the service the Rev. Dr. Susan Thompson, superintendent of Waikato-Waiariki Methodist Synod dedicated a plaque celebrating one hundred years of worship in the building. The plaque was unveiled by Mrs Alisa Lasi, wife of the current minister.
The commencement of Presbyterian worship in Paeroa was marked by the Presbytery of Auckland on February 2, 1881, when they confirmed the appointment of Mr Thomas A. Norrie as a Student Missionary to the South Auckland districts of Paeroa, Waihi, Te Aroha, Matamata and Morrinsville - hard to appreciate one person serving such a vast area travelling either on foot or by horse! It was to be 16 years before the district was divided into two areas – Ohinemuri based on Paeroa, and Piako based on Te Aroha.
Early services of worship are said to have been held in the school and when numbers outgrew that in the Wharf Street Hall. On February 1, 1896, construction commenced on the original Presbyterian church in Bradley Street (exactly where is not known). This building, built of kaihikatea and rimu, was 45ft x 25ft and designed to seat 150 people. It was opened in mid May, 1896. There is no record of the number attending the opening, but twelve months later there were almost 150 at an evening service!, while a social held the next day in the Criterion Theatre attracted 250-300 people.
During 1903 there was some discussion about moving the church to another part of town. However at a Congregational Meeting on November 6, 1907, it was agreed to call the Rev. Alexander Gow, an exit student from the Theological College, at a stipend of £200 per annum. A horse, saddle, bridle and covers, property of the church, were to be handed over to Mr Gow during his ministry in Paeroa. Mr Gow was a leading force in persuading the congregation to erect a new church, rather than shift the old building. Thus at another Congregational Meeting on November 27, 1908, it was agreed to proceed with the erection of a new church; the cost not to exceed £850, exclusive of furniture.
A modified plan drawn by Mr Edgar Ernest Gillman was eventually adopted, although the tower for the eastern side of the building was not erected due to the expense.
Mr Gow's wife was invited to lay the foundation stone and this she duly did at a ceremony commencing at 3.00 p.m. on May 15, 1909. Less than three months later, on August 1 the new building was ready for dedication and opening. The Rev. Ivo Bertram, who had provided student supply in Paeroa during the 1899-1900 break at the Theological College, preached at the morning service, with the Rev Gow celebrating communion and officiating at the afternoon and evening services.
The old church building in Bradley Street was sold to the Druid's Lodge for _70 cash. Presumably because it was built of kaihikatea it did not last very long. (It was destroyed by fire on March 6, 1927).
The interior of the present church was originally lined with kauri tongue and groove match-lining (some of which is still visible) and there was a large raised pulpit on the left side of the sanctuary area. The building was originally lit by gas, electricity not being connected until late 1920. It seems it was another three years before water was connected to the building - makes one wonder what they did when there was a baptism.
The communion table and chairs were made by the Rev. R. D. McEwan, who had been a cabinet maker before entering the ministry, and was minister of the parish from 1937 until 1941 when he resigned to assist with the war effort.
It was early in 1944 that negotiations began to move the church hall at Karangahake to Paeroa, where it was situated beside the present church. During 1991 the church and hall were joined with a common entrance.
Following the inauguration of the Co-operating Parish on November 7, 1993, both buildings have undergone major renovation, with the result that the parish has a fairly extensive complex which is widely used both by the church and the community.