Monday, 18 September 2017

Presbyterianism on the peninsula

On the last Sunday in September the Awhitu Central Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary. Travellers who pass through Awhitu Central on their way to the Manukau Heads lighthouse will be familiar with this iconic building.
 
Ref: Bruce Ringer, Awhitu Central Church, 20 August 2017.
The Awhitu Central Church was opened as the Awhitu Presbyterian Church on 23 September 1877 (in accordance with the wishes of the donor of the land, George Garland, it also accommodated both Anglican and Methodist congregations). It is today the last active church of four Presbyterian churches which were opened on the Manukau Peninsula during the 19th century, although two other equally picturesque buildings survive.

When the Awhitu church opened there were already two Presbyterian churches in the nearby Pollok settlement. One had been opened by members of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on 22 May 1870, the other by members of the Church of Scotland on 14 June 1870. The former building burnt down in 1882. The latter can still be seen on the southern approaches to Pollok village, although it is no longer a church. The last formal service in the Pollok Presbyterian Church was held on 30 October 2011. It has since been sold and is being sensitively converted into a private residence.

Brian Campbell, Pollok Presbyterian Church, ca 1996. Auckland Libraries, Footprints 01047, courtesy of Mrs Melita Campbell.
Bruce Ringer, former Pollok Presbyterian Church, 28 August 2017.

Further south is the Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, opened on 14 November 1886. Because of improved roads, this became superfluous to parish needs during the 1960s. The final service was held there in May 1975 and the building was sold to a private buyer. Because of its location on a windswept ridge high above Lake Pokorua, the church has long been a favourite subject for photographers and artists. It has been restored to use for weddings and other functions and is currently on the market again.

Ref: Bruce Ringer, 'For sale': the former Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, 20 August 2017.
Awhitu Central Church remains in use with weekly services and activities and is part of the Waiuku & Districts Combined Churches parish, based in St Andrew’s Centre, Waiuku. Perhaps the Awhitu church can no longer command the numbers in its congregations seen in the photograph below, taken when the local manse was opened in 1915, but it remains a vital and integral part of the Awhitu community.

Ref: William Beattie, At the opening of the new manse, Awhitu, May 4th 1915. Auckland Libraries, Footprints 04710, reproduced courtesy of Waiuku Museum Society.
The building itself is part of a small but perfectly formed historic precinct that also includes the cemetery, the Awhitu war memorial cenotaph and, across the road, the old Awhitu School, now used as a community centre.

The Awhitu Central Church’s 140th anniversary service will be held at 2.00 pm on Sunday 24 September 2017. Instead of a sermon there will be brief talk on the history of the church and its place in the community.

Author: Bruce Ringer, South Auckland Research Centre

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