Te Puke Times - 2021-06-10


Big birthday for church


Stuart Whitaker

St John the Baptist Anglican Church is the oldest church in Te Puke township. The church celebrates the 120th anniversary of its consecration later this month. While the structure has been extended over the years, the original church is still an integral part of the building. Current vicar Rev Ruth Dewdney says the community came together to help build the church in 1901. “It’s stood here since then and it’s stood here intact. It’s still got the original central section and part of the vestry is original,” she says. “It’s beautiful — it’s got this lovely feel about it, it’s the most peaceful place,” she says. “We want to keep it for generations to come as the church that looks proudly over the town.” A plaque and a lectern commemorate the consecration. “You look at the names on the plaque and the photograph of the first vestry and you recognise the names from [Te Puke] street names. “We have parishioners who are great-grandchildren of the original vestry members. This is a family church. We have parishioners who were baptised here, went to Sunday school here, were married here and there are some that have been buried from here.” The main celebration will be a service on June 27 with the church open daily in the preceding week. “All week we are going to have the church open for a couple of hours a day and we’ll have some of the old records — baptism records, funeral books and wedding books, so people can find their family names.” Ahead of the anniversary a fundraising drive was launched called “paint a plank” to pay for an exterior repaint and Ruth says the response reflected the affection in which the church is held by the community. “We’ve raised $39,000 since October just from the community and families because they love this place.” The repainting, in antique white to reflect its heritage, was completed recently. The church is a category A building on Western Bay of Plenty’s schedule of buildings and sites of significant historical heritage. While St Thomas Anglican Church in Maketu¯ and St Paul’s on Rangiuru Rd are both older Anglican churches, St John the Baptist is the oldest church in Te Puke township. The church and associated buildings have many uses. “The Kauri Centre meet here every week, Oranga Tamariki have conferences here because it’s so peaceful, we have JP clinics here and we have Kids Need Dads come in for supervised access. “There’s a lot of things go on from here as well as the usual funerals, weddings, church services.” Since February 2019 when their own church was forced to close due to its poor earthquake assessment rating, Te Puke’s Roman Catholic worshippers also use the church. “There are two pastoral candles, their robes are in the vestry, this is their place and we love having them and we love sharing it — and it works.” Ruth has been vicar at St John’s since the beginning of 2014. She is its second female vicar, the first being Elsie Walker who was vicar when the church celebrated its centenary. Ruth’s predecessor Brian Hamilton is expected at the 120th celebrations, but she is unsure whether the other two surviving vicars, Bill Bennett and Tony Starbuck, will be able to attend due to their age


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