80 grand years for Gordonton’s Church

It’s birthday time for St Mary’s as the Church enters its 80th year.  Number 8 Network’s Iris Riddell talks with Rev David about the early days.

St Mary's church photoThere’s much to celebrate. The beautiful old double-brick structure was built in 1934, when the local Maori population started gathering funds for the church, aided by Gordonton’s Anglican congregation.

Reverend David Smithson, the vicar at St Mary’s, says the bishop at the time demanded the money for the building had to be in hand or debt free on completion – a big ask during the depression.

“They held Queen’s Carnivals, fetes and other activities, just as we do now for fundraising. The Church was built at a cost of 795 pounds, and the congregation was left with a credit balance of 22 pounds. So that was a good effort, really.”

Construction did run into a couple of hitches however, the first being a request by the bishop that there would be no window in the east wall.

“He said it would distract people from the sermons and their minds would wander, but he was outvoted and we have that lovely rose window in a bit of an Art Deco style,” Reverend David says.

The second – and potentially more problematic – hold-up was the realisation that the door wouldn’t fit a coffin.

“It was remedied in time but they had to redo it.”

The first wedding held in the church was for Dudley and Lilian Cleland, and the first funeral was that of Mr J B Maunder, the gentleman who made all the pews at a cost of 5 pound each.

“There was no sexton appointed in the early days, so a Mr C Brett and M Riddington offered to [dig the graves] it as a labour of love. They were dubious of the measurements given and they enlarged the first graves to what they thought were more suitable. Mr Scrimshaw, the old undertaker for the Waikato region, said it was the biggest grave he’s ever seen. Best to err on the side of caution I suppose!”

Before St Mary’s was built, a service was held in Gordonton once a month in the old Gordonton Hall, then conducted in the school on Piako Rd. The Land Company also built a mission house on the main road which burned down in 1930.

To kick off the church’s 80th year, Reverend David says they have plans to put aside a building fund to construct a small church hall and kitchenette, to give them a place to host Sunday school and social gatherings.

“We have access to the old Gordonton School hall which is very kindly lent to us, but it’s five minutes’ walk down the road and not ideal during winter so it’ll be fantastic to have a little space onsite. It will be made in keeping with the church using the same bricks. Watch this space!”

Photo of David Smithson
Rev David blesses a special guest…
  • Don’t forget the 80th Anniverary celebratory service that will be held at the Church at 10am on Sunday March 2. Waikato’s new bishop, Helen-Ann Hartley, will be preaching, and the service will be followed by a ‘World Famous in Gordonton’ Pot Luck Lunch.
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