Saving St Mary’s

St Mary's


It’s just short of three years since the doors shut at St Mary’s Church in Gordonton.
But now plans are developing to save this integral and beautiful part of the village’s history. Reverend David Smithson updates N8N’s Annette Taylor.

Built in 1934, the red brick church was deemed at high risk from earthquakes and closed temporarily in 2020 until strengthening work could be done.

‘Not on my watch…’

The last few years have been quite a rollercoaster, says Rev David Smithson.

“We’ve gone through covid restrictions and at the same time, faced the loss of our church.”
Not on my watch, he told the community when the doors were shut in July 2020.

“St Mary’s cannot be left to forlornly fall into disrepair, or worse, be demolished. That would be truly devastating. It is a much loved and iconic building, not only in the Gordonton community but for the Waikato.”

Now he says they are almost through the red tape of council consents and Diocese approvals, and work could begin in a few months’ time. It is estimated the actual work will take a month to complete.

“We do need to raise more money though.  Over $50,000 is needed for the stabilisation work, and we have more fundraisers coming up, including a Golf Tournament at Hukanui Golf Course on April 30.”
There will be lots of great prizes and a fee of $30 includes a wonderful lunch. They have also been raising money by selling garden mulch, $8 a bag, $10 delivered.

“Several hundred dollars has been raised thus far from the proceeds. We also held a highly successful fair back in February. We really need the local and wider community to help us save the church now.”

St Mary’s 80th anniversary

While the church has been closed services have been held in the old schoolhouse in Hukanui Park.
“Although we are grateful to have somewhere to meet, it’s been hard.”

He has high hopes for the future –
“It’s looking like we will pass it on to the next generation of faith to meet in a building that will be stronger than when it was built, and that this historic church of the Gordonton community will be preserved for decades to come. We are itching to get back into our beautiful wee church.

“At the end of the day, it is people that breathe life into the building.”


Footnote: In an interesting coincidence, Oamaru artist  Donna Demente  visited N8N headquarters  and recognised the name of an artist on a painting inside the house.

The Waikato landscape was by Dudley Cleland, and Donna knows his daughter Ruth, a successful artist.

The Clelands have a long, and special, history with Gordonton.

Ruth’s grandparents, Dudley and Lilian, were the very first couple to be married in St Mary’s Church in June 1935.  Ruth, now living in Auckland, kindly sent the following beautiful photographs –



Dudley and Lilian Cleland
BLESSED: the first couple to marry in St Mary’s Church. Hugh Dudley Cleland (Dudley) and Lilian May St George, 1 June 1935.


Ruth says that Dudley and Lilian had a long and very happy marriage.

Below is the special note in the Bible presented to the couple by the Dean of Hamilton to the couple  –



“In 1920 my great-grandparents bought the Gordonton farm where I grew up. My siblings and I, my father, and my grandfather all went to Gordonton School.  My grandparents are buried in the graveyard.

“I really do hope this beautiful church can be saved.”



The wedding of Alec Silvester and Jocelyn Cleland (eldest daughter of Hugh Dudley and Lilian Cleland), 1 June 1957. With parents – Mr and Mrs Silvester, left, Hugh Dudley and Lilian Cleland, right.


To find out more about St Mary’s Church or to make a donation, email here.

• A Fundraiser Golf Tournament will be held at Hukanui Golf Course on April 30. For more details email David Smithson.

• There will also be a dawn service at 6am for Anzac Day this year, held at the Gordonton Cenotaph.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

One thought on “Saving St Mary’s

  • April 29, 2023 at 1:38 am

    Who was Marama Puhipuhi? I read her name mentioned on the website in the “about us/history” section and interested to learn more about her/contributions to the community.


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