A History Carved In Stone

St. Andrew's First Presbyterian Church has stood sentinel on the corner of Symonds Street and Alten Road, at the top of Constitution Hill in central Auckland, for over 150 years. With its imposing portico, ornate tower and sturdy bluestone walls it has become a familiar sight to generations of Aucklanders.

St. Andrew's story began on the 4th May 1847 when a public meeting appointed a committee to undertake the erection of a Presbyterian place of worship in Auckland and obtain the services of a suitable minister. Construction of the Church commenced in December 1847 however it was not until January 1849 that the first minister, Rev. George Panton, arrived. In the mean time services were held in the Court House with the assistance of various Methodist clergy.

A competition was held to choose a suitable design for the Church and the winner was Walter Robertson. Thomas Clark was awarded the contract to build the Church. The construction was however dogged by disputes with the contractor and by the end of May 1848 work was at a standstill. Fresh tenders were eventually called and the contract for the masonry work given to Robert Tudehope who had previously been the foreman of works. William Hay was awarded the joinery contract. It was not until April 1850 that the Church was finally completed and opened for public worship.

Significant cost overruns meant the tower and portico envisaged in the original plans had to be omitted resulting in a very plain rectangular stone building that drew inevitable comparisons with a barn. It was not until 1882 that the tower and portico were added, the architect being Matthew Henderson. The gallery was also added around this time.

History cont'd

A further highlight of 1997 was the completion and opening of a much needed new Church Hall. This replaced the old Hall that had been opened in 1904.

 

Laying the foundation stone for the old Church Hall 28th May 1904

By the mid 1990's the interior of the Church was showing signs of wear with the condition of the plaster ceiling giving particular cause for concern. This led to a decision in 1997 to begin planning for a full restoration of the building.

A conservation plan was prepared and work commenced in April 2001 following the receipt of a generous donation from the ASB Charitable Trust. While the restoration was in progress worship was conducted in the Church Hall.

One of the most noticeable features of the restoration was the removal of the louvres that had been inserted into the middle of the side windows in the early 1960's and their replacement with "hopper" style stained glass window openings based on a design previously installed. The stained glass window inserts, which were all donated, feature emblems associated with St. Andrew's and its history. They are dedicated in honour of former ministers of the parish.

With a beautifully restored Church, a modern Church Hall and a prominent location, combined with an enthusiastic new ministry, St. Andrew's is well situated to minister to the inner city in the 21st century.

History cont'd

While Rev. Panton's arrival was heralded with much enthusiasm from the congregation his ministry was only to last 21 months before he returned to Scotland.

Many other ministers would make more significant contributions, including Rev David Bruce, who arrived in 1853 and helped not only to put the congregation on a sure footing but to extend the influence of the church in the wider Auckland region and far beyond. At his suggestion the Church adopted the name St. Andrew's in 1860.  

 St. Andrew's prior to the building of the tower and portico

Rev. Bruce's 23 year ministry ushered in a relatively settled and prosperous time for St. Andrew's. In the years following his departure in 1877 the Church was extensively refurbished (1882), a new Church Hall was built (1904) and a new organ installed (1907).

Like other central city churches St. Andrew's was affected by the population drift from the inner city to the suburbs which had begun to gain momentum from the early 1900's onward. This contributed to a decline in membership and it was not until the late 1930's that member numbers began to improve significantly.

By 1947, under the ministry of Rev. David Pryor, St. Andrew's was able to celebrate its centennial in grand style with several special commemorative services and a social evening at the Auckland Town Hall. At the centennial communion service elders from St. Andrew's principal "daughter" churches assisted with serving the communion.

Dedication of centennial memorial 1947

By 1957 the interior of the Church was in need of refurbishment. As a result the sanctuary area was remodelled. The large central pulpit was retained however the organ console that had previously been sited in front of the pulpit was moved to the side of the Church. A vestry was constructed to one side of the sanctuary with the organ loft on the opposite side. The alterations were completed in time for the visit by the HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to St Andrew's, in February 1958.

The minister at the time of the Queen Mother's visit was Rev. John Cumming. During his twenty three year ministry which ended in 1975 St Andrew's once again became very much part of the life of the city.

St. Andrew's has had a long history of welcoming new settlers to New Zealand. A continuance of this tradition occurred in the mid 1980's when it began hosting a worship group for members of the Indonesian community. From small beginnings the group quickly grew, its numbers being swelled by new arrivals from Indonesia. By 1988 it was recognised that an Indonesian minister was desirable. Rev. Jusak Susabda began making regular visits from Gisborne and by June 1990 the congregation was in a position to appoint him as associate minister at St. Andrew's with responsibility for the Indonesian speaking congregation.

Another great milestone in the life of St. Andrew's was reached when the congregation celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1997. Celebrations commenced with a special service of thanksgiving on 4th May 1997, 150 years to the day since the congregation was established, and concluded on St. Andrew's Day at the end of November.