Browsing through the Auckland Paper Observer for September 1889 I came across this curious story “The teetotal ‘faddists’ who object to the use of fermented wine have raised a pretty hubbub at Ravensbourne, Otago… In May last year some of the communicants at the Ravensbourne kirk found that unfermented wine was being used, and complained … .” The story also found its way into the Otago Witness
“The intemperance of the advocates of Temperance is an old story” wrote Civis in the Otago Witness and when blind stubbornness of one party collides with Presbyterian understanding of “decently and in good order” sparks can fly.
They surely did in the Ravensbourne Parish, when in September 1889, 20 members presented a Petition to the Interim Moderator, David Borrie, pointing out that the introduction of unfermented wine for the Lord’s Supper had not followed the due process of consultation with the congregation.
The previous June the Session in complying with a request from the Minister, had agreed that “having reason to believe that a substantial majority of the Congregation would offer no objection to unfermented wine in the Sacrament” it be introduced. This was obviously not the case. According to the newspaper reports those in dispute of this decision out of respect for their minister held over their complaint until his departure late August 1899.
The Session duly acknowledging the error of their ways put forward the suggestion that in the future two tables be provided for the Lord’s supper; one with unfermented wine and one with the all-familiar ’49 Port’. The anticipated explanation from the pulpit of this foregoing decision at the next two Sunday services did not eventuate much to the ire of some Elders. Not satisfied with the Minister’s explanation at the next Session meeting, three Elders resigned but the Session requested these be ‘laid on the table’ for a future meeting. Incidentally two of these elders moved and seconded the original motion.
This fracas fell during a parish vacancy when Ravensbourne was about to call a new minister. The protagonists, to ensure their cause was heard, moved that the Congregation not proceed to call a new minister until “such time as the members have decided by their vote in the matter of the wine”. An amendment to ask Presbytery to moderate a call was carried by two votes. The Moderator recommended that with no indication of an amicable agreement they adjourn for 2 weeks and he closed the meeting with prayer.
What emerged over the two weeks was a bitter dispute between the “old lights’ and ‘new lights’. The ‘new lights’ believed their opposition had allowed the devil to ‘enter into their lives’ and to prove the error of their ways they approached the local Jewish Rabbi to seek an authorative opinion on the substance of true Biblical wine. With tongue in cheek, no doubt, he advised that Biblical wine was made by steeping true muscatel raisins in water.
Session proceeded to rescinded the motion to hold the next Communion Service, the three Elders withdrew their resignations on the understanding that the entire Session would resign after the settlement of the new Minister, and a Congregational meeting agreed that the two wines be served in the meantime.
Three months on Presbytery intervened and appointed assessor Elders and a congregational vote saw them retain fermented wine. One year later the parish continued with assessor elders and a minister had been called. A number of disaffected members had left in the meantime and others were not attending as a result 41 names were removed from the Roll. The new minister resigned after a year in 1891 and a long vacancy ensued. Finally in January 1895 Presbytery approved the formation of a new Session and in September new Elders were ordained and inducted. It took until July 1899 for Presbytery to support the parish’s request to be allowed to celebrate regular Communion without seeking its permission to do so. Finally the vacancy was filled in 1901.
Through the years of the vacancy the members had managed to raise funds and build a new church and membership had steadily increased. As to the question of communion wine we do not know, however a careful note is made on the increased support for the three temperance societies within the parish.
by Yvonne: This will appear in the March issue of Methodist Paper Touchstone