Researching for our Exhibition ‘Stack & Steeple – Supporting the Industrial Worker’ has highlighted a number interesting and complex aspects of the Church’s attempts to link with ‘the worker’. It is well worth some in-depth research, more than I can do here, and is a worthwhile topic for an academic researcher, that may contribute to our understanding towards Church planting in the 21st century.
Pre World War 2 the issue of the Church’s relationship with ‘the worker’ raised some concern among leadership and members, but these concerns generally noted the immoral and ‘pagan’ aspects of the worker and his family. To respond to these concerns, the Home Mission service established ministries among people settling outside the main cities and towns
“The face of the land has been changed in many areas by the industry of the people, townships have arisen … forests have been cut out, roads have been made and rivers bridged…farming areas increased and the Church’s duty is still the same.” So wrote the Rev. George Budd in a PWMU Study in 1928.
An underfunded, untrained and fluid ministry strategy resulted in a loss of continuity within the small emerging communities, particularly those associated with industrial development. Admittedly areas such as the mining communities on the West Coast were isolated and difficult to access. George Budd, Superintendent for the Home Mission in 1925 found Denniston and Burnett Face to be “dismal”, dotted with ‘crude residences” for its 1700 residents. By 1939, little had changed and Rev. Don McDiarmid’s report of 1939 notes, Denniston is a problem! The town is not growing and the church is certainly declining. The finances are in a deplorable condition and the congregation very poor. With its adjoining town, Burnett’s Face, there are over 1200 people… I feel that we ought to try yet more boldly to win a footing in this place…”.
The women workers on the West Coast stayed longer in their role and achieved greater results as is evident Sr. Marion Neilson activities. She settled in Otira in 1926 and worked the district until 1936 making contacts in 18 different places. Her average round was 400 miles per month, she was provided with a car, earned £140 per annum. She had the oversight of 200 children visiting them in their homes, offering after school programmes and regular Sunday School activity. She worked among sawmillers, farmers, miners and ‘strays’.
The efforts of the early Home Missionaries has seen a continuing Church presence within some of these early settlements, but many of them no longer exist due to the decline of the local industry.