As I processed the records from the St. Alban’s Presbyterian Church, Christchurch several weeks ago I was very conscious that their Church building was about to be demolished as a consequence of the Christchurch February earthquake. The moment was quite surreal in a sense. Although no longer the main centre of the now united Presbyterian/Methodist parish its loss will be felt by many of the loyal followers of the past whose faith journey contributed to a forward thinking and active congregation.
Within each item of the collection the ‘voices’ of these ‘gathered people’ can be heard as they planned the foundation of their new community through the first Sunday School in 1913, the excitement of building and housing their first minister in 1920 and the building and opening of their church in 1925 and its continuing expansion into the 1970’s. Along with this physical development of the congregational plant, the spiritual and pastoral ‘voices’ are very much in evidence.
The enthusiasm for Parish missions filtered into the community, through the visit of the popular Methodist Evangelist, ‘Gypsy’ Smith who touredNew Zealandin 1929, and the week longMissionwith the New Zealandblind evangelist Andrew Johnston in 1942. The Presbyterian evangelist, the Rev. John Bissett in the 1930s and the Rev. Don Kirkby of Papatoetoe, in 1965 also conducted successful missions. The Billy Graham Crusade of the 1960s and the Presbyterian Stewardship programme meant that the fervour for spiritual growth continued and the development ofTrinityChurchin the late 1950s in the new housing area to the north of the parish contributed to a heightened spiritual experience when membership reached 450.
From the 1970s for the next 20 years as the demographics of the community shifted the congregation’s numbers declined, although their mission and outreach continued with the same loyalty and vigour of previous years. The Methodist Church also experienced a similar decline and eventually the two churches made the decision in February 1997 to unite.