St Mark’s Church

St Mark's Church [1]

Churches have always been important places for Christian communities, providing not only religious worship but community centres and venues for other events.

St Mark’s, Remuera, has been a hugely significant place for the occupants of its parish throughout its long and varied history, and has adapted well to the changes in society today.

In early 1847, Remuera, although mostly farmland, had a fast growing population. Many people thought it likely that the region would become an important residential area in the future. For this reason, Bishop Selwyn selected a site near the junction of the Auckland, Papakura and Onehunga roads for a new church to meet the expected population growth. This land cost him only ₤2! Within a few months, the first St Mark’s church had been erected on the spot, and was opened in March 1847. It was a small wooden chapel with a thatched roof, and it seated about eighty people. During the week, school was held there, and the students helped with services on the weekends. Soon the congregation had expanded so much that a new church was merited. The old church was moved in due course and became the schoolroom and vestry meeting room for the parish. This building was the beginning of Remuera Primary School.

Meanwhile, subscriptions for the new church were gathered as the building began. The finished church was a simple building which seated 136, made of Kauri and roofed with shingles. On September 12, 1860, Bishop Selwyn consecrated the church in the outside porch, despite fierce winds and blustery rain. Unfortunately, this unpleasant weather meant that only five parishioners were able to attend! Nevertheless, the congregation were pleased with their new church and happy to pay ‘seat rent’ to help support it.

Exterior view of St Marks Church, Remuera 1863 [2]

In 1863, the people of St Mark’s parish felt that it would be worthwhile for the area to have a resident clergyman. Reverend Edward Heywood was chosen and became the first vicar of St Mark’s. The church thrived during Reverend Heywood’s time, and attracted many distinguished people including Sir George Arney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Sir George always came into church followed by a valet carrying his hymnbook. Small boys in the congregation would bow to Sir George, but then make faces at the valet behind him!

When Reverend Heywood died in 1872, he was succeeded by Archdeacon Lonsdale Pritt, who was especially popular with the children of the parish. At that time, Remuera, while considerably more settled than it had been in 1846, was still a rural area. Newmarket was a small village with three hotels and a few shops; Remuera Road was a muddy little street. So muddy, that the church records contain a resolution to provide boot-scrapers at the entrances to the church!

Because it relied mainly on the congregation’s generosity, the parish has always had to be careful with finances, which is one reason why the Reverend William Beatty established a daffodil show and competition in 1903 which people could enter for a shilling. A similar competition still takes place at St Mark’s today. This and other fundraisers lessened the monetary pressure, so the parish was able to construct a parish hall. Many parishioners fondly remember the Friday night dances in this hall!

Reproduction of an oil painting of Saint Mark's Church Remuera in 1892 [3]

Around this time, boarders at the nearby Diocesan and Dilworth Schools began attending the Sunday services. One Diocesan girl remembers the group being scolded for taking their wet shoes off in the church, because when they put them back on quickly to go up to the alter for communion, many girls ended up with two left or two right shoes. Dilworth boys have their own collection of memories, including marching to church with a prefect calling ‘left-right, left-right!’ Many also remember that the less honest among them sometimes substituted the three-pence coin they were given for the collection with a washer or button instead, to the confusion of the sidesmen counting the money after the service. The Dilworth boys and Diocesan girls were not allowed to sit together, but sometimes they used sign language to communicate across the church and exchange telephone numbers.

Damage to the Church [4]

In 1935, the church narrowly missed destruction after there was a large fire in the organ loft. Fortunately, the fire service managed to save most of the church, although the organ loft and surrounding areas were completely destroyed. Some parishioners suggested that a new church should be built instead of merely repairing the damage, but the overwhelming majority, including the current vicar, the Reverend Percy Houghton, wanted to keep the original church, of which they had many fond memories.

Under the Reverend Jim Thomas in the 1960’s, it was decided that the large parish graveyard had become too messy and dangerous, and so a large tidying operation took place. Those headstones that had historical interest were transported to the back of the church, while the other headstones were cleared away and replaced with a plaque holding these names. Also at this time, the language and form of the services was altered to appeal more to the current generation, although St Mark’s has always tried to retain the traditional format of church services as much as possible.

St Mark’s celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1997, under the Reverend Ross Bay. This celebration marked a new ear for the church as it moved forward into the new millennium. Today, the church has a congregation of about 350 families, and has an important place in the community as it provides a venue for society events, gives support to charities like the City Mission and organizes many pastoral care groups like Communicare for the elderly and handicapped, and weekly meetings for young mothers and preschool children. The Reverend Ross Bay has many plans for continued community involvement, including expanding the church’s children and youth programmes, and making improvements to the hall as a community centre.

The hard work and devotion of many parishioners and vicars over St Mark’s history has left Remuera a valuable legacy of a beautiful, flourishing church. It is to be hoped that the community of Remuera will continue their support of this wonderful church so that it can be preserved for many more years.