By Tony Stickley
Long into the future parishioners of St Andrew’s by the Sea will have numerous reminders of the church’s 125th anniversary celebrations held at the weekend.
A small stain glass window in a frame designed by Mercury Bay Area School student, Brax Montad, 10, and turned into reality by noted local glass artist Nicola Searle, will have pride of place in the church for generations to come.
There will also be a replica of the church building painstakingly created by model railway enthusiast Damon Christensen especially for the anniversary.
And church records will show that Lola McClung’s great grandmother not only attended the first service held in the church, but in a coincidental twist of fate the Minister who took the service in March 1898, the Rev. James Marshall, had in fact been her Minister in her native Edinburgh.
Elizabeth Cosgrave, who, along with Madeleine Saunders, organized a competition for schoolchildren to design a stain glass window, said that the results had been impressive. “They were all so lovely it was difficult to choose a winner,” Elizabeth said. There were 26 entries in the nine to 11-year-old category, which Brax won with Alfie Leo Harris, 11 in second place. In the five to eight-year-old category, which was won by Orlaith Hamill (6), with Isla Shepherd coming runner-up, there were 14 entries. All attend MBAS. The prizes were delivered to the school for the children on Monday.
Parishioners got to “vote” on the designs using stickers to nominate first and second places, with three points for first and one for second. “I was talking to a member of the community and was most surprised when an offer came to fund a stained glass window to be made that the church would keep. And then the mother of an artist who worked at the Op Shop told me of her daughter who could make the window,” Elizabeth said. Brax’s design was selected and the window, which was on show at Sunday’s service, will now have a permanent home in the church.
“It is going to stay in the church for all to see as a reminder of the 125th year celebrations. In 25 years or 125 years, people will be able to look back with pride on what we have created here,” Elizabeth said. “Everyone is welcome into the church and we hope they enjoy seeing the stain glass window and the designs as well.” She thanked Darren Prole of Wet and Wild Crazy Golf for donating four family passes to the winners and also an un-named member of the community who donated money to buy vouchers for $50 first prize family meals at Subway and $30 for second prize meals. The winners were to receive their prizes at school this week.
Damon, a scale model railway enthusiast, or railroader, as the Americans say, turned his skill in making model locomotives and wagons into creating a replica of the original church, the church hall and grounds.
“It is to scale, one in 160,” said Damon, who runs a model railway show every year, the next one being scheduled for July 1 and 2 in Whitianga Town Hall. It is an exact replica, or as close as I can get from the drawings from council.” Damon said that the model church, made out of Evergreen PVC plastic, took one and a half weeks to build.
This is not the first time Damon has used his model train skills to create miniature structures; he made the Kauri Dam and Whitianga town model both of which are in the local museum. Damon said that the initial idea was to build a replica of the original church to put on the 125th birthday cake.
“Technically, that was all I needed to do, but then I thought, what happens to the model when we eat the cake, so I decided to make a model of the current, present-day building [including the church hall, Op Shop and the section] so that it could be kept for future generations. It will go on display on a shelf in the church in a perspex case once I have finalised some little details,” Damon said.
When organisers of the celebrations marking the 125th anniversary of St Andrew’s by the Sea asked parishioners for details of their family connections to the church going back over the years, there was one that stood out over all the others.
But Lola McClung was able to trump them all. Like other townsfolk, the 84-year-old, who lives in the Masonic Village in Seascape Avenue, had ancestors who attended the very first service. But Lola’s great grandmother also knew the minister who took that first service, from the time she lived in Edinburgh
Understandably, she was stunned to travel halfway round the world just to bump into him far from civilization in the rough little hamlet of Whitianga. In a brief account of her family’s links to St Andrew’s, Lola wrote: “My great grandmother Mary Ballantyne came from Scotland with her mother, my great-great grandmother Margaret Ballantyne when she [Mary] was 18.”
Lola said that they travelled on the Rangitiki, leaving Plymouth on December 19, 1883 and arriving in Auckland on April 14 the following year. The Ballantynes had relatives working as bushmen in the Mercury Bay area, so moved down to live in Whitianga. In 1886, Mary married her second cousin Thomas Thom, who had previously arrived in the area, the couple having eight children.
When the first service was conducted at the newly built church, Mary went along with the rest of the throng to be part of history. (The service had been delayed by a month as secondhand pews bought in Auckland had not arrived in time).
“Mary came to church on March 27, 1898, the first Sunday worship held in the new church,” Lola explained. “What a surprise to her when the morning service was conducted by Presbyterian Minister Reverend James Marshall from Edinburgh, whom she knew from church over there.” A marble plaque in the church commemorates the Reverend Marshall. “I’m always proud to look at it when I go into the building, remembering that is our family connection from long ago,” said Lola, who was born in Mercury Bay Hospital.
“It really is a strong link to the church and also to the first minister to serve here,” Lola told the Informer. “My connection goes right back to when the church was opened 125 years ago. I really feel that the church is part of me,” she said.
Caption: Local modeller and electrical engineer, Damon Christensen, designed this to-scale model of the complete St Andrew's By The Sea Church complex for the 125th anniversary.