Posted by: preshist | October 21, 2011

A CLOUD OF WITNESSES

Front entrance of St. Paul's Trinity Pacific, Christchurch (2010). Note the Burning Bush above the door. Photo taken by Dr. Jennie Coleman

The records for St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and St. Paul’s Trinity Pacific, Christchurch are now processed (P15006/2011/202). They reflect the faith journeys of a group of people with a proud tradition who like their church stood tall.

Consisting around 200 items the collection is a fair representation of the life of the congregation including records of the Church courts – Session and Board of Managers, marriage registers (59), baptism  and communion rolls, financial records, Women’s and Mission Group records, Cradle Roll and Young Worshippers League, annual reports and newsletters.  Many of the photographs that hung proudly on the walls of the Church building and have been fully conserved from the recent fire,  are still held by the Parish, others are part of this collection.

Unfortunately, there are no records that cover the extensive youth work St. Paul’s undertook such as Band of Hope Temperance Group, Christian Endeavour, Young Men and Women’s Bible Class, and Sunday School and Teachers’ Association .  Judging from the annual reports and Session
Minute Books these groups played a significant role in the life of the Congregation.  Also missing is the first Management Minute Book/s from 1863 to 1907, which more than likely covers the
building of the Church in 1875-1876.  There is however, the Building Fund Income and Expenditure Book (1875-1884) that lists the donors and amounts donated as well as the costs of the building project.  Also  missing is the first Baptism register 1863 to 1876.

Rev. Dr. John Elmslie with the St. Paul's Sunday School Teachers. c1895. Rev. Elmslie standing centre behind the third row of women.

Throughout the parish’s long 147 year history 14 ministers presided.  Rev. John Elmslie’s  ministry of 27 years (1876-1903) includes the opening of the church, building of a manse, extension of the parish into the suburbs, the formation of the Ladies Association 1878, and the development of various youth organisations.  He was described as ‘a man of wide vision and broad sympathies…In him intellect and character matched his stature and he stands high in the ranks of the statesmen of the Presbyterian Church.’

Reported widely in the media is a pastoral address he delivered to the congregation in 1895 where he disputed the ‘reckless’ assertion the Presbyterian Church congregations consisted mainly of women.  He notes: [I] am bound to testify that [at St. Paul’s] the majority are men – shrewd looking, hard headed men –  who, in respect of up-to-date intelligence, need have no fear of being placed alongside of those dandies and would-be philosopher who reckon themselves in advance of the Church of Christ… [Do we want] discussions on questions of science, literature and social economics?  Never.  These things are stones and not bread …’

The last record I processed is most poignant.  It highlights the crossroads that St. Paul’s Trinity Pacific congregation are now confronting.

It included documents relating to the 2009 fire, the Heritage Covenant signed with the Christchurch City Council in 2010, then the photographs of the devastating February 2011 earthquake followed by the demolition of the Church.

The final document in the file is the official announcement of the resignation of their much loved minister the Rev. Lapana Faletolu on 4 September 2011 due to ill health.  Sadly, Lapana died 6 October 2011.

the Rev. Lapana Faletolu and family taken when he exited his Theological training in 1986

Importantly, interspersed throughout these final documents is evidence of a congregation determined to carry on the proud heritage they are so familiar with.  Although the symbol below was damaged in the demolition of the Church its motto stands strong.

Presbyterian Symbol the Burning Bush used in 1876. 'nor will it be consumed'. Photo taken by Dr. Jennie Coleman

by Yvonne
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