Mauku remembers Methodist fellowship
By Margaret Southey
On May 30th Betty Littin closed and locked the door of Mauku Methodist Church for the last time, ending 139 years of worship and Christian witness. Mauku is in the Franklin district, halfway between Pukekohe and Waiuku.
More than 70 former and present parishioners attended the closing service. Rev Les Ferguson conducted the service using the theme Thanks for the Memories. The service remembered those who were baptized, married and farewelled at funerals in Mauku Church. Remembered too were Phyliss Rudolph, who spent several years as a missionary teacher in the Solomon Islands beginning in 1957, and Lynnette Bowker who was accepted into the Deaconess Order in 1961.
Music played an important role in the life of Mauku Church and several women said they were drawn into the Mauku Methodist community through it. Stan Bowker became church organist and choirmaster in 1926 while still a teenager and continued playing for 39 years. Supper after choir practices always included his wife’s famous cream puffs.
There were Sunday School concerts and each year children were trained for an operetta. The best remembered was May Day in Welladay which included a maypole dance. Annual church picnics were happy occasions and in the early years people arrived by horse and trap, dog-cart, and Mr J Bellhouse’s model T Ford.
Europeans settled in Mauku after Crown land grants in 1856. Access was by boat up Mauku Stream and across the harbour to Onehunga or overland to Waiuku. Methodists in the area gathered for worship in private homes.
St Bride’s Anglican Church was built in Mauku in 1861 but was not consecrated for some years as worshippers from other denominations including Methodists were allowed to use the church for services. During the Waikato War in 1863 St Bride’s Church was fortified and garrisoned, and fighting in the area prevented further growth.
Mauku’s first Methodist service conducted by an ordained minister was in 1865. Rev John Risworth rode over from Waiuku to conduct the service. About this time William Kerr, an Anglican, donated a corner of his section on the edge of Patumahoe Hill for a Methodist Church. A little church was built there for ?60 pounds in 1866. It was enlarged in 1881 and stands there still looking down on the roads below.
A lean period followed from 1911 to 1920s. The arrival of lay preacher A Needham saw a period of revival. The church was further strengthened in 1926 by the arrival of another lay preacher, Tom Bowker with his wife and son Stan. With the Bowker family came the music that played an important part in Mauku church life. The church continued to flourish. A room was built on the side of the church which when partitioned, provided two Sunday School classrooms. For the church centennial in 1965, working bees added a vestibule and worship centre.
In recent years, church attendance has declined as families left the district. Early this year, it was with sadness that the decision was made to close and sell the church. The new owner is converting the church to a house with minimal exterior alterations so Mauku Church will remain as a landmark for the foreseeable future.