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Followers of St Stephen were called to service and sacrifice

By Marcia Baker

In the Archives we have a list of 139 people of various ages, from all walks of life, from all over New Zealand and round the world. These people all have one thing in common: they belonged to the Order of St Stephen during the years 1950 until 1993.

On April 1st, 1939 Rev CT Symons, on loan from the South Australian Conference, took up the new position of Senior Youth Director in the Methodist Church of New Zealand. The Bible Class Movement, not without some controversy, had been incorporated in a larger organisation which eventually became the Christian Youth Movement (Methodist) CYM(M).

It was launched on Youth Sunday in June, 1943 with the hope that other denominations would join this vision. This movement was to include all young people from the Cradle Roll to Senior Bible Class. There was also something new – the Order of St Stephen – whereby young people were challenged to give one year as volunteer workers in some area of Christian service.

It took a long time for this to take effect. The first person to respond was Thea Jones (Noble) who was received as a member of the order at the end of 1951 after a year as a youth worker in Northland. Thea had spent most of her life in a city, so country life alone must have been a challenge. With the guidance of ministers and deaconesses she spent her time working mainly amongst young people of Sunday school and Bible class ages. Travelling by dinghy, speaking to Bible class groups, helping with recreational programmes, arranging leadership training schools and conducting services were all part of her day to day activities.

Others soon followed. Amongst them were trained carpenters, office workers, teachers, nurses, mechanics, a doctor, an electrician and a pharmacist. Some found work in children’s homes, the then Home and Maori Mission department, and central missions. Young people shared their gifts wherever there were needs in this country and overseas including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and even Austria.

Two married couples gave their time in this voluntary capacity. One couple went to Bougainville. Here Val taught at the Mission school and her husband Keith supervised the school children’s gardening and a cocoa plantation.

Some St Stephen volunteers from overseas worked here. Reinhold came from Salzburg Methodist Parish in Austria to the Christchurch Methodist Mission. He lived at the children’s home where he made breakfast for the children. He also collected clothes for Goodwill stores, pruned hedges, did gardening, painted, and cleaned ceilings for the lonely and elderly as well as organising groups for young people. Noel learned how to build a church out of bush materials in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

When Lesley was received as a member of the order, the officiating minister said: “Not all of us are called to serve under the Order of St Stephen but all Christians are called to service and sacrifice”.

Some members went on to fulltime service within the Church, others returned to their former work situations taking with them a wider vision of the meaning of life and a deeper understanding of people. In the 1990s, the need for such an order seemed to lose its impetus. Despite efforts to revive it, this did not happen. However, nothing can diminish the challenge of service and sacrifice as vital part of Christian living. Wherever we go we find those who have given quietly and unobtrusively in the service of others.

We have 139 names on our list but we would like to add further information to the historical record. We understand there was a book but it seems to have been lost. A number of members have died and information about them may already be lost. If you are a member of this special order or know someone who was, please contact us. We would like to know your address and e-mail, the Church from which you candidated, the area where you served, and memoirs of the work you did so our records can be as full and as accurate as possible.