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Church a big part of Mabel’s century

What better excuse to both celebrate and reflect on times gone by than a 100th birthday? In January family friends gathered at All Saints Anglican Church in Christchurch to mark Mabel Grocott’s century.

Mabel Grocott

The venue was chosen mainly for logistical reasons – convenience and parking – rather than denominational loyalties, for Mabel has spent her life in the Methodist Church (though she is also a committed ecumenist).

As the wife of Rev John Grocott, Mabel served the Methodist Church in towns and cities throughout New Zealand. She has also raised three children and has been active in a number of organisations.

Mabel grew up in Murchison, where her family had a farm. In her teenage years her schooling took her away from the West Coast – first to Nelson for secondary school, and then to Christchurch, where she attended teachers’ college.

Her academic career meant she missed the biggest single event to hit Murchison in the 20th century, the massive earthquake of 1929. Her family was affected though not as badly as some.

When she graduated, Mabel taught first at Stoke and then back in Murchison. Later she served as a relieving teacher at the primary school at Waikawa Pa, near Picton.

“My grandfather was a Baptist but my mother became a Methodist. I remember when the new Methodist Church was opened in Murchison there was a big service and then a big tea.

“When I went to teachers’ college the Student Christian Movement (SCM) was very strong. The Anglican Bishop was very interested in it because his daughter was a member. Presbyterians and Methodist were all very interested. There were boys’ bible classes, study groups, weekend camps, and winter schools.”

It was at a SCM conference in Cambridge that Mabel first met John. At that time he was finishing his ministry training and heading off to Oamaru to serve out his probationary period.

Mabel and John married in 1932. At that point John was stationed to New Plymouth.

“When we in New Plymouth I taught at a sole charge school but some of the parents withdrew their children because they didn’t believe married women should be teachers. Rather than cause trouble I resigned my position,” Mabel says.

After a brief exchange posting in Sydney, John and Mabel were given a congregation in Onehunga. Mabel says the Onehunga church had a large, lively youth group but the country was moving toward war. John was a pacifist, and some in the congregation turned against him.

A posting to the Tasman district followed. The parish encompassed Richmond, Stoke, Hope and Wakefield, and John often gave five services on a Sunday.

Next the Grocotts moved to Karori, Wellington. The ecumenical movement was picking up speed at this time, and Mabel was actively involved in the numerous meetings in generated.

Their final posting was in Christchurch, at the Hornby parish. In 1967 John was elected president of the Methodist Church. After his year in office, he retired.

As for many ministers, retirement didn’t mean rest. In 1969 Mabel and John headed off for the New York, where John served as a minister first in Syracuse and then in New York City.

In New York the offices of the United Methodist Church are in United Nations Plaza, and John often served at the UN’s chapel on a voluntary basis.

Mabel has retained her interest in the United Nations and is still a member of the United Nations Association of NZ as well as the Federation of University Women.

Mabel’s three children were John, Paul, and Judith. She has 11 grandchildren and a number of great grandchildren.