Community spirit alive and well at Awhitu
By Helen Reardon
Regular services are still held at Awhitu Central Church, which was opened 133 years ago.
Fundraising for a new worship centre beside the historic church at Awhitu near the Manukau Heads is bringing together a rural community whose spirit of ecumenism began with the early settlers of the area.
When local farmer George Garland was asked to donate a piece of land for a Presbyterian church and cemetery at Awhitu Central 133 years ago, his mother said: “Give the land George. You’ll never miss it.” So George agreed to provide the land on condition that non-Presbyterian services would also be held there, a radical decision at the time.
In typical pioneer fashion, the community contributed funds and rallied around to erect the building. The timber was shipped to the Awhitu wharf on the Manukau Harbour from Coulthard’s mill at Orua Bay and then carted to the site by bullock team. Shingles and fencing timber was split and beside the fence a two-tiered mounting block was supplied to assist the ladies of the congregation who rode side-saddle to the church.
The fundraising Pioneer Dance was attended by 200 locals.
On September 23, 1877, the church was opened by Rev James Galloway and a shortfall of funding of £120 was donated by Anthony McTier, which allowed the church to be opened debt free.
Regular Presbyterian, Methodist and Anglican services have continued to be held at the church over the years. These days the Waiuku and Districts Combined Churches, which brought together the Methodist and Presbyterian parishes in 2002, as well as ministries from the Anglican and Assembly of God churches, conduct services on the Awhitu Peninsula.
And now with the chance to buy a small block of land adjoining the church, the Awhitu community is once again coming together to raise the funds to provide a modern worship centre beside the historic building. True to the spirit in which George Garland donated the land, the project is being supported by the whole community.
A pioneer dance held in the Matakawau Hall was the first of the fundraising activities and around $5000 was raised from a very enjoyable evening of dining and dancing, with many of the 200 attendees dressing for the occasion in period costume. Further fundraising events are planned and are sure to be well supported by residents of Waiuku and the Awhitu peninsula.
With its spectacular scenery taking in the Manukau Harbour and Tasman Sea, coupled with close proximity to Auckland City, the Awhitu area is attracting an increasing number of small block farmers, commuters, and beach residents who are joining the long-time residents in worship at the hilltop church. There is no doubt that an expanded centre would be a focal point and a valuable asset to the whole community.