St John's Methodist Church Nelson

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A Wesleyan Church, the first Church built in Nelson, was opened in 1843 on the corner of Haven Road and Rutherford Street. This building was sold in 1857 due to earthquake damage and a growing congregation.

Present-day St Johns. St Johns Church Archives. Click image to enlarge

The Hardy Street site on which the Church now stands was bought from John Waring Saxton in 1857. William Beatson designed the Church to accommodate 400. This was his first architectural commission in Nelson.

Laying Foundation Stone, Wesleyan Church. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 179115. Click image to enlarge

The foundation stone was laid in November 1857 and the new Church building was opened on 18 June 1858. A further section of land was bought from Mr Saxton around 1864 for the parsonage. Beatson also designed the parsonage and the Sunday School building at the back of the Church.1

A growing congregation required the Church to be enlarged in 1866. By the 1880's the woodwork had badly decayed and the building was still too small. So it was sold (by auction) and the £21 went to a new church building fund.

Postcard of the front entrance of the St Johns Church, 1980's. St Johns Church Archives [Graeme Lyle]
Click image to enlarge

The foundation stone  for the new building was laid September 1889. The Church was opened in 1890. The building is still on the site today.

St Johns interior showing curved rimu pews, polygonally shaped ceiling with laminated arch ties providing excellent acoustics. Rosemary Venner
Click image to enlarge

Several alterations were made to the interior of the building, including alterations to the choir gallery and choir seats between 1928 and 1938 and minor alterations to the front entrance of the church in the 1950s.

A major alteration to the interior was done in 1966 when the pulpit was shifted to the East wall, leaving the central area for the communion table. The organ console was brought down from the organ pipes and positioned at floor level on the western side. A ramp was built on the side of the front entrance steps in 1990.

In 2011 St John's Church was put up for sale by the Methodist ministry, due to the high cost of maintaining the building, which has Historic Place Category 2 listing.

The church was bought by the Boswijk family in 2012, along with the adjoining hall and manse so the property was not broken up. Their aim was to turn the Hardy St. Church into a performance venue, and to ensure that its presence remained in the city.   They have slowly worked to restore the complex with encouragement from Heritage New Zealand who support adaptive re-use of heritage buildings. A priority was to attend to earthquake strengthening requirements so the hall and church could be used for community use as soon as possible then tackle upgrading heritage items as funds became available. Nelson City Council's Heritage Fund has provided some assistance.

 The manse became the Boswyk family home.   They renamed the hall and church, “Old St Johns” to differentiate it from the working evangelical churches by that name as a way of recognising it was a heritage building available for public use.

The Nelson School of Music Steinway Piano was stored in the church, during the time the church building provided an alternative venue for the schools activities during Nelson School of Music renovations (December 2013-2017).

The beautifully coloured leadlight windows at Old St John's Church were regrouted and checked in 2012 as an "interim step" in protecting the windows. Weather proofing and restoring old buildings can be a painstaking and expensive task, ensuring all aspects are done in line with a heritage building.  The Boswyks accept that they may have to move towards what a lot of old churches are doing and have some kind of clear external covering  on the building in order to protect the windows, but to date the re-grouting seems to have been effective.

The next phase of restoration is focused on making the hall comfortable for groups using it over winter months. The current electric heating is not cost effective or efficient, so a gas fire radiator system is already underway. Other future projects over the next couple of years include heating for the church space and a new toilet block., and in 2016, more work on the windows.2

2012 History & More with additions by Rosemary Venner and Debbie Daniell-Smith

A note on the Methodist Church in Stoke
Stoke Methodist churchStoke Methodist Church. Nelson Photonews 18 September 1965
Click image to enlarge

Missionary Samuel Ironside conducted his first service in Nelson city in June 1842, and services were held in Stoke soon after, in 1843. An Ebenezer Chapel opened in December 1849 on land donated by Mr Marsden on the main road in Stoke. A second chapel was erected on the site in 1861. This was replaced by a church in 1915, also on the same site, designed by Arthur Griffin. A Sunday School hall was built beside the Church in 1932.

In 1964-65, Stoke Methodists built a new church in Neale Avenue, to meet the needs of a growing population. It was a notable example of post-war New Zealand church architecture in the modern basilican form, built of concrete, concrete block and stone walls with convex rood behind false palisades. It was linked by a covered walkway to the church hall, built earlier on the site.

In 1977 five pensioner flats and a new parsonage were built on vacant land behind the Church, on Neale Avenue. The old Parsonage on Titoki Street was sold.

In November 2013 the church building failed to meet earthquake standards, and the Methodist Church put the land and building up for sale. In July 2014, the land was sold and the Church was demolished to make way for a development of town houses. The western wing of the remaining 1965 hall and youth block was converted, in 2015,  into a chapel for the congregation to use. A large stained glass window from the Church of Christ the Good Shepherd will be reinstated in the chapel.3

The site of the original Ebenezer Chapel is now a memorial garden.
[Addition by Debbie Daniell-Smith, 2014]

Sources used in this story

  1. Wilson, J. (2011) Thematic Historical Overview of Nelson City. Nelson: Nelson City Council
  2. 2012 History & More (2012)with additions by Rosemary Venner and Debbie Daniell-Smith
  3. Kidson, S. (2015, February 19) Two into one goes well. Nelson Leader, p.14

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