St Albans at Forty

The 40th Anniversary History
of St Albans Presbyterian Church,
Palmerston North, New Zealand


Presbyterian Roots

The New Life Movement of the 1950’s had consequences in Palmerston North as in other cities. In the Presbyterian Church the vision and drive of the Director of Home Ministry, the Rev. A. D. Horwell, actioned the principle that ‘The Presbyterian Church has the responsibility to minister to all who call themselves Presbyterian.’ Consequently three Presbyterian Churches were planned for the north-eastern end of Palmerston North. As well as St Davids, there was St Albans and a church in Roslyn. St Johns and St Marks were also part of the outreach to the suburbs of the growing city.

The need was apparent. From 1954 Bible study groups and Sunday School classes had met in private homes and garages around Hokowhitu. A hall to house these activities was built with voluntary labour, and with funding from the New Life Movement. Some of our present congregation can recall being at the Presbyterian Youth Assembly in Palmerston North in January 1955, and groups of young folk from there helping prepare the site and lay concrete. Numerous working bees met to tidy and beautify the area. Begun early in 1954 the hall was opened in December 1955, the Rev. D. M. Hercus being very influential in the project. An article in the Manawatu Times of 18th January, 1955, states: ‘Built by voluntary labour (with the exception of steel framing by contract) the new hall epitomises the latest ideas in church building found in this country.’

During these initial years the outreach was under the auspices of St Davids and their minister, the Rev. Ian Purdie. The hall was an initial response to the need for better accommodation in the new housing parts of the suburb. A number of people worked hard to establish and maintain the large Sunday School classes (133 children were enrolled in 1956.) Among those were Joyce Knowles (who died in January 1989), Rollo Arnold, (who died in November 1998), and Betty Crawford. Claude Holyoake, who still attends St Albans, taught Sunday School for over twenty years, and Allan Smith was the first Sunday School Superintendent after the new parish was formed.

In those days, before women could be ordained as ministers, the congregation was ministered to by Deaconesses Sister Valerie Brooker and Sister Reita Wilson as well as the Rev Ian Purdie until it became a separate parish in 1959. The Rev Ernie Johnston, ex teacher and Assistant Minister at St Davids, accepted the call to St Albans and became the new parish’s first minister. Ernie was a bachelor and boarded privately in Ruahine Street though he escaped each Monday to Eltham to visit Evelyn Tarrant, whom he married in 1961. The Manse, on Council land in Ross Place, was completed in time for his marriage. The site, some distance from the Church, was seen by Ian Purdie as a mission to the new state housing area. To meet the parishioners the new Mrs Johnston held a series of nine ‘at home’ afternoon teas over a period of three weeks.

The spirit of cooperation which saw the emergence of St Albans as a separate parish from St Davids on 1st March 1959, did not end there. The Stewardship campaigns of the time saw elders knocking at every door in the new Hokowhitu housing areas in 1960 informing every Presbyterian that a new church had been established for them, and inviting them to attend. The climax was a big dinner on 26th July at which parishioners could get to know each other. St Davids members waited at table and babysat in the homes of those attending.

The early years were marked by intense activity both on Sundays and during the week. The church hall was full and Sunday School numbers were high. ‘The finest set of elders in Palmerston North’ had been ordained, and spent at least one night a week visiting and delivering the monthly newsletter. Working bees were frequent and very well attended with over twenty helpers at a time. Many of the members were tradesmen and were generous with their time and skills. Syd Richardson, who has just celebrated his 100th birthday, installed the plumbing in the church. Fellowship at these working bees was real, as it was also at the Drama Group, Wednesday night Bowls, Life Boys, Men’s Fellowship and Women’s Club - later to become the Association of Presbyterian Women (APW) to which people like Jean Ward were to give years of willing service. Picnics were held each February, buses transporting families to Flock House, Horseshoe Bend or Totara Reserve. A series of articles on ‘Imperfect Parenting’ was presented in the monthly newsletters.

The size of the church soon became a problem, the side room being too small to accommodate the Sunday School classes despite an elaborate set of partitions which were pulled across to make six little cells, so private homes, the kindergarten and schools were used as venues. Originally the church floor was of concrete and cold even with fan heaters. Pinex overlaid with black congoleum was tried, but the pinex rotted and the floor was uneven until the present matai floor was laid in 1966.

The old Anderson property on the corner of Albert Street, and St Albans Avenue was acquired with the financial aid of the Presbyterian Church and through the foresight of Colin Reid, Session Clerk for ten years. The Billy Graham Crusade was in full swing and growth was real. The Rev Johnston was also kept busy as interim moderator of St Pauls, Feilding, then St Andrews, Palmerston North, as well as looking after his own congregation. In 1966 Ernie and Evelyn accepted a call to Tawa, and after their farewell a young theological student on summer supply, Rob Yule, pastored the parish for three months.

Evangelical Developments

The Rev Rymall Roxburgh with his wife Betty and family, recently returned from missionary work in India, was inducted to St Albans in February 1967. The foundations of the parish had been well laid, there was a fine band of helpers and the church was in good heart. Growth increased through the number of students attending worship, and five went on to full-time ministry - Peter McIvor in Thailand, Peter Armstrong in Warkworth, Kevin Ridley in Australia, Neville Jackson in Nelson and Chris Turner in the Elim Church. Large evening services and Bible studies of 70-80 students were led by the three Peters - Peter Armstrong, Peter McIvor and Peter Rollinson.

The church was, however, primarily family oriented, with considerable youth work and input from the Roxburgh family. There was some frustration that a number of Presbyterian families in the area preferred to worship in the older, more central churches, creating an artificial division within the parish, boundaries being considered important at the time. Nevertheless, two morning services were required for some time to cope with the problem of insufficient space

The first attempt to overcome the space problem was the construction of the big room at the back, (the present creche,) at a cost of 400 pounds paid for by St Davids. Then, in 1970, major expansion occurred in a series of stages resulting in an office and 3 Sunday School rooms along the eastern wall, another girder added on the road end, elongating the church by one quarter to one third, the west interior wall being removed, the foyer and office being added and a better kitchen installed. Voluntary help was readily forthcoming and fellowship strong. Rymall noted that it was good to be part of a painting team that included a School Principal and a University Professor! The church was again greatly helped by skilled tradesmen like Brian Stout and Gordon Green.

1970 was also the year of ‘Bible Expo 70’, a teaching mission with Mr J. Oswald Sanders, well known as an international missionary statesman with the China Inland Mission. St Albans cooperated with Hokowhitu Baptist and St Annes Anglican and members visited homes in the suburb inviting locals to attend.

These were still the years of Billy Graham and of a great debate on Church Union. The need to build a baptismal pool in an expanded church front was recognised by a motion to this effect which was passed by the elders. It did not eventuate at this time however. Ministers of the city’s five Presbyterian parishes had increasing unification of purpose and visited homes using LIFE (Lay Institute For Evangelism) Christian Education material and held prayer sessions together each week. In 1972 the Rev. Roxburgh served as Moderator of the Manawatu Presbytery.

For the church members, APW, Bowls, Youth Group, picnics, an annual weekend up Mt. Egmont, and even an occasional car rally, added to the fellowship so important to the wider church family.

Charismatic Advance

Following Rymall’s departure the Rev John Niven, with his wife and young family, was inducted in February 1976 as St Alban’s third minister. His arrival coincided with a church camp at Otaki, and he was able to meet many members in an informal setting. John came from South Dunedin where he had a strong youth ministry. He had been baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1974 and soon introduced ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars, encouraging the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit (including speaking in tongues), and providing full immersion baptism for believers who desired this. To facilitate full immersion the present dismantlable pool was constructed and it has seen service in a number of churches and venues since then.

To accommodate the increasing numbers and the differing needs and expectations of the members, and to make the transition to a more Pentecostal style of worship, three services were held each Sunday for several years, the 9:00 am. one being the most traditional. All members were encouraged to join home groups, so the visiting of homes by elders became a lower priority as home groups could fulfil this pastoral care role on a weekly basis. Elders began meeting each Saturday at 7:30 am. for breakfast, fellowship, discussion and prayer, rotating around the homes of elders. Different forms of church government were tried, to help things run simply and smoothly. Session and Managers were replaced by a Parish Council in trials of several different forms. After-church picnics, pot faith meals, family camps, a strong youth group and an especially strong student ministry developed.

A dynamic teacher, John sought information on current trends and overseas directions. He used statistics to help determine and set goals, aiming for such achievements as 50 home groups by the end of 1984, increased outreach to students and prisons as well as the local community. To cope with the growth Tim Williams was appointed Assistant Pastor and Murray Pashby followed by Chris Ryburn, became administrators with a preaching role. Alan Hawkesworth went into full-time ministry from St Albans and Graham Mansell, after studying at Bible College, became pastor to Milson Combined Church. John took study leave and attended Tung Ling Bible School in Singapore. Murray Shaw established St. Albans Mission Committee in 1982 and a number of Church members such as Nicola North, Margaret Hudson, Sue McAlister and Jim and Anne Henderson moved into missionary work in various parts of the world, supported by a 10% tithe of general offering. A variety of outreaches were offered and encouraged during this time. Visiting speakers included Delores Winder, with St Albans hosting an open healing meeting which attracted 700 to the Barber Hall.

The size of the church continued to be a problem. The east side interior wall was removed and the Sunday School rooms and office were incorporated into the church. Sunday School was moved to the Anderson property, Sid Brent-Smith’s garage and the Church back rooms. Thoughts of buying St Anne’s Church and attaching it across the back were followed by exploring the possibility of moving Hokowhitu Baptist hall to the site. John saw the need to have a new, larger auditorium, and architectural plans were drawn and a model constructed for a 350 seat sanctuary on the Cornerstone site. None of these plans eventuated. An enterprising and faith-driven group of elders, however, decided to sell the old manse which was in a difficult area for a minister with a young family, and bought the present house at 34 St Albans Avenue. It seemed the whole church was there to help the Niven family move one Saturday in 1982. The Brent-Smith property at 339 Albert Street came on the market at about the same time - Mr Brent-Smith had been an elder and was retiring to the South Island - and in a great exercise of faith the property was purchased for administrative purposes and to extend the church property to enable future expansion toward Albert Street. The parish shouldered the double debt of about $130 000 with confidence and faith.

Reach Out in Love groups (ROIL) began in 1986, with new leaders trained in preparation for the Leighton Ford Campaign and to reinvigorate the home groups along a common theme. The call to Mission, the lure of Tung Ling and of South East Asia and a strong sense of following God’s will saw John accepting a call to teach at the Tung Ling Bible School in Singapore in December 1986.

Export-led Growth

In September 1987 the Rev Rob Yule returned to St Albans more than twenty years after his student days here. With his wife Christene and five children he has maintained the feature of large families in the manse. The church recovered quickly from its vacancy drift. Rob boldly announced his vision for St Albans right from his first sermon and the congregation quickly warmed to his teaching, wisdom, sincerity and insights. The characteristics which seem uniquely mixed at St Albans are present still and have been enhanced or modified as circumstances and God’s leading has directed.

Rob’s vision for a teaching-equipping ministry in association with the Manawatu Branch of the Bible College has developed wonderfully. The invitation to the Bible College was initiated shortly before John left, and the Branch began in early 1987, housed in offices at St Albans and using available buildings for lecture space. Since then the relationship with the College has been put on a formal basis, the College uses the facilities extensively, a combined library of about 6000 volumes has been established and the former Limbrick Street Congregational Hall was deeded to the College and shifted onto the corner site in 1994 with the agreement of the Presbyterian Church Property Trustees.

The vision for a community social service ministry has been realised in part. The Anderson homestead was used initially by the Sunday School, then taken over as ‘Cornerstone’ with a drop-in centre and second hand clothing shop. Gifted and dedicated volunteers under the successive leadership of Mary Patterson, Norma Menzies and Pauline Cox, manned it for more than a decade. With the arrival of the Bible College building, Cornerstone was demolished in 1995. Community service is an area where several initiatives have been taken, but changing personnel and social conditions mean it has yet to develop fully. Part of the Mission budget is earmarked for initiatives in this area.

Teams on ministry trips to churches in other centres is a vision which was realised in the early years of Rob’s ministry using the Vineyard model of teaching followed by ministry in the Spirit. There were ministry trips to Gisborne, Tokoroa, Rotorua, New Plymouth (twice), Edendale in Southland and North East Valley, Dunedin, using talented and dedicated people like Graham Mackereth and Amanda Wall.

Tremain Hall, which was the solution to the problem of how to effectively house the Sunday School, was opened in June 1988 and has been a valuable asset for both Church and Bible College. The Church debt again lurched upward, but St Albans members’ faith in God’s financial provision has been amply rewarded, and the giving has equalled the requirements without any major crisis, but with little surplus money.

St Albans has continued to benefit from the input of talented and gifted people. Church attendance has grown necessitating two morning services since 1990. The student ministry peaked at about ninety at that time under the contagious leadership of part-time Youth Pastor Craig Young. The office has been staffed by very competent people under several different titles. Others have been employed full or part time in a variety of positions, and St Albans has benefited greatly from their abilities and dedication. Chris Reddell as Youth Pastor and Cherie Stevenson as Ministry Assistant are among those who have been employed full time.

St Albans has always had a considerable turn over of people because of the student population and the mobility of employment in Palmerston North. This can be seen both as a problem and a blessing. Gifted people are hard to replace and their going leaves a gap. Their time at St Albans, however, has given opportunity for the church to benefit from their talents and their departure has enabled someone else to discover abilities held latent. The departure of so many from St Albans to other parts of the country has been seen as part of the mission of St Albans. If what we have is worthy of emulation, how better to spread it than by such exports!

Mission has been a significant part of the ethos of St Albans. Fifteen per cent of the annual budget has been earmarked for mission for over a decade. Rob’s prophecy late in 1989 reinforced what was happening and has continued to happen:

‘What I am giving you has stamped on it "For export only." If you continue to give away, I will continue to give to you. If you stop giving away, I will stop giving to you. Has not my Son said to you: "Give, and it will be given unto you"? What I am giving you is for export only.’

The fine work of the Mission Committee continued under Joseph on after Murray Shaw’s resignation in 1994. Involvement in world mission has continued in a variety of forms. Rob has spent time in 1992 and in 1996 teaching at Harvest International Ministries Bible School in the Czech Republic, while three others spent time there, Jenny Hazeleger for several years. Rob also visited Israel in 1991 and Beit Immanuel Messianic Fellowship in Tel Aviv has become a sister church with St Albans. We have continued mission links with Singapore, the Czech Republic, India, Thailand, Australia, England, Nepal, Colombia, and the Philippines through individuals or teams.

An impressive number of people who have spent time at St Albans have gone on to further study at Bible Colleges or at Knox College. Some have entered the Presbyterian Ministry, while others hold leadership positions in other congregations. Among those trained more recently with strong St Albans links are Rev Richard Ward and Rev Nikki Watkin, joint ministers at Knox, Feilding. The Very Rev Marg Schrader, a member of St Albans, was interim moderator before Rob’s induction, and has gone on to serve a term as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1995-96.

St Albans has continued to host conferences and seminars with visits from Delores Winder and John Niven, Cecilie Graham, Dr James Ukaegbu, Roy Woods, Brian Hathaway and Steve Tollestrup, Gordon Miller, Brad Long and Ken Shay, Ken and Jean Newton, Dr Neil Broom and a number of others. Rob has participated in conferences and seminars elsewhere, and represented New Zealand at some overseas Church events. Most recently, in September 1997, St Albans launched a home page on the Internet, to share Rob’s teaching and engage thoughtful inquirers.

Music has been a strong part of the continuing ethos of St Albans, and we have benefited from the talent and dedication of very able musicians, administrators and leaders. A number of song books have been introduced, used extensively, then been superseded. A tape was produced in the mid eighties. Original works have been introduced and even a musical produced. Luke Pilkington has gone on to sing for TEAR Fund and to produce albums, and Rod Galloway, who took over as music coordinator after years of great service by Karen Boyes, produced the Simply St Albans album as well as one of his own works. What the congregational singing lacks in finesse it compensates for in enthusiasm and sincerity.

The people of St Albans have been good givers financially. The offerings have been sufficient for the necessities, but not for frills. Yet those handling the budget have not been afraid to borrow money for capital improvements. Their joyful faith in God’s provision has been fully justified. The Building Fund for a new auditorium linking the present church and Tremain Hall, begun in 1994, now stands at over $320,000. In June 1996 the church celebrated being debt free, and by 1996/97 the annual offerings (including donations to the Building Fund) passed $200,000, and the capital assets exceeded $1 million.

While not denying their Presbyterian heritage, St Albans leadership has welcomed members and adherents from a wide variety of church backgrounds, seeking only that people love the Lord. The Bible continues to be the source of truth and direction, and its interpretation tends to be literal rather than liberal. The leadership has viewed with concern some of the issues raised in the wider church, and hence has been closely involved with movements, such as Presbyterian Renewal Ministries, which seek to maintain a Bible based faith and an openness to the Holy Spirit. Cordial links with like-minded churches of other denominations are maintained, and a relaxed style of contemporary worship welcomed rather than a traditional form. A number of people have the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the services, and this allows variety and the growth of a strong group of worship leaders.

Life Begins at Forty

The Rev Allan Smith, first St Albans Sunday School superintendent and a current St Albans member, noted that ‘Right from the beginning there was a serious enthusiasm for Jesus.’ The outworking of this love for Jesus has shown in the ethos of St Albans. One characteristic is a positive attitude to difficulties. Kelvin Menzies, a former elder and church secretary typified this in his often repeated encouragement to us to ‘turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.’ It works!

From early days St Albans has grappled positively with the problem of space. The longstanding need for facilities to house increased numbers is finally coming to fruition in an ambitious building programme due to begin in early 2000, providing an auditorium linking the present church and Tremain Hall. This aims to accommodate future growth and to more easily allow the hosting of regional events and conferences.

Throughout St Albans 40 years there has been a continuing alignment with mission. It began as a local mission outreach, and the first minister led in vigorous visitation to the local community. The second minister came from overseas mission work in India. The third minister left to go overseas to mission in Singapore. Our fourth minister is dedicated to local and overseas mission work and has individually, or with teams, served in both contexts. So many have gone to serve the Lord nationally and internationally, above the inside of the exit door should be a notice ‘You are now entering the Mission Field’.

© 1999, St Albans Presbyterian Church
339 Albert Street, Palmerston North, New Zealand