St John's Church
102 St John Street, Opotiki
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
24th June 2005
Extent of List Entry
Registration includes the church building, its fittings, and fixtures, and the land comprised in certificate of title 190807.
Bay of Plenty Region
Lot 2 DP 346436 (CT 190807), Gisborne Land District
Constructed in 1907 in St John Street, Opotiki, St John's Church reflects the growth and development of the Presbyterian population in the township.
In 1872, several years after the Opotiki township was first surveyed by John Gwynneth, the then Minister of Native Affairs, Sir Donald McLean (1820-1877), sent Presbyterian minister Reverend Martin to open a school in the area. Martin held the first religious services for the town's Presbyterian population in the Masonic Hotel. He also held services for Church of England on alternate Sundays. After two years, Martin resigned and was replaced by a Presbyterian minister from Scotland, Reverend Alexander Soutar. Prior to his appointment, Soutar worked for the Church of England in New Zealand. His services in Opotiki were conducted according to the order of the Church of England. On 22 June 1877 it was concluded at a meeting of Presbyterians of the township that a Presbyterian church should be established, and a minister of Presbyterian denomination be obtained. This resolution resulted in an invitation to the Reverend John Gow, who had relocated to Opotiki for health reasons, to become the new minister. Gow was officially appointed on 22 September 1878, and for five years he conducted Presbyterian services in the Town Hall.
Under Gow, efforts to construct a purpose-built Presbyterian church in Opotiki commenced. In 1880, Trustees were appointed to manage Section 2, Allotment 23 on the survey plan of 1860, which had been set aside for a church. In 1883 a church building was constructed on the site by Thomas Abbot for £270. Although the church provided seating for 105 people, by 1890 the Presbyterian population had increased, necessitating the construction of an addition that would accommodate a further 40 persons. Two years later, Gow retired, having devoted 14 years to the betterment of the Presbyterian church in Opotiki. His successor was installed in a newly built manse five months later, and the congregation continued to grow. By 1905, the first Presbyterian church was too small to accommodate it.
Two years later the original church was converted into a Sunday School, and a new, larger church was constructed on the site. The new building was designed by the noted Waikato and - by this time - Opotiki-based architect Thomas Henry White (1843-1923), and constructed by Messrs Ross & Purcell at the cost of £666.0.0. The church, named St John's Presbyterian Church, was a commanding timber structure, whose appearance was similar to a Unitarian Church that White had previously designed in Ponsonby Road, Auckland in 1901 (NZHPT Registration # 7178, Category 1 historic place). In 1946, three stained glass windows were inserted above the altar in memory of the parishioners who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars.
The church is still in use by the Opotiki faithful and retains many elements of its original design. In 1972, the Presbyterian Parish amalgamated with the Methodist Parish. To symbolise this union the church was renamed 'St Johns Union Church'. The main changes to the original building occurred four years later in 1976. These consisted of alterations to the porch area, including the removal of decorative elements around the gable, and the addition of seating at the rear of the nave. The church reaches its centenary in 2007, and remains an important religious centre in the Opotiki district.
Historical Significance or Value
The church is of considerable local significance for its connection with Reverend John Gow, the first official Presbyterian minister in the Opotiki district, and the person primarily responsible for the church's erection.
The building has architectural importance as an example of the work of Thomas Henry White, and its stained glass windows, which demonstrate a considerable mastery of painting techniques, add considerably to the church's aesthetic value. Prominently located on an intersection between two major streets, the church also has important landmark qualities.
St John's Church has strong spiritual significance as a long-standing place of worship. It is the centre of Presbyterian worship in the Opotiki district and, more recently, of the Methodist faith. As such, it is a continuing symbol of the strength of the faith in Opotiki.
The social esteem in which the church was, and still is, held by the community is demonstrated by its continuing use, and the addition of the memorial windows and plaques in the interior.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
St John's Church is associated with the development of the Presbyterian faith in New Zealand. It demonstrates the importance of religion to the early settler community and the size and style of the building provides insight into the nature of the community, which caused it to be constructed.
(e)The community association with, or public esteem for, the place:
The church is held in high esteem by the local community. This has been demonstrated by the continuing use of the building for almost a century, and the addition of memorial plaques and stained glass windows in the interior of the building.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The building is a significant Bay of Plenty example of the religious architecture of Thomas Henry White.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:
The church is a symbol of the development of the Presbyterian parish in the Opotiki area and its continuing strength for almost a century. It is also a centre of the Methodist faith in the region.
White, Thomas H.
White was born at Birmingham and was educated in there and in Paris before coming to New Zealand in 1863. He practised in Auckland during 1885-6 and was in practice in Hamilton by 1893. He was responsible for the design and construction of a concrete flour mill store at Ngaruawahia (1878), Firth Tower, Matamata (1881-82), the original Bank of New Zealand building, Hamilton (1882) and St John's Presbyterian Church (now Union), Opotiki (1907).
White was an architect of some regional importance and was a pioneer in concrete construction in the 1870s.
Ross & Purcell
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
O.G. Miller & Sons
Dunedin - Stained glass window manufacturers).
R.Miller - register number 806
Located on the corner of St John and King Street in Opotiki, St John's Church is approximately 22 metres by 9 metres, and is based on a 'T' shaped plan. At the rear a small lean-to was constructed to provide a back entrance into the church. A gabled extension on the King Street side also provided a side entrance. The front entrance was distinguished by a bell tower, and a verandah over the foyer. The verandah was modified in 1976 when the foyer was enlarged, and scalloped brackets were used to replace the original, decorative fretwork. Above the verandah was a grouping of three rectangular windows, similar to the ones used along the sidewalls of the church to light the interior. The interior was lined with vertical timber boards stained dark brown. The ceiling features exposed timber arches. At the rear of the nave is a loft with upstairs seating installed in 1976. The front of the church, above the altar, features three stained glass windows that were installed in memory of church members who fought and died in the First and Second World Wars. Under the windows, brass panels flanked by wooden crosses record the names of those who lost their lives during the wars.
Completed in 1947, the three windows are grouped together in a memorial triptych. The windows are lancets and feature cusped arches. The central window is the largest, and is tiered, consisting of at least two segments stacked on top of each other. The two other windows are identical in size, and flank the central window. The windows depict three images of Christ. The centre panel is the 'Risen Christ'. The left panel is 'The Good Shepherd', and the right panel is 'Christ, the Light of the World'. Naturalistic in style, the windows demonstrate a considerable mastery of painting techniques. Comparatively large pieces of stained glass were used to allow the leadlines to flow with the design, and allow the painted image to dominate over the construction technique. The glass is made in the traditional manner of mouth-blowing and flattening into a sheet. Although most of the background glasses are pot-metal, with colour that penetrates throughout the width of the glass, the remaining colour is flashed onto clear glass, leaving a thin layer of colour. Silver nitrate has been applied to parts of the window to give them a soft, gold tone.
First Presbyterian church constructed
Construction of second Presbyterian church commences (St John's Church)
Completion and installation of memorial stained glass windows, new communion tables, chairs, pulpit, and carpet installed
First church removed from site (new church hall constructed)
Church foyer enlarged and upstairs seating installed
Roof cladding replaced
Timber frame and cladding, with decra-bond roof tiles.
W. Comrie, Presbytery of Auckland; Early Days and Progress, Wellington, 1939
McCallion, A., Their Greatness: Tales of the Pioneers of the Eastern Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, 1956
Kingston Morrison, Opotiki District Council Built Heritage Assessment, Opotiki, 1997
St John's Presbyterian Church, 1928
St John's Presbyterian Church, Opotiki, jubilee souvenir, 1878-1928, Opotiki, 1928
St John's Union Church
St Johns Union Church - History, http://www.opotiki.com/stjohns/stjohns.htm
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.