Rawene's historic church on track for restoration

Rawene’s historic Methodist church has been reduced to its bare bones – or more accurately its bare timbers – as part of an ambitious programme of work that will see it restored and repurposed as an artist’s retreat.

Rawene's historic Methodist church
Work underway on Rawene’s historic Wesleyan church.expand/collapse

The kauri-clad church, which stands a stone’s throw from the character-rich town centre, has been a local landmark since it was built in 1876 and is listed as a Category 2 historic place on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.

“Many people will have seen that the church has had its paint removed and is standing rather exposed right now – but they can be reassured that this is only the first step in the restoration process,” says Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Manager, Bill Edwards.

“Besides having the advantage of removing all lead paint from the building safely, taking the building back to its original wood enabled the builders to identify rot in some of the timbers that may otherwise not have been found. The result will be a restoration that will set the building up well for another century.”

Decayed wood has since been replaced by kauri timber sourced from a mill in Northland – a reflection of the attention to detail that the owners of the building are taking with the restoration. Other features – like the distinctive belfry at the front of the building – are being restored, as well as elements like the church’s impressive turned wood finials which are over a metre long.

Among the different problems posed by a 145-year-old building, the steepness of the roof pitch is a particular challenge. Originally built for shingles, the angle of the roof will be an interesting issue to work around for builders, JD Builders – James Land, but they are confident that the finished result will do the historic building justice.

“Constructed at a cost of £160 by notable builder William Cook, the Wesleyan Church building has been a part of Rawene’s main street for decades – there are even photos of the church taken as early as 1898,” says Bill.

“Interestingly, the opening service was conducted in Te Reo Māori, reflecting the strong connection the Wesleyan Mission had with local Māori in what became the Hokianga circuit. It’s been a central part of the town’s streetscape over the years, and the good news is that it will continue to be.”

In the first few years of its existence, parishioners brought their own cushions, though fundraising efforts eventually resulted in pews – and a harmonium. Prior to the First World War, the building was the only purpose-built church in Rawene so it was used by people of all Protestant denominations reinforcing its social and other significance to the town.

Closed in 1974 as a result of the Anglican and Methodist communities combining to form the South Hokianga cooperating parish, the church building was used as an opportunity shop before being bought by current owners Linda Blincko and Lynn Lawton in 2014.

The project has received assistance from the National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund, which is administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The fund provides financial incentives to encourage the conservation of privately owned heritage places on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero.

"This is an exciting example of how a historic building which might otherwise be in danger of falling into disrepair and eventually being demolished, is being restored and repurposed while being respectful of its significant heritage values," says Bill.

"The result is that the Wesleyan Church building will continue to be a part of Rawene’s wonderful heritage streetscape for many years to come."

- John O'Hare