Historical Significance or Value
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) has historical significance for its connections with the growth of Aria, initially created as a special settlement in the early twentieth century, before and after the First World War. The creation of the place reflects the importance of religion to these settlers and the scale of settlement in the district which was able to support multiple churches. The place is the only remaining European church at Aria of the three separate denomination churches built in the first decades of the settlement.
The place also has historical significance for the way in which it reflects the changing religious attitudes of small communities over the twentieth century. While originally constructed for a single denomination, St Barnabas’ Church has been in use by a combined protestant congregation for nearly half its existence and demonstrates the way in which Christian communities pragmatically responded to declining numbers of parishioners in the later twentieth century.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) is prominently sited on a rise, overlooking the small settlement at Aria. The place has aesthetic significance as a picturesque place in which the unpretentious building stands out from the surrounding rural landscape and conveys its ecclesiastical purpose. The church is the southernmost building of the township and, fronting the main highway, is a local landmark at the border of the township and surrounding rural farmland.
Architectural Significance or Value
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) has architectural significance as a well-preserved example of a simple rural Gothic Revival church with a largely intact, entirely timber lined interior. The significance is enhanced by the retention of the original furniture that still remains in the church.
Social Significance or Value
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) has played a significant role in the social life of Aria since its creation. It has been in regular use by the Christian community of Aria and the surrounding district for nearly a century for regular worship and other religious events. The place is also valued by the wider community in the Aria district who, when the place was threatened with demolition, successfully rallied to save and restore the place which is still in ongoing use today.
Spiritual Significance or Value
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) has spiritual significance as a place where the Christian community of Aria and the surrounding district have worshipped for nearly a century. The place has particular associations with the Anglican Church but has also been a place of worship for Presbyterians and Methodists since 1975.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 2 historic place. It was assessed against all criteria, and found to qualify under the following: a, e, f, and k.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
With the ongoing establishment of Pākehā settlements across New Zealand in the early twentieth century, the creation of St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) is representative of the associated expansion of religious activity in these communities. While the place was built after the peak of religious construction in rural communities, it reflects the increased need for pastoral care in growing communities which led to the formation of the Waikato-Taranaki Diocese, which included Aria, in 1926. The place also reflects the decline in church attendance and religious observance in the later years of the twentieth century as it became part of a co-operative parish and remains the only surviving Pākehā church of three built at Aria.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The creation of St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) was funded by the community and the place has continued to be of importance to the community for nearly a century. The place is associated with Kathleen Reeve-Smith who received an MBE for her services to the community. Reeve-Smith was an influential member of the St Barnabas’ congregation who, as well as supporting the day-to-day running of the church, was a member of the central vestry which managed the church and provision of pastoral care in the wider district.
The community of Aria and the surrounding district have demonstrated their esteem for the place in their successful efforts to restore the place when it was threatened with demolition in the early 1990s and the ongoing maintenance of the place in the present. The place also remains in regular use for worship by its congregation to the present.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) has significance for the extent to which it has the potential for public education about inter-war church design and function. The church is a very well-preserved example of a rural Gothic Revival timber church which remains largely unchanged since its creation, particularly its well-preserved timber lined interior. The place also contains original furniture and minute books associated with the Anglican and Presbyterian Ladies guilds from the mid-twentieth century which can provide information about the operation of the church. As a place that is still in regular use for services, the place is accessible to the public.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural area
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) is an important part of the local historical landscape of Aria. The place is one of a small number of public buildings that remain in the small settlement along with the former Aria post office, original Aria school building, and Aria hall.
Aria lies within the traditional rohe of the iwi Ngāti Maniapoto. The region was heavily forested with rivers and other waterways being prominent features and was traditionally known as Te Nehenehenui, the great forest. Archaeological records identify a number of pā sites in the area around Aria, particularly concentrated around the Mōkau River. Wāhi Tapu sites identified by Ngāti Maniapoto in the wider landscape around Aria include Wairere and Rangikōhua. Hapū who occupied the area in 1840 included Ngāti Te Paemate and Ngāti Waiora. Following the New Zealand Wars and the battle of Ōrākau in 1864, the Kīngitanga, led by King Tāwhiao, were forced to retreat into Maniapoto territory. The region was closed to Pākehā and the Crown, including all surveying, between 1866 and 1883 and became known as Te Rohe Pōtae, King Country.
From the early 1890s Crown land agents, facilitated by the Native Land Court, aggressively acquired land in Te Rohe Pōtae. The Crown established settlements under the Improved Farm Settlement Act 1894 along the planned future routes of the North Island Main Trunk railway, including Aria in 1903. Most of the early settlers at Aria were single men who had formerly been employed by the Public Works Department to work on the railway. By 1913 the township was well established with “three stores, two large boarding houses, two billiard rooms”, a school, saleyards and a cooperative dairy company as well as a number of dwellings and farms around the village.
Christianity at Aria
Missionaries had first travelled to Te Nehenehenui in the 1830s where they had established a number of mission stations before leaving due to the rising hostilities between Māori and Pākehā and subsequent outbreak of war. Christianity remained influential in Te Rohe Pōtae during the later nineteenth century. King Tāwhiao established Tariao, subsequently known as Pai Mārire in 1875 and also invited Heta Tarawhiti to establish an Anglican mission in Te Rohe Pōtae in 1877. As European settlements became established by the early twentieth century, the Anglican Church of New Zealand formed new parishes and parochial districts to minister pastoral care to these growing communities. In the earliest years of the Aria settlement Anglican pastoral care was provided by the vicar of Te Awamutu. In 1910 Aria was included in the newly constituted Te Kuiti Parochial District with its first official service on 1 October 1911. The following year saw the Auckland Diocese appoint a stipendiary lay reader for Aria and Piopio and purchase land at Aria for an Anglican church. This would be the third church in the area joining Hato Hohepa built 1907 and a Catholic church built 1910, and a Presbyterian church would also be constructed at the settlement.
Creation of St Barnabas’ Church
While the original site for the church was reportedly intended to be near the centre of the town, the congregation – in particular A J Keighley – felt the church should be on higher ground overlooking the settlement. In 1917, Sec 2 Suburbs of Aria, a four acre section immediately south of the smaller town sections, was transferred to the Auckland Standing Committee Trust Board on behalf of the Anglican Diocese. The early planning for the new church had been interrupted by the First World War during which time many of the young men from the district left to serve overseas, including 50 from Aria alone. In 1919, after Bishop Averill visited Aria to perform the first confirmations and consecrate the Anglican portion of the cemetery, planning for the church resumed and a small Gothic Revival church building was subsequently designed by C. Palmer of Auckland. Over the next two years the congregation raised £430 for construction of the church meaning that it was debt free upon opening. In January 1923 the church committee accepted a tender from Arthur Buckman who had just completed building a church hall in Piopio. The foundation stone was laid on 27 February 1923 by Bishop Averill and the completed church was consecrated a year later on 19 February 1924.
The Church was built from tōtara and heart rimu timber and was large enough for 70 parishioners. It was aligned on an east-west axis with a belfry, a porch at the western end and a large gothic window in the eastern wall. Like many rural churches, it had a relatively simple exterior with vertical board and batten cladding, incorporating gothic features such as a steeply pitched roof and four lancet windows on each side. Internally the church was vertically lined with 10ft oiled rimu timbers and had a dais at the eastern end at the top of three wide steps with the communion rail recessed on the second step. The church featured restrained decoration with shaped timber rafter brackets and prominent timber architraves around each window. Under the supervision of F. Elwood Buckman also made the seats and fitting for the church. Gothic Revival architecture was an important architectural style in colonial New Zealand and was commonly used for Anglican churches although use of the style waned after the nineteenth century. In the post-war period fewer Pākehā churches were being constructed as communities turned to building war memorials making St Barnabas one of a smaller number of churches dating from this period.
The first service in St Barnabas’ was held the evening immediately following its opening with an address from the Bishop and eight confirmations. The church was soon in regular use for Sunday and mid-week services, weddings, baptisms, confirmation classes and funerals.
Parochial District of Piopio cum Aria (1927-1972)
By 1926 the growing number of parishes and districts in the Auckland Diocese had become administratively unwieldly and the Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki was established. St Barnabas formed part of the new Diocese and in also became part of the newly constituted Parochial District of Piopio cum Aria in August 1927. The district was run by a central vestry based in Piopio with members from both St Barnabas in Aria and St Albans in Piopio, however St Barnabas maintained a degree of independence and ran their church with as little input from Piopio as they could. One of the longstanding Aria members of the vestry was Kathleen Reeve-Smith who received a M.B.E. in 1967 ‘for community services for many years’. As well as assisting the priest in charge with the day to day running of St Barnabas, Reeve smith hosted vestry meetings at her home and, after many years representing Aria both locally and at Anglican synods, resigned from the vestry in 1972. She was later described as exerting ‘more influence on the parish than any other single lay person’. Her community service also included being on the Waikato Hospital Board and in the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers.
The church often struggled to raise sufficient funds as the population of the district rose and fell between the 1920s and 1970s. The Aria Ladies Guild was an important source of fundraising for the church and the guilds in both towns were vital in keeping the parochial district solvent although the district was financially supported by the Diocese during the Second World War. Some money was also raised by renting out the large paddock around St Barnabas to local farmers. The services at St Barnabas’ were said to be well attended during the 1950s with a small but constant congregation and it was said to be the stronger part of the parish. The planned branch of the North Island Main Trunk Railway that had been intended to run through the Aria district which would have turned the dairying settlement into a service town had not eventuated and many families moved away to other centres. Returned servicemen were heavily involved in the running of the district and worked during the 1950s to preserve the parochial district which was renamed in 1958 to the Parochial District of Piopio-Aria.
From the 1950s the St Barnabas congregation undertook a number of alterations of the church. In 1953 a vestry was added to the western side of the church. The extension was paid for from funds raised locally. A heating point was added in 1956 and in October 1958 a working bee was held to create a carpark by the road in front of the church and plant shrubs around the building. Also during 1958, the ladies guild made new hangings for the chancel and needlework for the altar, prayer desk, lectern, and bookmarkers were made by Mrs Jannet. In 1960 a concrete path was laid from the gate to the porch and the church roof was painted and the belfry was removed. Olga Weeks, a member of the congregation painted and gifted to St Barnabas an oil painting recreation of William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World. After discussion with the Diocese, the painting was blessed and placed on the west wall of the church in December 1961 although the committee originally wanted to hang it by the altar. In October 1966 the most substantial changes to the building interior were completed with the widening of the doorway from the porch into the church and additions of new bookshelves in the porch to create space for an additional row of seating.
Cooperating Parish of Piopio-Aria-Mokau (1975 – twenty-first century)
On Whitsunday in 1966, in a sign of changes to come, Presbyterian and Methodist congregations of Aria joined the St Barnabas congregation for their first combined service. Reverend John Spear encouraged cooperation with the other Protestant denominations due to low congregation numbers and by 1975 it had been noted that the ‘people of the district’ were ‘combined in every way except worship. On 1 July 1975 the Cooperating Parish of Piopio-Aria was formally established with combined services for the different Christian denominations. The formation of a cooperating parishes pooled church resources which supported the ongoing provision of pastoral care for small communities. The parish expanded to take in the Mission District of Mōkau in 1981. While St Barnabas’ maintained a regular congregation in the cooperating parish, service times were changed and the frequency of services was reduced in efforts to increase church attendance at Aria however these were reported to be unsuccessful.
Restoration of St Barnabas
While some maintenance of St Barnabas continued with some painting of the church and gardening including new planting being recorded in 1982, other maintenance issues were deferred. The congregation turned down the offer to expand the building with portions from the recently replaced St Albans church building in 1984 and, with a congregation of 10 regular worshipers a decade later, there were concerns that sufficient funds couldn’t be raised for the necessary repair works. Consequently, a recommendation was sent to the Parish Council that ‘serious consideration be given to the closure of St Barnabas’ church and it’s removal’ in 1994.
In the face of the imminent closure of the church, the wider Aria community rallied to save the place and formed the St Barnabas Restoration Committee. The committee contacted all householders in the district who then pledged $2,730 as well as cement, timber, voluntary labour as well as further offers of fundraising support. In light of the wider community’s efforts, the Parish Council gave their blessing for the restoration of the building. Fundraising methods included bake sales, an annual raft race on Mōkau River, and garden bus tours with commentary on the history of Aria. With the success of these events the church was able to be repiled and repainting within two years and the church roof was replaced in 2004. In 2019 a small kitchenette was added to the vestry in the porch, an outdoor portable toilet and water tank were added on the south side of the porch and continued maintenance such as replacing rotten timbers was carried out.
St Barnabas’ Church (Anglican) is located in Aria, a small settlement south of Piopio in the King Country. The town contains a small number of residences and some public buildings that were also constructed in the first decades of the settlement including Aria Post Office (built 1907), the original Aria school building (opened 1908), and Aria Hall (opened 1928). The church site is located at the south edge of the town, fronting the main road on its east boundary. The site is surrounded by rural farm paddocks to the south and west.
St Barnabas is located on a rectangular/square piece of land that forms part of the larger four acre section. The building is located in the south-west corner of the site which is fenced with a chain-link fence on the east side and a post and wire fence on the other sides. The entrance way is in the north east corner with a pair of iron gates with timber posts and a small piece of timber fence which holds the church sign. The site is mainly in grass and a brick path runs from the gate towards the west before turning left to run to the porch. The site has a large magnolia tree and hydrangeas on the northern boundary and there is also another magnolia east of the building. On the south side of the porch is a portable toilet and a water tank.
The church building is a well-preserved example of a simple Gothic Revival church which has had few modifications. The building has vertical board and batten timber cladding with some horizontal timbers around the base of the church, and a corrugated iron gabled roof. The roof on the church is steeply pitched while the roof on the porch is lower. The north and south sides of the church each have four equally spaced two-pane lancet windows with protruding sills. A pair of lancet windows are also located in the gable on the east elevation. This elevation also contains a cross finial at the top of the gable and some evidence of cuts in the vertical timbers below the windows. A gable ventilator is located in the western gable of the church. The porch is approached up a set of concrete steps at the end of the brick path on the north side and a second door is located directly opposite on the other side of the porch. To the west of each door is a single casement window on each side. Under the northern porch window is a counter. The foundation stone is set into the wall east of the porch steps and some of the horizontal timbers have been replaced.
Internally the building is comprised of three spaces with the porch divided into a central entranceway and a vestry in the westernmost part of the building, and a single large church space on the east side. The church layout is largely unmodified since the mid-twentieth century with the nave being on the same level as the porch and being entered through a centre doorway and the chancel being raised slightly on three stepped platforms. The doorway has been widened on the south side. The Church and the entrance are both timber lined with vertical heart of rimu timbers to roof height and timber lined ceiling open to gable height while the vestry has wallpapered walls and a plasterboard ceiling. In the main church there is some carpet down the aisle between the pews to the chancel and some further carpet in the chancel. The floor is mainly tongue and groove floorboards which run east to west in the porch and the nave, and north to south on the raised chancel platforms. The skirtings are all narrow timber pieces and the architraves are similar with prominent window architraves surrounding the lancet windows. In the church the roof has three straps between the rafters and an additional steel tie rod attached to the centre straps. Each rafter has a shaped rafter bracket which forms part of the restrained decoration of the church.
In the church on either side of the chancel there is a hymn board and a reading board fixed to the walls. Furniture in the church includes: twelve pews each with two three-space communion cup holders; seven kneelers; piano and stool; baptismal font with plaque dated 1951; altar; celebrant chair; table; and lectern. Other items include: a silver cross; three candle sticks; two silver vases and a ceramic vase; painting, curtains; hymn book presented to church by Mr and Mrs H.E. Taylor – July 27 1950; Illustrated Bible undated.
The entranceway incorporates three small bookshelves and an offertory box. There are several hymn books and bibles as well as the current service book with records starting in 1975. Other items include an offertory plate and a bible rest with plaque from 1952 confirmation group. In the vestry is a recently added kitchenette with bench, sink and cupboards. The western wall is lined with floor to ceiling cupboards which hold additional church hangings and books which include Aria Ladies Guild cash book for the first years of the church 1924 to 1929, minute books for the Anglican guild between 1964 and 1975, and the cooperative guild minutes between 1975 and 1985.
1923 - 1924
1923 Foundation stone laid; construction of church; 1924 Consecration of Church
Heating point added
Planting around church; new hanging for chancel
Concrete path laid, belfry removed, roof painted
Doorway widened, bookshelves added to porch
Repiling and repainting
Kitchenette, water tank, portable toilet, and counter added
Timber – Rimu (exterior)
Timber – Tōtara (interior)
10th July 2020
Report Written By
Peter Wood, Great Was Their Faithfulness: A History of the Anglican Church in the Piopio-Aria-Mahoenui District 1906-1975, Piopio, 1998.
King Country Chronicle
King Country Chronicle
27 March 1924, p. 7.
Cooperating Parish of Pio Pio – Aria and the Mission District of Mokau, Link, Piopio, Mar 1984.
Aria Schools and District 75th Jubilee 1908-1983
Aria School, Aria Schools and District 75th Jubilee 1908-1983, Aria, 1983.
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