A squabble has erupted over the ownership of a Waikato church burned down in July, with residents accusing the Presbyterian parish of taking the insurance money for itself.
An arson attack razed the Ngahinapouri Community Church on July 19 and residents of the tiny settlement southwest of Hamilton want to rebuild it as an all-purpose church next to the village school with money from the insurance.
But Ngahinapouri Community Church Trust chairman David Fullerton said he believed the Kaimai Presbytery had already negotiated a deal with the insurance company to receive a partial payout on the full replacement policy - something the presbytery denies.
Mr Fullerton said the presbytery could have secured as much as $400,000 in insurance, or about 75 per cent of the value of the original church which he believed would cost up to $650,000 to rebuild.
"My forebears gave generously to the church and I said to them [Kaimai Presbytery] it would be over my dead body that you just take the money from the district and disappear."
He said land was given by a Catholic family in the late 1940s with residents raised money to build the church in the 1960s.
When the money ran out, several farming families had contributed.
The church, where Mr Fullerton's brother was married, was inter-denominational. Though the church was run by the Presbyterian parish at Paterangi near Te Awamutu, Mr Fullerton said it wasn't until almost a year ago that title for the church was transferred to the Kaimai Presbytery.
"There was no input at all from the Presbyterian parish," he said.
"The locals paid the insurance and supplied the ministry and all the funds for running the church for many years. This is being looked upon by the locals as almost theft."
He will not go to a planned blessing of the church site on Sunday.
"I think it's an absolute insult to some of the older locals that we go and bless a site that they have stolen the heart out of.
"It's wrong that they can have it for so little time and just walk away with the money."
Another member of the trust, Brian Marcroft, said although he didn't believe the presbytery had done anything illegal, it was "not a very Christian attitude".
But Kaimai Presbytery moderator, Reverend Alistair McBride, said the parish had not decided yet whether the church would be rebuilt.
He said there had been no congregation at the settlement for years and he disputed the ownership history of the church.
"The land has been vested in the Presbyterian Church since 1947. It was sold to the Presbyterian Church."
Rev McBride said Kaimai Presbytery had been overseeing the church for at least two years but there was no worshipping community to keep services going in the past seven years.
He said some insurance money had already been paid, but it was only a small sum to allow for concept plans for a rebuild if that was what the presbytery decided.By Natalie Akoorie Email Natalie