Help needed to save historic church

By Christine McKay

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Solid: Reverend Dorothy King, left, and Tom Castles, in front of the church door complete with its original iron mongery and large key. 
Reporter: Christine McKay 
Photographer: Chris
Solid: Reverend Dorothy King, left, and Tom Castles, in front of the church door complete with its original iron mongery and large key. Reporter: Christine McKay Photographer: Chris

Ormondville's historic Church of the Epiphany has weathered wild winds, earthquakes, threats of closure and removal, but now, more than 130 years on, it remains a pivotal part of the community.

No longer is there talk of closure or removal, rather it's time to raise money and build.

"This old church creaks and groans in the wind, but is still standing and it's been the place of some wonderful celebrations over the years," Reverend Dorothy (Dot) King, priest associate of the CHB parish, said.

The Church of the Epiphany has a proud heritage back to the first meeting held on April 18, 1881, to discuss the building of a community church. Reverend E Robertshawe of Dannevirke delivered an address and appealed for funds with £54, 12 shillings and sixpence subscribed by those present. Others in the community offered building materials and a labour-only tender was called on November 21, 1881.

The completed church was consecrated by Bishop Stuart of the Waiapu Diocese in 1883, six months before the arrival of Reverend A S Webb, the first resident vicar, in 1884.

"I just love this church to bits. There's something special about it," Reverend King said.

And although the congregation has been dwindling the church won't be closing, Reverend King said.

"This congregation is passionate about the church, but they need to support it. Some of our farming families have a strong connection to the church and it's been loved and cared for," she said.

By 1891 church foundations had been stabilised against wind, the building was lined, the chancel, transepts and tower added with a large bell. It was described then as "one of the prettiest, if not the prettiest in Hawke's Bay".

It is still a beautiful sight today. The bell still rings, a massive key still unlocks the main door, the pews and linings of local timbers shine as they once did.

"These pews could tell plenty of stories," celebrant and church committee member Tom Castles said.

Now Mr Castles and fellow Ormondville resident Shane Storey are heading a committee to fundraise, as well as calling on residents to volunteer time.

"Like any public building now we need toilets," Mr Castles said. "If we had a toilet facility this would be a lovely place for weddings.

"Eight years ago we had a meeting here to discuss the fate of our church. Our community didn't want it turned into a hayshed or moved. There's an emotional tie to the church and district, even from those who have moved away. This church has its own aura, without being pretentious.

"However, if we want it maintained there's a cost involved."

Mr Castles said Tararua District Council have been very supportive of the church, but the Ormondville community and those with connections to it need to support it financially.

"We're competing with 12 other churches in this parish for money. We had a new roof put on years ago and the church is well maintained. We've other funding options, such as applying to the Eastern and Central Community Trust, but we want our community to take ownership too, so we're sending a newsletter out to all those on the RD7 and RD10 rural delivery routes."

Built of a combination of totara and matai, the church is sound, despite its 130 plus years.

"There's no borer and inside has been hand-carved. No one would make these pillars today," Mr Castles said.

The cost of work needed to install a toilet block wouldn't be huge, but a fund for ongoing maintenance needs to be established too.

"It's just a matter of twisting a few arms in the business community to help as well," Mr Castles said. "As time goes by churches like this could become multi-functional and a toilet block would give us options."

Services at Ormondville's Church of the Epiphany are held every third Sunday of the month, starting at 10.45am and there are still funerals and baptisms held, along with the occasional wedding.

"This place is so full of history," Mr Castles said. "Family names such as Charlton-Jones, and Halford resonate with us all. If Bert Halford wasn't here or at Norsewood for a Sunday
service something was wrong. He was either lambing a ewe or out on his tractor. This is a precious piece of our community."

Reverend King said the Anglican Church is known as "our patch".
"It has a rich history which needs to be preserved," she said.

■ If you can help with a donation of money or time to the Church of the Epiphany, contact Tom Castles on 06 374-1863 or Shane Storey on 06 374-1770.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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