A showdown looms tomorrow, when defiant Ruatangata residents will hold a service in their local Pioneers Memorial Church which Methodists want to sell.
Ruatangata farmer Alan Agnew has arranged for a Sunday service to begin at 11.30am and says everyone is welcome, including members of the Methodist Church who claim ownership and ordered services to end at the historic church on Pipiwai Rd, north-west of Whangarei.
The Methodists put the Ruatangata church on the market after the building was deemed to be structurally unsound.
Residents Angela Low and Brian Attwood placed a caveat against the title opposing the sale, but the Methodist Church last month applied for it to be lifted, and Land Information NZ has advised the caveat could lapse on Wednesday unless further legal action is taken.
Locals do not want the church sold and are upset over not being consulted about the Methodist move.
The Methodist Church board claims its ownership of the church appeared to date from the 1860s when the site was "probably gifted" to the Thorburn family.
But the New Zealand Herald reported in 1867 that Parliamentary Council member John Munro, of Whangarei Heads, gifted the site for Ruatangata parishioners to erect a building to be used as a church and school.
Wesleyan minister John Smith, of Whangarei, had provided 15 for the church building project, local settlers chipped in 11 and labour and services in the new church began in 1868.
The wooden church was destroyed by fire in 1887 and replaced by the present concrete structure built by local residents in 1940, with ministers representing five denominations participating in the opening.
Mr Agnew said the Thorburn family had not arrived in the district until the early 20th century.
His parents were the first couple married in the church in 1940 and his children were the fifth generation of his family to attend services there.
"We have had Christian Fellowship services most weeks. Our church is overflowing with people for the Christmas carol service and Santa pops in," he said.
The Rev David Bush, from the Methodist Church headquarters in Christchurch, said yesterday his church was concerned about the earthquake stability of all its buildings and had expected the Ruatangata church to be sold by now.
He was unconcerned about the service planned tomorrow and was hoping the site ownership issue could be sorted soon.