When St John's Church Matarawa first opened its doors on April 15, 1866, more than 100 people came from far and wide to attend.

Yesterday more than 100 people came from far and wide to celebrate the church's 150th anniversary.

And while the mode of transport may have been different - cars instead of horses - the sense of community remains the same for this small church near Fordell.

The celebrations began with a church service at St John's, led by the Bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth. So many people attended that they couldn't fit in the church and listened to the service from a marquee erected in the church grounds.

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That was followed by a lunch and plenty of reminiscing at Fordell Hall in the afternoon.

Maureen Naldrett-Jays from Friends of St John's Matarawa said the 150th anniversary was an important event.

"It is a reunion of families in the area that have connections to St John's. We have some families here who have connections stretching back four generations."

Missionary Richard Taylor, based at Putiki, was the driving force behind getting St John's built. Before that, church services were held in Thomas McWilliam's barn, and settlers would congregate from all around the district for the services.

Mrs Naldrett-Jays said in the early days all the Protestant denominations worshipped together, a tradition that has continued today, even though St John's is now officially an Anglican church.

"Sometimes the service would be led by an Anglican; sometimes by a Presbyterian and sometimes by a Wesleyan. They were remarkably tolerant of each other."

The graveyard attached to the church also dates back to 1866. The first person to be buried there was the 12-year-old daughter of a local farmer.

The current church is not the original, but was erected 108 years ago.

Mrs Naldrett-Jays said the Friends of St John's Matarawa made sure the church was looked after, and helped provide special touches such as seat cushions and the silver chalice.

Church services are held at St John's Matarawa every second Sunday as well as important feast days such as Easter and Christmas.