A group of Ruatangata residents is up in arms that the Methodist Church is selling the historic Ruatangata Pioneers' Memorial Church.
The locals say the church was built using residents' labour and money and was meant for the permanent good of the whole community.
The Board of Administration of the Methodist Church in New Zealand has put the church in Pipiwai Rd, about 19km northwest of Whangarei, on the market after the building was deemed structurally unsound. The property is due to go to auction on November 20.
The Church board, based in Christchurch, said the Methodist Church ownership of the site appeared to date from the 1860s when the section was "probably gifted" to the Thorburn family and the Church had held title over the property since 1932.
The board said no trust was operating in favour of another group when it came to control of the property, but it conceded timing of the marketing of the property for sale could have been handled more sensitively.
However, some locals are outraged by the sale and are threatening legal action to stop it going ahead.
More than 20 residents met in the nearby Ruatangata Hall on Tuesday night to work out their opposition to the sale, with Elfreda Berryman - who's grandfather Frank Yates contributed to building the church - saying the group would do what it could to stop the sale and had already engaged a lawyer to look at options, including legal action.
Mrs Berryman said the group believed the church was owned by a community trust until 2000, when the Methodist Church took over the title.
The original church was built in 1867, but it burned down in 1887. The present church was built in the late 1930s and opened in 1940 and she said the land was donated by a local and the church built by locals, with the understanding that the property would always be there for use by locals. "But somehow the Church has got ownership and is now selling it. The first we knew it was for sale was a few weeks ago a sign went up there," Mrs Berryman said.
"At first we thought it was a sign put up by somebody seeking election (in the local body elections), but then saw it was for sale and were are pretty upset about it."
She said the group felt it was wrong that something that had been given by locals for use by locals could now be sold without any input from the community.
But Greg Wright, executive director of the Methodist Church in New Zealand said he considered the Church was within its rights in dealing with the property as it determined, but said if the concerned locals had legal documents that could prove otherwise he would be keen to see the information.
"The use of the property by other denominations was a courtesy extended by the Methodist Church of NZ to recognise the assistance of the local community in the construction of the church in the 1930s," Mr Wright said.
"The availability of the church for services was subject to the agreement of the Methodist Church of NZ."
The maintenance of the church had not been kept up and the building was in a state of significant disrepair, showing evidence of structural frailty. "We understand that the building is unlikely to meet the threshold for seismic strength of 34 per cent of new building standard and accordingly will be found to be earthquake prone," Mr Wright said.