A long-running dispute at an Auckland Samoan church has boiled over into the public arena with dissident elders alleging an abuse of power by church ministers.

The elders walked out of the Westmere Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in 2006 after police were called to break up what a judge described as "a physical altercation" outside the church in Francis St, Grey Lynn.

They allege that the minister, the Rev Vagatai Va'aelua, was "aggressive and stubborn", borrowed $35,000 from the wider church without telling the elders, and later borrowed a further $65,000 from the wider church to buy a Toyota Prado Land Cruiser.

Four senior ministers from the church's Auckland region wrote to the elders on July 8 asking to meet them on July 24 to pass on a resolution about the dispute passed by an assembly of the mother church in Samoa.

But lawyer Olinda Woodroffe has written back on the elders' behalf, saying the senior ministers' letter was condescending, bullying and manipulative so the elders were not prepared to meet them.

"Abuse of power by church ministers must stop," she wrote.

The chairman of the senior ministers, the Rev Maligi Evile, said the ministers' letter, written in Samoan, was not bullying.

"The letter is just asking in a very fatherly way and a very gentle way if we can meet with the other people," he said.

Both sides have run up huge legal bills in a case in which each side sued the other in the High Court last year.

Mrs Woodroffe said she had been told that the mother church had paid $40,000 for Mr Va'aelua's lawyers, while the elders were still paying her fees "in dribs and drabs".

Justice Pamela Andrews ruled in December that one of the dissident elders who was a founder of the church in 1982, 74-year-old Tuasa Ma'i, was the church's sole surviving legally appointed trustee.

But she refused the elders' application to liquidate the trust, partly on the grounds of the two allegedly unauthorised loans to Mr Va'aelua, and divide the assets between the two groups. The church property is valued at $1.39 million.

Instead she decided to appoint an independent trustee to resolve the dispute. The matter is back before the court because the two sides have been unable to agree on the trustee's terms of appointment.

Another founder of the church, Tugalua Su'a Mene, 64, said the dissident elders represented 21 of the 36 extended families who attended the church before the split, and they were not willing to give up because they endured years of financial hardship to buy the church property.

"I feel sorry for some of our children because we put money into the church instead of their school activities. It's awful - they missed out on trips and so forth," he said.

Mr Va'aelua referred inquiries to his lawyer, Simativa Perese.

Mr Perese said Justice Andrews had directed the two sides to talk to each other rather than "making public allegations against each other" through the media.