The Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship church received $1.8 million in the offering bag last year - an average of $138 a week for every adult who attended its services.

The church, which has now been linked with 43 Covid-19 cases including all six new cases reported yesterday, is under fire after Health Minister Chris Hipkins said some people in its cluster "don't accept or haven't previously accepted the science involved here".

Senior members of the church contacted by the Herald have all declined to comment, but the associated Bay Roskill Rugby League Club asked people "to not condemn them but be compassionate".

It emerged yesterday that police had been called in to break up a church prayer meeting last month that was in breach of level 3 lockdown restrictions.

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And a "sub cluster" of 22 new cases was sparked after a church member awaiting a Covid-19 test attended a bereavement event on August 27, infecting a string of others.

The trust's founding deed says the trust was founded "to foster Christian growth and spirituality according to the scriptures".

Dr Peter Lineham says the church appears to be
Dr Peter Lineham says the church appears to be "pretty fundamentalist, believing in the Bible very literally". Photo / Michael Craig

Former Massey University religious historian Dr Peter Lineham said the church appeared to be "pretty fundamentalist, believing in the Bible very literally".

He said reports that some church members had met during Auckland's level 3 lockdown "would be very compatible with the belief that the power of prayer needs to be tested".

Lineham said the trust's total income of $2.5m in the year to March 2019 was "a phenomenal amount" for a church which listed its average weekly adult attendance in the same year as 255.

As well as $1.8m from offerings, it received $617,000 in rental income from its former industrial property at 34C Stoddard Place, Mt Roskill, valued at $14.2m.

The church property at 34C Stoddard Place is valued at $14.2m. Photo / Alex Burton
The church property at 34C Stoddard Place is valued at $14.2m. Photo / Alex Burton

It spent $862,000 on "employees and volunteers", including $770,000 listed as remuneration for two "key management personnel" and six "close family member employees of board members".

Other expenses included $708,000 on "ministry and discipleship", $561,000 on property and $107,000 on administration.

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A source said the church comprised about 13 "cells", each with its own pastor. A majority of the congregation were Māori, but there was also a sizeable Pacific group as well as Pākehā and Asian members.

The decentralised church leadership along with its evangelical and "new age" beliefs had initially given contact tracing teams headaches.

"The contact tracing teams were not able to engage fully with the congregation, there seemed to have been some gatekeepers who wouldn't allow the teams in to try and get at everyone that was exposed," the source said.

That changed when Māori health teams were brought in from the Counties Manukau District Health Board.

Charities Office documents show that five of the original seven trustees who founded the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship Trust in 1995 were still trustees on March 31 last year: Senior Pastor Errol Montgomery Ngatai, John Henry, Glen Taka, Kelly Vogel and Robert Vogel.

Ngatai and Robert Vogel live in next-door flats at the same address in Hillsborough.

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When the Herald knocked on their doors yesterday, Vogel said the Ministry of Health had told the church not to comment. A woman at Ngatai's home also declined to comment.

Errol Montgomery Ngatai is the senior pastor of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship. Photo / Supplied
Errol Montgomery Ngatai is the senior pastor of the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship. Photo / Supplied

Taka said he had been tested for Covid six times. Asked about Hipkins's comment, he turned it round and said: "What would Trump say?"

Other church members said they had been retested or were being retested. One said the Ministry of Health aimed to retest everyone by Friday.

Others said they were keeping to small family bubbles and not attending congregations.

The Bay Roskill Rugby League Club released a statement: "MEF [Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship] are following the guidance of the public health services who have previously reported its gratitude for their help in providing their full support to identify contacts," the league club said.

"Members of the MEF have been associated with the Bay Roskill Rugby League for more than 20 years contributing though our game at all levels including players – Under 6 to Premiers, coach and management staff and administrators in our club.

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"As a club we took a proactive approach to notify our members on Wednesday August 26 following the public identification of the church.

"I encourage people not to condemn them but be compassionate during these uncertain times," she said.

Former Warrior Jerome Ropati, pictured with an image of the late Sonny Fai in 2017, is one of nine listed celebrants at the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship. Photo / Greg Bowker
Former Warrior Jerome Ropati, pictured with an image of the late Sonny Fai in 2017, is one of nine listed celebrants at the Mt Roskill Evangelical Fellowship. Photo / Greg Bowker

Former Warriors player Jerome Ropati, now a welfare and education coach for the Warriors and listed as a celebrant for the church, said: "We as a fellowship only make comments on what our leadership has made."

Another former Warriors player, Ben Henry, now the Warriors' wellbeing and education manager, said: "I don't have any comment to make. We are out in isolation."

Former Warriors player Ben Henry is one of the church members who are in isolation because of Covid-19. Photo / Dean Purcell
Former Warriors player Ben Henry is one of the church members who are in isolation because of Covid-19. Photo / Dean Purcell

Former director of public health Dr Collin Tukuitonga said it was hard to know if church members had been deliberately withholding information from contact tracers, but sending police in with contact trace teams "might drive people further underground".

"Appealing again to the church members to do the right thing, I think is a better strategy," he said.

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Dr Collin Tukuitonga says sending in police
Dr Collin Tukuitonga says sending in police "might drive people further underground". Photo / File

Tukuitonga said he suspected some in the public were losing patience.

"Some people are saying throw the book at them because people are getting a bit testy with information not being shared," he said.

"So I suspect the broader community would want people to be more forthcoming and to co-operate and participate in the contact-tracing activities."