Nearly three years ago, parishioners watched the flames rapidly engulfing St John's Church in disbelief as 12 fire crews battled the blaze. After a long wait the church now has plans for the vacant space. Cira Olivier reports.
A church bell, an old Bible and a set of communion cups.
That was all that remained when a church fire, which broke out on a Wednesday evening, was done burning.
Now, nearly three years after the blaze, designs for a new church can finally be revealed and St John's Church parishioners have something to look forward to.
On February 8, 2017, about 5.48pm, a fire broke out above the altar at the heart of St John's church.
As the fire ripped through the church parishioners stood clutching each other on the side of the road, watching.
Speculation the fire was deliberately lit was ruled out as a faulty fluorescent light was found to be the cause.
Since then, churchgoers have gathered at the Rotorua Club which has been rented out on Fenton St behind the Rydges Hotel.
But this week the church revealed plans for a new place of worship designed by parishioner Werner Naude who works at DCA Architects.
Naude has helped the rebuild committee design a new church building - the first church he has designed.
Blaze destroys sheds, caravans and single-storey home
'You don't look homeless': Not succumbing to the stigma
Rotorua's Armistice Day service in the Government Gardens
• St John's fire one year on: Church has rich history
• One year since fire: St John's working towards rebuild
• Community devastated by fire at St John's Church in Rotorua
• New church to be built on burnt out St John's site
"It's like a village," he said. "There's place to worship, place to withdraw, place to eat, place to work."
A hub with glazed windows will be at the centre of the building, which will be accessed from Ranolf St.
Everything in the building will flow from the hub, from the cafe holding the salvaged church bell to the place to worship.
"It's designed to be flexibly used ... and give people, not necessarily Christians, a chance to enter into a church in a non-overbearing environment."
Everything was designed with a purpose, from the brick to reference the old church to the modest size to not feel imposing or excluding.
With a cafe, half-basketball court, and community centre, the new building could be used by anyone, Naude said.
The bell was salvaged and would sit in the cafe as a nod to the past in a building which looked to the future.
Timber was also saved and would be used in the interior.
"The opportunity to work on a church is once in a lifetime," Naude said.
People do not like change, but Naude said the committee was bold - which was refreshing.
Naude could not reveal the cost of the build as the church was still negotiating the replacement cost with insurers.
He confirmed the rebuild would be funded by the insurance payout plus the church's reserves and generous donations.
St John's Rotorua church building committee co-chairwoman Cathy Cooney said the committee was not only looking at rebuilding what was lost but creating something for those to come.
The committee had been working for 18 months towards what Cooney said was the "right design for the future".
"A big part of how we've looked to design this building is a facility for the community of Rotorua," she said.
While it was a relief to have the design complete, it was not without challenges. The budget meant big dreams needed to be scaled back throughout the process.
Building is expected to begin next year.
The church has been on the corner of Ranolf and Victoria Sts since 1989 but has a history which spans more than 120 years.
The first Presbyterian ministers came to Rotorua 11 years after it was first declared a township in 1881.
At that time services were held in public halls or hotels, ministers standing on billiard tables to be seen and heard.
Rotorua's first St John's Presbyterian was built in 1896 on Pukuatua St, between Amohia and Tutanekai Sts, now the site of the Ministry of Social Development.
In January 1954 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended a morning service at the church during their first visit to New Zealand.
In 1989, when the parish had outgrown the small building and the land on Pukuatua St had become highly sought after, they moved to what then Minister Lance Thomas, described as the "beautifully designed building" on the corner of Victoria and Ranolf Sts.
In its new venue the church was able to host a congregation of more than 350.
The old bell was refurbished and hung from the belfry, which was detached from the church and remains standing.
Following the fire only three elements of the original church and very little of the new were able to be salvaged. Along with the bell, an old Bible and the communion cups were able to be saved.