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Early History

 Ref. Riddle Janet By Saddle to Pulpit
      Bithell Jenny Guide to the History of Whitianga

The possibility of erecting a small church for the exclusive use of religious services in Whitianga, was first discussed in December 1893. Eighteen months later, a piece of land was purchased for £15  from a Mr. Peacock, one of the former directors of the Mercury Bay Timber Company. 

By July 1897, good progress had been made. The puriri blocks were in, and the ground plates and flooring joists had been laid. The nogging for the roof, as well as the timber for the framing and roof trusses were on the ground, ready to erect.  All the inside woodwork was cut out at night by ‘working bees’ - local men in Leonard Lee’s  boatshed. The battens which covered the joins of the vertical weather boards were hand planed and grooved for weather proofing. By the end of the year, the building was ready to hold its first service.

Some pruning of the building had obviously taken place, because according to the Coromandel County news dated April 14th 1898, the completed building had the capacity for 180 people and was furnished to accommodate 120 - not the 200 that had first been planned. The windows were of the same design as those at the Kuaotunu church - long and narrow, curving into a point at the top. Pews had been purchased second hand from Auckland at  the cost of 10/- each. A bell weighing about 60 pounds was in place, over the front porch.

The church opened  27.3.1898 ‘...for worshippers of the Wesleyan, Presbyterian and Anglican beliefs. (Originally the proportions were, Anglicans 20%, Methodists 40%, Presbyterian 40%.) It was church policy in those early days, to charge the following for the use of the pews:
One sitting 5/-, two 10/-, three 13/-, four 16/-, five 18/-, six = whole pew £1. Eleven months later pew charges were dropped for a year, with the church free to ministers.

The first ministers were Rev. James Marshall and Archdeacon Maunsell. It was not an easy parish to minister as its base was in Coromandel. To reach Whitianga, ministers either had to walk or travel by horseback to Whitianga.  Riding time was three hours.
  Ministers continued to travel to Whitianga regularly, with lay preachers also filling the pulpit.

The Coromandel-Whitianga Presbyterian Parish expanded in size under Rev. T.A. Norrie who was inducted December 1897. Although officially retiring in 1924, he continued to serve an area that covered as far north as Port Jackson and south to Tairua, until his death in 1939. That continued to be the boundaries of the Coromandel-Whitianga Presbyterian Parish until 1997. Various ministers covered the whole region, but there were many short ministries and longer vacancies. Ministers continued to live in Coromandel until 1983.

Church Growth and Changes

In 1966, the Anglican congregation left to worship in their own church.

In 1977 it was suggested that the parish should be split. The work had become far too heavy with the expansion of the population of the Peninsula, particularly in the Mercury Bay region.

In 1982,  after a span of 110 years, Rev McKenzie became the first minister to be inducted in the Mercury Bay district. To house him, a property was purchased in Catherine Crescent. The Whitianga Ladies Guild worked tirelessly to help raise funds. One of their sources of funding was the Opportunity Shop. Another gift towards paying the amount owing, came from the McKay Memorial Trust. The mortgage was paid off in 10 years.

The manse mortgage discharge occurred in time for the Presbyterian Church's sesqui-celebration -   One hundred and fifty years of Presbyterianism in NZ - 23rd February 1840 - 23rd February 1990.

After this celebration, another major change occurred. The main entrance was moved from the front door to the side vestry where a ramp was built. All the furniture was reversed with the pulpit placed up in front of the former entrance. This was in preparation for an extension to be added at the back of the original building.

In 1997, the regional Presbytery and Synod decided to change the Parish boundaries. Coromandel in the North-West became part of Thames Union Parish. Tairua and Pauanui were removed and added to Whangamata to form Trinity United Parish. This left Mercury Bay standing alone, based on Whitianga but with Whenuakite as a regular additional 'preaching place'.

Interestingly, since 2002, Mercury Bay is the only Presbyterian Methodist parish on the Peninsula with a minister.

Services were held regularly at Whenuakite Hall until 2010, when TCDC closed and demolished the hall. Occasional services are held at Kuaotunu Hall, Coroglen Hall and Cooks Beach Hall

Mercury Bay Co-Operating Parish

1998 was the centennial year of the opening of the Undenominational Church. All the local churches joined to celebrate the beginnings of Christian worship in Mercury Bay. This was an opportune time to look towards the future. For some years now the Presbyterian and Methodist congregation had been asking for the Trust to be dissolved so that they could administer the building, and make the planned extensions.The amalgamation of these two congregations was made official with the formation of the Mercury Bay Co-operating Parish, and the church became St Andrew's By the Sea.

The new hall was added in 2002, and a fully equipped kitchen.