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