Dunedin Methodist Parish
From The Sunday School's 75th Anniversary Celebration
The Mornington Sunday School - 75 Years
You go where?
Congregations (Some of this information is rather out-of-date)
Methodism came to the Dunedin area with the arrival of James Watkin, a Wesleyan missionary, whose headquarters were situated at Waikouaiti, 40 km to the north on the coast. The missionary's area of responsibility covered the Maori settlements from Akaroa Peninsula to Riverton. The mission lasted from 1840 till 1859 and regular visits were made to the Otago harbour, firstly to the principal Maori kaik at Otakou, and to Dunedin itself after the arrival of the settlers in 1848.
In the predominantly Free Church settlement there were few Methodists, but worship was organised by the few who came, in a variety of settings, from the beginning. A particular group of able leaders at Port Chalmers initiated the first Methodist building project in 1855, and the arrival in 1862 of the Rev'd Isaac Harding, the first minister to be appointed to Dunedin, initiated a period of substantial growth.
A city church was opened by the end of Harding's first year and worship was begun in a number of places around the town. He was an indefatigable traveller as well, throughout the whole of Otago, in Oamaru and other parts of North Otago, with the miners in Maniatoto, Wakatipu, Dunstan, Teviot, and Lawrence gold-fields, and in the country farming centres of Milton and Balclutha.
Within a decade or so there was regular Sunday worship in Wesleyan churches to be found at Trinity Church in the heart of the city just above the Octagon, at Port Chalmers, Mornington, and at Broad Bay on the Peninsula. As well there were less formal services of worship held in the homes of devout Methodists.
English Methodism had, much earlier in the century, split into a number of disparate and sometimes competing bodies who, nevertheless, all claimed allegiance to the teaching and evangelical example of John Wesley. In the 1870's one of these bodies, the Primitive Methodists, developed their work in Dunedin and were able to maintain a resident minister. Partly because of the competition, there was a remarkable growth in Methodist buildings and presence throughout the remaining years of the century and in the decade prior to the outbreak of the 1914-1918 War.
At that point, which coincided with the re-union of the Primitive Methodists and the Wesleyans, there were ten Circuits with 22 church buildings and two other preaching places; 15 ministers and one Home Missionary; and 9 Sunday Schools. There was a total membership of 1627 and the Sunday Schools catered for 1445 pupils.
The effects of the war were profound. The Rolls of Honour which most churches put up on their walls are a stark reminder of the huge loss of life of young men. At a deeper level that war changed attitudes permanently, and this change was cemented by the even greater and closer impact of the 1939-1945 World War. The secularisation of society accelerated in pace and church life moved towards the periphery, its message and its methods scarcely keeping up with the times.
Statistically Methodism through the inter-war period remained fairly static. The commitment of the people called Methodist, however, remained at a high level and the Church was able to maintain its now traditional presence despite a 25% decline in membership by 1950. By that time, however, the development of cooperative ventures, most commonly with the Presbyterian Church, meant that Methodism was no longer looking for new areas of outreach. There has not, in fact, been a new solely Methodist cause established in Dunedin for nearly 50 years.
Such were the effects of the Church Union movement that in the late 1970's it became perfectly clear that Methodism would survive only in the longer established congregations. A considerable amount of retrenchment took place around that time and resulted in a good deal of heart-searching as old-established causes lost their identity on being absorbed into union parishes. What now remain are seven congregations, all of them with long links with their own particular communities but serving fewer and fewer and more senior folk.
These congregations are, firstly, Glenaven, at the southern end of North East Valley. The present church is 90 years old, and is well placed to serve the needs of tertiary students who live to the north of the campus area. In the heart of the city is, secondly, Trinity Hall, the successor to both the Dunedin Central Mission Hall congregation and the former Trinity Church in Stuart St. Trinity Hall is part of the mission's Octagon building.
Of the many former hill suburbs societies only Mornington remains, on the site it has occupied since 1876. The present church is the third such building, and as has been the case throughout its history Mornington has provided both leadership and example to Dunedin Methodism. On the flat area of South Dunedin there has always been a strong Methodist presence, both Wesleyan and Primitive. The Dunedin South congregation worship in the brick church which was built in 1895. This particular congregation, however, is made up of two groups as it were - the long-established palagi membership, and the new and growing Tongan Methodist Fellowship. Nearer the sea is the St Kilda church, also of brick, and now 90 years old. Its numbers are small but it is in a strategically significant position.
On the Otago Peninsula is the Broad Bay congregation, worshipping on a site which has seen Methodist worship since the late 1860's. The building is relatively new, and the congregation has a clear understanding of itself as a 'community church' opening itself and its worship to any from that area who wish to identify with its liberal and welcoming fellowship.
Finally there is the continuing Methodist presence in Mosgiel. Its roots were established in the 1880's, and despite many vicissitudes the society has remained alive and vital. The upper Taieri area is becoming a popular place for retirement, and the congregation has also warmly welcomed older folk who have moved there especially from city churches.
Mention must also be made of the Dunedin Methodist Mission. The Mission was founded in 1890 to serve the needs of the inner-city poor. Its heart was its Sunday evening worship service at the Mission Hall in the Octagon (now demolished). Later, in response to the growing poverty of the Depression years, the Mission branched out in a number of ways, firstly into a health camp at Company Bay. When that activity was taken over by the state the Mission operated a hospital and rest home for the elderly, firstly at Company Bay and latterly at Mosgiel. This operation has now come to an end. The Mission also undertook extensive relief work during the Depression, and in partnership with the Anglican Church is still involved in this activity. Another long-standing commitment is to the day-care and nurture of pre-school children, based on an extensive operation next to the Dunedin South Methodist Church.
To serve the needs of Dunedin Methodism there is, therefore, a group of well-placed church sites. Regular Sunday worship and other weekday activities continue. Five ministers, two of them full-time, have responsibility for the preaching and pastoral care of these seven congregations. Each in its own fashion seeks to continue in the Methodist way, emphasising some of the marks of John Wesley himself - in music, in warm personal fellowship, and accepting people in, to use John Wesley's own words, a 'catholic spirit.' "Is your heart true to mine, as my heart is to yours? . . . If so, give me your hand."
Around 1989 our parish went through the process of deciding on a recommendation for a new ministry appointment, and chose to ask Conference to appoint the Revd David Bromell. A former Baptist minister, David was giving outstanding voluntary service in our Glenaven congregation, while undertaking advanced theological studies that would in due course bring him a doctorate. Over a long period the Methodist Church of NZ had discussed the need for homosexual law reform, and had made liberal statements on the issue. However, our proposal resulted in heated controversy, both within the parish, and in the wider church. The Parish Meeting (our ruling body) was firm in David's support, but gave assurance that no particular congregation would have ministry imposed upon it that it was not ready to accept.
Conference found itself too divided to receive David into full standing as a Methodist minister, but it was possible to make the appointment to Dunedin on a 'supply' basis. The parish lost some members and gained others through this period of turmoil. The great majority remained with us, and we all made considerable efforts to respect diverse viewpoints.
After a few years David decided to move into secular employment. However he has recently (1996) accepted the invitation to give a 'supply' ministry to the Durham Street Methodist congregation in central Christchurch. The other interesting development is that Parliament has now passed a law prohibiting discrimination in employment, that is based on sexual orientation. The Methodist Conference has taken note of this, and has said it will work within the spirit of this law.
Postscript: In 1997, the bicultural nominating committee decided to recommend David's appointment as Superintendent of the Christchurch Methodist Mission, as well as minister of the Durham Street Church. This would require confirmation at the Annual Conference in November, preferably with reception into "Full Connexion". In spite of Conference's previous decision there was vigorous opposition from some groups at Conference. The final decision was, however, to confirm the stationing recommendation, and to receive David into Full Connexion. This makes the official position of our church quite clear.