Home' Greymouth Star : July 5th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, July 5, 2014 - 7
Faith of our Fathers:
Old West Coast churches
t Thomas’ Anglican Church still
holds pride of place at the top of the
hill in Runanga.
Previously, it had company with
the Methodist down below and the
Presbyterian just around the corner, but both
are long gone.
Barry Smithson has been attending
St Thomas’ church since he was a boy in the
early 1950s, and today he remains a faithful
churchgoer and licensed lay minister.
He and his wife Lesta were married there, and
their wedding was the last time an old Scottish
tradition was carried out in the town.
“The children of Runanga used to block the
road and the wedding-goers had to throw them
lollies or money, and then the children would
let them through,” Barry says.
He also recalls the church’s 50th jubilee
celebrations, with a banquet and “endless” toast
“There was a toast for everything possible, and
luckily we were drinking the centennial shandy,
which was alcohol-free.”
As a boy, Barry was a regular at Sunday
School at St Thomas’; at the time it was a
matter of having to. “I wanted to be in boys
brigade and to do that you had to attend
Not that attending church was ever a chore;
he enjoyed it. In fact, as a young fellow he
preferred to go to church ser vices over Sunday
The congregation at St Thomas’ in those days
was large, with lots of families attending.
“Sunday School break-ups were that big that
we didn’t have them in the church hall, we had
to go to the Runanga Fire Station hall, where
there was more room.”
He remembers when John Walton was the
vicar, with his wife Marjorie, then the Dentith
arrived in Runanga from Australia in 1955. “A
vicar full of endless energy. Thinking back, in
modern language Mr Dentith was my hero,”
He smiles as he recalls Bible class picnics at
Punakaiki, where Rev Dentiths wore his full
The Tutts were promoted from the Stoke
parish to Cobden-Runanga and it was during
this time (1960-63) that the six-foot blackberry
was removed from around the church and the
lawns were established.
Over the years of his involvement with
the Runanga parish Barry has many fond
memories, including the large groups who were
confirmed, and he especially remembers the
“ We had a very good relationships with the
Roman Catholic and the Uniting churches —
we even had a Catholic lady bake for our shop
days,” he said.
Long-time parishioner Alice Noble also has
fond memories of attending ser vices at the
“St Thomas’ is a special little place and when I
first began attending church there, many years
ago, the services were traditional, and that is
what I had been brought up with in Auckland,
although I did miss the traditional organ
music,” Alice says.
She often preached at Sunday services there
and “appreciated” serving the chalice and
reading the lessons.
As the congregation dwindled over the years,
some people put it down to the early morning
ser vice, which started at 9am.
“We had to do that to allow the vicar to get to
the Cobden church for the 10am ser vice,” Alice
St Thomas’ Anglican Church was formally
opened by Archdeacon York, assisted by Rev
Thomas Fielden Taylor, on March 4, 1908. It
was designed by George Millar and built by W
The Anglican Diocesan Gazette of March
1908 remarked at the time that the residents
of this new district of Runanga “have had an
exceedingly difficult task in carving out homes
for themselves from the primeval forest, and
in addition have had many great obstacles to
surmount ere a church could be built and a
curate placed in charge”.
In 1945-46 the church was repaired, a new
floor laid and a new altar, pulpit and prayer
desk dedicated. For many years the church was
lime washed, but now it is kept looking tidy
with a fresh coat of paint.
Before St Thomas’, the first Anglican service
was held in the Druids Hall, at Dunollie, where
Rev Taylor officiated and no offertory was
The building of the church hall started in
1927-28 and the main structural work was
carried out by George Noble, of Rapahoe, while
the inside lining was completed by voluntary
The 106-year-old Anglican Church in Runanga is the last of the three churches
on what was commonly known as ‘Church Hill’. VIV LOGIE pieces together
St Thomas’s in 1908.
Inside the church today.
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