Practical Dreamers
The Mornington Sunday School - 75 Years Young

Leah Taylor


A significant milestone was passed on Sunday July 23 when the Mornington Church celebrated the 75th anniversary of the building and dedication of the Sunday School in Galloway St. Among many special, and often nostalgic highlights in the service, LEAH TAYLOR delivered a brief history of the Sunday School, well researched, and as she says herself, "a labour of love." We have Leah's permission to reprint the history, which will be of interest to many former Sunday Schoolers who have left Dunedin, but remember with appreciation their association wioth what has for the most part been a vibrant and effective commitment in childrens' ministry.


We are celebrating today the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Sunday School building in 1931, a milestone in the life of Mornington Methodist Church and a remarkable achievement, given that this was a time of unemployment and terrible hardship due to the depression. The opening of the new Sunday School building, however, is not the only Sunday School anniversary to be celebrated in 2006. It is 130 years since the Mornington Methodist Sunday School was founded.

After the opening of the first Mornington Methodist (Wesleyan) Church, on 10 September 1876, a Sunday School was “immediately organised”. Unfortunately the earliest Sunday School records have been lost, but in 1878 Mornington Circuit reported 203 Sunday School pupils.

Perhaps the loss of the earliest records caused the confusion, but in the souvenir booklet, printed for the opening of the new brick church in 1905, Mr W. Lind is named the first Sunday School superintendent. (Mr Lind had been a carrier to the early gold diggings.) However, in the church’s 50th anniversary booklet, Mornington Methodist Church Jubilee 1876-1926, Mr Peter McLean is named as the first Sunday School superintendent. Mr Jos Lowden and Mr Tom Holgate were co-superintendents in 1905 when the brick church was opened on its corner site.

Around this time, there were some interesting Sunday School teachers. Joseph Mellor, a boot finisher at Sargood’s boot factory, also attended the Technical Classes Association’s night classes, and later the University of Otago part time. He graduated with a Master of Science with first class honours in chemistry. He then went overseas to Manchester where he completed a doctorate at Owens College of Science. Dr Mellor remained in England where he became the world’s greatest authority in inorganic chemistry.

Another teacher, James F. Arnold, who also worked in Sargood’s boot factory, was one-time President of the Bootmakers’ Union, and in 1899 elected the member for Dunedin in the House of Representatives. A former Sunday School pupil and teacher, Fred Waite, became MP for Clutha and was later appointed to the Legislative Council. Fred was also awarded the DSO for gallantry at Gallipoli. Even a Mayor of Mornington, James P. Simon, taught Sunday School while holding this office.

In 1926, the Rev Jim Richards was appointed minister of Mornington Church. It was Jim Richards who invited Mr Alf (later Sir Alfred) and Mrs Belle Reed to join the Mornington congregation after the Reeds moved from Belleknowes to their new house in Glenpark Avenue. Jim Richards and Alf Reed soon became the best of friends. They shared a love of books and the joy of tramping over the hills around Dunedin. After Alf Reed became the Sunday School superintendent, these friends dreamed of a new, purpose-built Sunday school to replace the unsuitable hall, the original church building. Their dream became a reality when Alf and Belle Reed resolved to tithe their assets to help pay for a new Sunday School building.

Architects, Miller and White, were engaged. Eric Miller and Jim White designed several well-known Dunedin buildings, including the St John’s building in York Place, the Regent Theatre, and the Otakou Maori Church and Meeting House. Jim White, in partnership with L.D. Coombes, also designed the Methodist Theological College in Grafton Road, Auckland.

The building contractor was R.R. Tyrie, a church trustee and deputy leader of the Sunday School’s intermediate department. According to the New Zealand Methodist Times the foundation stones were laid on a day when “Antarctic blasts broadcast icy showers”. Above an historic stone taken from Trinity Church, Mr W.L. Tennet, representing the church trustees, Mrs J.E. Seidelin and Mr J.F. Cunliffe, foundation Sunday School pupils, and the Rev and Mrs. Richards, representing the Church, laid the three foundation stones. Interestingly, a present member of this congregation, Mr Bert Tennet, is related to W.L. Tennet, Margaret Wood is the daughter of the Rev Jim and Mrs. Richards, and Arthur Patton the great-nephew of Mrs Seidelin.

The downstairs area of the new building was divided into Beginners, Primary and Junior departments. Upstairs was a large social hall with stage, a kitchen, Bible Class rooms and at the back of the hall, a folding partition was used to create a room for the Intermediate department. This area contained three pair of Gothic windows that had been removed from Trinity Methodist Church (now the Fortune Theatre) during alterations. The centre pair featured stained-glass work by John William Bock, depicting Christ calling the disciples at the Sea of Galilee. This was an anonymous gift from Alf and Belle Reed.

The cost of the new building totalled 3600 pounds (7200 dollars).

The official opening took place on 28 February 1931 when the New Zealand Methodist Church Conference was being held in Dunedin. The President of Conference, the Rev E.D. Patchett, officiated at the service of dedication, and the Rev Dr C.H. Laws gave the address. However, it was the Sunday School secretary, Miss D. Cunliffe, who “...in a few well-chosen words declared the building open”. At the time the Mornington Methodist Sunday School was described as “...perhaps the finest school building of its size in the Dominion today”.

When Frances Sharples and Marion Kitchingman worked on their oral history project, the church members and former church members they interviewed recalled the Sunday School, especially Sunday School anniversaries, anniversary teas followed by concerts, and Sunday School picnics.

Ruth Green remembered the temporary staging, which was built in the church for the children to be seated on, and the music they practised and practised with Harry Wilkinson. Mabel Chandler said they had 100 children participating in the anniversary services when she was a teacher. All the girls wore new dresses for this special occasion.

Mabel always thinks of hundreds and thousands on bread and butter when she remembers anniversary teas and icecream and jelly melting in the sun. A magic lantern show usually preceded the Sunday School concert. Edith Patey remembered Colin and Ron Gibson playing piano and violin duets. Ron was the shy one!

Sunday School picnics were great occasions too. Ruth Green remembered one picnic held in a paddock at the Hon W.H. Reynolds property, “Montecillo”, and on another occasion they went to Evansdale Glen by bus. Emily Gardner recalled a picnic at East Taieri held in the church grounds. Mabel remembered the boats at Brighton, and going by train to Port Chalmers and walking over the hill.

Several hundred pupils have attended Mornington Methodist Sunday School. Some went overseas while others pursued careers in New Zealand. I have selected at random a few former pupils. These include two of Alf Reed’s Sunday School boys, Tom Kennedy and Ray Richards. After leaving secondary school they went to work for A.H. Reed Ltd., Tom in Dunedin and Ray in Wellington. Both eventually became directors of this well-known publishing firm. When Alf, by now Sir Alfred, died in his 100th year, these former Sunday School boys were pallbearers at his funeral.

Arch Jelley coached champion athlete, John Walker, John Gibson has had an interesting musical career, and Dr Paul Connor, a physical chemistry scientist, is engaged in alternative fuel research at St Andrews University, Scotland. Both John and Paul were third generation Sunday School pupils. Graham Fletcher’s adventure-tourism work has taken him to many countries. At present he is based in California. Dr Robin Whyman is employed as Chief Advisor for Oral Health at the Ministry of Health, and Dr Mark Featherston as a specialist anaesthetist in Wellington. (Mark’s mother, Norah Featherston was Sunday School superintendent in the 1970s.) Neville Thornicroft became a Methodist minister. Then there were singers Beverley Bergan and Penny Davis, actor and producer, Colin Kitchingman, and writer, Anna Chin. Margaret Connor is acknowledged as one of Dunedin’s most-respected citizens because of her work at the Methodist Mission’s Friendship Centre, Colin Gibson was former Donald Collie Professor of English at the University of Otago and an internationally respected hymn writer, and Noel and Arthur Patton and John Masters became accountants.

Last week, someone said to me that even having a Sunday School is cause for celebration. As a congregation, we will always be grateful to Nicola and Peter Grundy, and Rebecca Neaves for the survival of Mornington Methodist Sunday School. They revived it at perhaps the lowest point in its history. Over the past decade, the gifted leadership of Rebecca, Hilda Hughson, Ginny Kitchingman and others has created a vibrant, stimulating environment for pupils and an inspiration for us all.

We have much to celebrate today.


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