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Dunedin South Methodism.
By Donald Phillipps in All Sorts
A history of Methodism in South Dunedin.DUNEDIN SOUTH METHODISM
As we reflect on the ending of a chapter in the history of Dunedin Methodism let's remember we're talking about more than
one place where Methodism has flourished. If Hillside Rd is the setting for today's service of celebration and reflection, we should recall there were other settings in this part of the city. At the service itself we will talk about the people who loved their Methodism and gave generously of their time and talents. Because we will meet at Hillside Rd I start with its story, though it was not where Methodism began in Dunedin South.
The beginning at Hillside Rd took place in 1880 with the establishment of cottage prayer meetings and a Sunday School. Later that year a house was provided in Melbourne St by Daniel Haynes, the founder of Herbert Haynes Ltd, and a very prominent and generous Wesleyan. Preaching services were begun a little later. There was another Wesleyan group at Caversham and when these two groups came together a property on the south side of Wesley Rd. was purchased. On that site the former Opoho Wesleyan church was placed. The opening services were held on October 1st, 1882.
Steady growth necessitated an enlargement to the church in 1883 and 1884. The young ladies sewing guild presented a harmonium. In 1886 the corner section, on which the present church stands, was purchased for £300 and the engineer's shop moved and converted into an infant school. The Rev Lewis Hudson was appointed in 1892, and under his energetic evangelism a much larger building was needed. He wanted to establish a mission, along the lines of the Central Mission in Dowling St. His first scheme was for a Mission hall to hold 1000 people, with a gallery. This idea was soon abandoned, and a plain place of worship, designed to seat 660, without a gallery, was built. The present church building is, externally at least, identical with the one opened 134 years ago. The Sunday School took over the old church building on the other side of the road for its work.
At that time there were just 45 members, but there was a Sunday School with 352 scholars and 36 staff. That was justification itself for such a major enterprise. Cargill Rd, as it was then called, soon became a separate Circuit which included Mosgiel, then the Peninsula, and finally St Kilda in 1901, with ministers or Home Missionaries at each of these places. A Circuit register shows collections taken at Cargill Rd, Macandrew Bay, Mosgiel, Berwick, Maungatua, Woodside, Taieri Ferry, Broad Bay, Otakou, Taiaroa Heads, Hooper's Inlet, Wylie's Crossing, Momona, Outram and Burnside! Having a resident minister meant providing a parsonage. Initially the minister lived in rented accommodation - but from 1901 in a purpose-built house still standing at the far end of Wesley St. Only in 1942 was the mortgage on the parsonage paid off.
The first beginnings in South were at the other end of Cargill Rd, at what is now called Forbury Corner, but then generally called Kew. As early as 1876 the Primitive Methodists had decided on this site. There were already 1000 people in the neighbourhood and a small wooden church was built with seating for just 76 people - with no free seats. It is exactly 140 years (plus two weeks) to the day, since its opening and
dedication. There was immediate growth, extensions were made in 1880, and then a new brick church was built at a cost of £1000 in 1903 which seating 222 people. Its long-term future was soon called into question when the tramway to St Clair was opened and Forbury Corner had to be realigned.
This led to the decision in 1913, at the time of Methodist Union, to move the Kew society to Caversham, where a new brick church was opened in 1915, using the furnishings from the old church. This development meant that the Dunedin South Circuit now had oversight of smaller societies at Abbotsford and Fairfield as well. The final addition was made in 1923, when the former Congregational church at St Clair became part of the Circuit, though an attempt at 'missioning ' at Corstorphine took place as early as 1944. Worship at Caversham continued until 1978.
Dunedin South Methodism has always been in a state of flux. Within the area there have been as many as four Circuits - Hillside Rd/Wesley, St Kilda/Peninsula, Caversham, and Mosgiel. The nature of Dunedin society has changed from the time when it could be said that the Primitive Methodists looked after working-class folk. The Wesley leadership included men of substance in the Dunedin community who wanted their church to represent the values of a progressive and liberal middle class - hence the installation of a pipe-organ in 1921. But the effects of the War, and then the Depression, were deep-seated, and worship habits changed forever.
Another matter put on hold during the war had been first raised at a Trust Meeting in 1938. A resolution was passed: "That we dispose of some of our property and build a more attractive church." Nothing could be done at the time, and nothing was done when 'normal' life resumed in 1945.
It was the Hall, opened in 1955 that gave the Wesley congregation a strong sense of purpose. The Wesley Youth Centre Committee was formed in 1952 under Rev E.S. Hoddinott, plans were drawn up in 1953 for a concrete block structure, and the Sunday School children sold bonds to buy them. Much of the work was done by voluntary labour. It was immediately an invaluable facility, for the Men's Club, for the Sunday School, and for the Girls' Brigade. The first dance was held in it that year, and the Bible Class made their home in it. When the District Synod was held there in 1958, every part of all the buildings was put to good use.
As early as 1961 there was a proposal abroad to close Wesley, St Clair and Caversham, and build a new church centre at Forbury Corner. Instead there was a major redesign of the church's interior completed in 1975. The floor was raised and a lounge created out of existing space within the worship centre. For 20 years, when the Dunedin Parish came together as a whole, it was at Wesley that they joined.
From the 1980s the Tongan Fellowship in Dunedin has made a significant contribution. The leadership for nearly 20 years of the Taungapeau family, in particular, has been especially prominent. From that time, too, there have been issues within the Church which have been the cause of much heart-searching, but Wesley's membership (whatever their personal feelings) have throughout their long history, typically chosen to stay together. Long friendships, and a deep love for their 'House of God', have proving to be of greater importance.
The tide has turned everywhere in Dunedin. Memories remain and the work of good women and men is honoured today. "We praise him for
all that is past, and trust him for all that's to come."