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Farewell for Whareama church

About 75 people gathered for the St Andrew’s Church farewell service. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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St Andrew’s Church in Whareama had its final farewell on Saturday after it burned to the ground in a suspected arson last month.

The Rev Steve Thomson, the priest in charge of the church, said about 75 people made it to the service, including some families that had been involved with the church for three generations.

“It’s been quite the emotional roller coaster for a lot of people. It was a spiritual landmark even for people who weren’t involved with the church.”

He said the site had been cleaned up, and there was now nothing left.

Thomson said it was sad to see the church go, but the church was the people and not the building, and it would carry on.

He said the church aimed to do something to recognise the building in the new year.

Debris from the fire at St Andrew’s Church.

Event organiser Caryl Forrest said the service began with former Whareama School principal Pip Fairbrother reading a poem written by Forrest that described the bleakness and emptiness of the church site just after the fire.

She said there was a great turnout of present and former Whareama residents, together with some from the other side of the Langdale Hill.

Richard Fairbrother and his son Josh read the history of St Andrew’s at the service.

Forrest said that in 1903, residents who had been holding services at Whareama School decided they needed a church.

She said Jessie Morrison had donated the site for the church.

“In October 1903, the Reverend JC Andrew, owner of Ica, together with the local vicar John Sykes, laid the foundation stone.”

This stone was split in two by the fire but had been restored and was on display at the service.

“On January 26, 1904, the opening service was held in St Andrew’s to a capacity crowd, and, on January 26, 1906, the church having been paid for, it was consecrated by Bishop Frederic Wallis.”

Forrest said that since then, the church had formed the backbone of the community through two world wars, the great depression, and the many times the Whareama River had flooded.

“In 2009, the church was renovated, replied, re-carpeted and painted. It was ready for another hundred years’ service as a rural church. But the fire has ended that.”

Pieces of the foundation stone could be seen within the wreckage. PHOTOS/FILE

The old stone font and the foundation stone were among the only items that survived the fire.

Forrest said in recent years, the church had been used as a base for Fire and Emergency teams fighting a particularly difficult forestry fire that went on for some days.

The church was farewelled by Jenny Skeet, who grew up across the road from the church, and Pam Palmer, who gave thanks for each part of the church and returned the church to the ground and God’s keeping.

Archdeacon Pete Watson read the deed of deconsecration on behalf of the Bishop of Wellington, Justin Duckworth, which meant the site could now be used for other purposes.

After the service, many present and former Whareama residents caught up over afternoon tea.

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