“… tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
Psalm 78:4 (ESV)
Many thanks to Alan Bedford, Stan Carr and Don Armstrong for much of this historical material.
Baptists in New Zealand
Individual Baptists came to New Zealand with the earliest settlers, with the first Baptist church being organised in Nelson in 1851. More followed: Auckland 1852; Dunedin 1863; Wellington 1878. Baptist churches were evangelistic – growing both in size of congregations and numbers of churches. A national Baptist Union was formed in 1882. The New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society was founded in 1885.
On the evening of 16th November, 1950, a group of people met in the Howick Postmaster’s home which was then situated behind the Post Office in Picton St, Howick. To a growing town with a population of 1720, a new Postmaster and his family had been transferred the previous June. Nothing strange or unique about such a movement of Post Office staff, except this man, Mr Len Clarkson, was a Baptist with a genuine concern for people and a passionate belief that the prime purpose of the Church was the winning of souls for Christ.
Those present at the meeting passed a motion: “That a Baptist Fellowship be set up in Howick with monthly meetings in various homes”. At the time, there was no Baptist church in the eastern suburbs beyond Remuera.
On Sunday 7 October 1951, weekly services commenced in the Howick Town Hall. Doug Patrick, a student pastor from the Baptist Theological College (now Carey Baptist College) conducted the services.
A Sunday School commenced on 2 March 1952 with a roll of 9 scholars.
Communion services were planned for the second Sunday in each month. Doug Patrick would collect the necessary equipment from North Memorial (now Remuera Baptist) on his way from College.
As the second year of the fellowship was drawing to a close, a formal Constitution was drawn up and approved by the congregation on Sunday 12 October 1952. Twenty-three names are recorded as foundation members.
College students continued to supply the pastorate, including Allan Webster, Stuart Avery and Eric Sherberd. The one year-old church also made a gift to its first missionary, Olwyn Kemp, who left for India at the end of 1953.
By the end of 1953 the Sunday School roll stood at 35, the Cradle Roll at 23, and a Bible Class was about to commence under the leadership of Ken McIntosh.
In May 1954 plans for a church hall were approved and building commenced on a site located on the corner of Picton and Wellington Streets. Evening services were started towards the end of 1954. The annual report at the end of 1954 showed a membership of 43 and a Sunday School Roll of 62 children.
First building, first minister
The new church hall was opened on 29 May 1955 to a large crowd in attendance. Within two months, it was necessary to find space for the growing Sunday School. Ernie Pidgeon excavated a site and built the Pine Hall (which later became “The Grotto”).
In September 1955 it was decided to form both Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade Companies. Harold Ferguson captained the Boys Brigade, while Kathleen Wilkinson (now Pugh) led the girls. With the growing number of members and several church organisations using the new building, it was felt that a full-time minister should be sought.
A call to Lewis Lowery of Invercargill was extended and accepted in December 1955. The Lowerys were welcomed and inducted in February 1956. A temporary manse was rented in Howe St. The church deacons arranged the construction of a permanent manse on a purchased section in Patons Rd. Building was completed by Christmas 1956.
Extra land and growth
By March 1958 extra accommodation was again urgently needed, with church facilities stretch to the limit. The adjacent “Whyte” property became available and was purchased, making available a house (which became the Sunday School building) and a garage (adapted to become a Bible classroom). The Bible Class roll had grown to 66.
In November 1959 an all-age Sunday School was introduced. Growth continued, and space again became a problem. The corner “Barber” property adjacent to the “Whyte” property was purchased, and became available for the various ministry departments. The adult department used the Masonic Lodge Hall further down Wellington St (on the site now occupied by Westpac Bank).
Throughout these years, the church took part in a money-raising project involving the preparation of some 400,000 copies of a trade newspaper for distribution. Almost every church member and adherent became involved in the “Wrap and Roll” project and the growth in fellowship, unity and sense of purpose had a marked influence on the young church. This project continued until 1967 and assisted greatly with financing the early purchases of property and loan repayments.
Second pastor and a new church building
After 5 and a half years of service, on 8 August 1961 the Lowerys were farewelled to Caversham Church, Dunedin. A call was extended to Rev Percy W Norrish, who was welcomed in November 1961. The church at the time consisted of 137 members and other adherents.
By the end of 1962 space in the morning services was again becoming a problem, with some of the congregation sitting in the foyer and the kitchen and even on the pavement immediately outside the double doors. Planning began for a large purpose-built auditorium on the “Whyte” site. Construction of the church building commenced in September 1965 and was completed in June 1966. The building was officially opened on 2 July 1966, with many in attendance.
The original church hall built in 1955 was renamed the Clarkson Hall in honour of the family that activated the founding of Howick Baptist.
Percy Norrish retired from active pastoral work in 1973 after serving nearly 12 years at Howick. During this time there had been much spiritual and material growth in the church. A call was extended to Rev Bruce Stewart, who commenced his ministry in November 1973.
Growth in the 1970s
During the school holidays of 1973, Ian Dunwoodie initiated a children’s programme called “Happy Hours”. This entailed a weeklong programme of quizzes, games, competitions, films, Bible verses and activities around a topical theme. In the first year there were over 1200 attendances by over 500 individuals. Some joined the Sunday School in the following weeks. Similar holiday programmes were continued throughout the 70s.
In 1975, the church approved the appointment of the first Associate Pastor. Allan Bosson (a New Zealander who grew up attending Point Chevalier Baptist) returned from seminary training in the US to take up the position. The Bossons (Alan and Cindy) served at Howick Baptist until 1980, when they returned to the US. During these years there were frequent visits and exchanges by teams to and from the USA such as the Pan-Pacific Team, Bill Brewster’s team and Dr Charles Stanley.
Following changes to the church’s Constitution in 1976, the church appointed its first two elders: Buck Pound and Bruce Crawford.
As the district population grew, the Sunday School roll increased steadily to a peak of 728 people in 1979. The strength of the Sunday School over the years has been the many dedicated teachers and department Superintendents who have served their Lord, many for long years of service, to bring the message of the Bible each Sunday morning. Yet with the growth of Sunday sport and the movement of families between churches, the roll declined until All Ages Sunday School ceased in 1984.
Changes from the 1980s-2000s
Colin Bennett accepted the position of Assistant Pastor in July 1980 and Frank Carter took the position of Youth Pastor in 1981, bringing the pastoral team up to three.
In 1983, both Bruce Stewart and Frank Carter resigned. There was a period of nearly a year before Rev Alan Bartlem from Australia was appointed as Senior Pastor. Chris Dennett took the position of Youth Director for one year before undertaking further theological training.
Colin Bennett retired as Assistant Pastor in 1987 and was replaced by Arthur Warner in 1988, who migrated from South Africa having previously served as National Youth Director. When A Bartlem left in August 1991, Arthur Warner became Senior Pastor, staying in the role for the next 13 years.
With the significant influx of immigrants into the Howick area in the 1980s, a New Immigrants ministry was started to assist families with cultural changes, including the teaching of English. Other ministries commenced during this period include the Creativity and Craft Classes and a Puppet Ministry.
During the 90s and the turn of the new millennium, a wave of immigrants arrived in New Zealand from South Africa amidst the backdrop of political change. Many of them settled in Howick and added much numerical growth to the membership of HBC. Over time, this led to multiple morning services and a large, well-attended evening service geared towards teenagers and young adults.
Several pastoral changes occurred during this time of growth:
- Tom McGregor – Pastoral Care from 1990 – 2001
- Peter Somervell – Associate Pastor from 1994 – 1996
- Phil Coates – Associate Pastor from 1997 – 2003
- Andrew Whitehead – Youth Pastor from 2002 – 2007
- Barrie Thomas – Pastoral Care Elder from 2004 – 2012
From 2001–02, a significant church extension project was undertaken, with a foyer, additional offices and meeting spaces being added to the existing building. During construction, church services were held in the gymnasium. The “Mission 2000” redevelopment project was officially opened on 18 September 2001.
2004–2014: Repentance and renewal
Upon Arthur Warner’s resignation in 2004, a committee spent the next few months searching for the next Senior Pastor. Sharp differences regarding this and other matters led to disagreement and division, leading to an exodus of many families from the church.
The elders invited the Baptist Union to mediate the ongoing disputes. Bob Alcorn and Paul Grimmer were appointed as Interim Pastors for a duration of 1 year each, and led the church in a needed season of repentance and renewal. The long-term effects of the split though had resulted in a decline in the church’s spiritual health and numbers.
In 2006, a call was extended to Peter Somervell, who was serving as Senior Pastor at Wanganui East Baptist Church at the time. Now returning to Howick Baptist as Senior Pastor, Peter Somervell’s commitment to expository bible teaching and gospel-centered ministry kindled a steady increase in new converts and a growing, multi-ethnic congregation. To assist in the burgeoning work, Calvyn Jonker from Wanganui was called as Associate Pastor in April 2008. A year later, Tony Nuñez was appointed as Assistant Pastor of Youth.
After two years of sterling ministry, Calvyn Jonker accepted a call to the position of Senior Pastor at Wanganui East Baptist Church. Following a period of prayerful searching, Joe Fleener was appointed Associate Pastor in December 2010. At the same time, Tony Nunez left to take up a teaching position at the Shepherd’s Bible College in Hastings. Following Pastor Tony’s departure, Luke McMahan was appointed as Pastoral Intern and led the Youth Ministry for the next two years. In 2013, Jono Macfarlane was appointed as Youth Pastor to oversee this ministry. 2014 has seen more changes: Joe Fleener accepted a call to the position of Church Planting Pastor for Rolleston Baptist Church, while Jono was appointed to a full-time Assistant Pastor role at HBC. Peter Somervell accepted a call to Grace Bible Church in Nelson, and left in March 2015. Richard Cutforth currently serves as part-time Interim Pastor.
In the ten years since 2004, the Lord has refined HBC into a church striving together for the gospel, passionate about knowing Jesus Christ and making Him known in Howick and to the ends of the earth.
Church planting in the Eastern suburbs
As new churches have been planted in the Howick and surrounding areas, groups from Howick Baptist have often supported them. This included the formation of the Beachlands Baptist Church in 1981 (with 14 members transferring from Howick) and Eastview Baptist Church in 1993 (with 26 members transferring from Howick). More recently, members from Howick Baptist have provided support for Ormiston Baptist Church which began weekly services in September 2013.
Howick Baptist Church celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2012, rejoicing in 60 years of Christian witness and service in Howick through this church and its members.
By God’s grace, we intend to press on with the same mission heart first expressed in 1950 by the Howick Postmaster, Len Clarkson: a genuine concern for people and a fervent belief that the church exists for the winning of souls for Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be glory!
Video of 60th Anniversary slideshow:
Photo albums on Facebook:
- 1950-1966: Beginnings and First Church Hall
- 1966-1980s: Growth and a New Church Building
- 1990s Church history
- 2000-2001: Church Building Extension
- 2001: Misson 2000+ Official opening
- 2002 50th Jubilee celebrations
- Miscellaneous HBC history
Our most recent photos and updates – https://www.facebook.com/howickbaptist/photos_albums