Our Stories

Our People

A church is more than a building. A church is a community of people who are part of a living tradition. You can read about some of the stories of our people in our quarterly publication, "Knox News"  

Previous editions can be found here.

Eating Together Each month we take an opportunity to gather together for a meal after worship. This is held on the third Sunday of the month at various restaurants around the city. A great chance for people to meet and chat. See the weekly notices on our Facebook page for this month’s venue.

Walking Together is an expression of fellowship within the Knox congregation, enjoying the ambience of the outdoors. Meeting on the second Sunday of the month. See the weekly notices on our Facebook page for this month’s walk.

 
Our History

Establishment and growth (1860-1895)

Knox Church, Dunedin’s second Presbyterian Church, began in the lively era of the city’s early colonial history. It has been particularly fortunate in its leadership including its ministers.

Its first and popular minister, Donald  Stuart (minister 1860-1894), was alert to the open, adventurous  spirit of the  times. Under his leadership, Knox  came  to  stand  for a compassionate and welcoming expression of  Christianity. People  were  drawn by its warm and positive spirit including its openness  to new currents of thought in science and  biblical  interpretation. Dr Stuart was a deeply compassionate person, visiting people throughout the city, regardless of their faith or lack of it. Knox people were involved in establishing the infant university and several secondary schools. People were active in the city’s bustling commercial and business life. Its leaders tended to be engineers, business men, professors, scientists, school teachers. Their names are a roll-call of civic  leadership in Dunedin in the 19th century and the congregation was very diverse.

The  congregation  grew  so  quickly  that  the  impressive  current  church building  was  already  up and running by 1876.  A high priority  was given  to  offering practical support,  so crucial  as   settlers  came  to  terms  with their  very different  life  in  a raw new colony.  As  Otago moved into  a  new  gear  with  the  prosperity  generated  by  the gold rush and  a burgeoning  agriculture, Knox Church continually looked  beyond  itself, supporting church extension in the countryside and the rapidly growing suburbs from Pinehill to Whare Flat.  In the  words of an historian, Angus Ross,  it  was  a  church  ‘with a  wide open  door’. Stuart himself sallied  out  in  snow storms  to St  Bathans  and  the  gold  fields.  The  huge  crowds who lined  the  streets  on Stuart’s   funeral in  1894  were  a testimony , therefore,   not only to his  own ‘captivating   geniality’  but  to  the  ‘broad  and  Catholic  sympathies’  associated  with  the church he had presided  over  so well.

As was true  of  Scottish Presbyterianism ‘back Home’, Knox  Church  was  characterised  by the activism  of its people and  a  passion for  education. 500 - 600 children  attended Sunday  School (an early form of Christian Education) and  to  accommodate  them, the Bible Classes (now youth group), the prayer meetings,  and  a host  of other groups, an extensive  new  church hall was opened in  1902 in Great  King  St.  The women’s organisations met  there, including  the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union  with its missionary concerns,  and the  Ladies  Association, which provided clothing and  fuel for the poor. Knox’s literary and  debating society, its library and  sewing  classes illustrate how the  church  catered  for the  cultural  and social needs of people.   We are reminded  that  this was  still very much  a  face to  face  society,  without  the mixed blessings  of  social media   and  TV!

There  was considerable controversy,  when  in  1882  it  was decided to introduce an organ, breaking  with  the old  Scottish  custom of  unaccompanied  singing.  Careful negotiation  led to  the  dissenting  voices  graciously acquiescing in the  end! 

1895-1950 Consolidation and care

 A  succession of  ministers, William Hewitson (1895-1908), Robert Davies (1909-1919), Tulloch Yuill (1920-1929) and David  Herron (1930-1950) helped lead the congregation through trying and tumultuous times as the congregation continued to offer practical care to a city in need. 

 

Each of them were scholars of the Bible and helped ease the way for members to accept evolutionary insights in  science and a non-literalist approach to the Bible. Progress here was slow but steady, as viable patterns were set  for the future.

 

Two terrible world wars, the Spanish flu experience and the grim Depression years of the 1930’s marked a sea-change in social and cultural life in New Zealand and left deep scars on the Knox community as well.  Practical help continued to be an essential part of the congregations mission in the city.  Much was provided by a succession of deaconesses whose sacrificial service was devoted mainly to those beyond the Church’s membership.  The Knox Hall was used as temporary hospitals and to host people who bore the main impact of these troubling times.  As New Zealand emerged from a period of significant change, David  Herron sought to bring a keen social analysis to preaching which  became  part of the  congregation’s  DNA.  His  successor,  James  Matheson, filled out the practice of worship to balance what had been a focus on preaching. Since the  eras  of  Herron and  Matheson  this  emphasis on  social critique  and breadth of worship  has  become an important part of the  congregation’s life.

1960 to the present Adaptation and renewal

In their  time, and  to some extent at the beginning of the time of the  next minister, the gifted communicator Doug Storkey, churches were seen  as  part of  mainstream culture  and  Knox attracted large  congregations,  including  countless  students and nurses. 

 

From  the  mid-1960s on, however,  as  was  true of  congregations throughout  the  land,  Knox had to  adapt  to  a  new,  and  in some  cases  quite  militant  secular  environment. The  world  had changed.  Knox  could no  longer  assume  a  seamless  continuity  with  the way people expressed spirituality and to the cultural life of  the  city.  During the 1970s many churches were affected by the charismatic movement, a movement that had some links with Pentecostalism in valuing the experiential aspects of Christianity.  The congregation’s openness to other churches took a new turn when, during the ministry of the Rev Iain MacMillan (1972-1982) discussions were held with Hanover Street Baptist Church about cooperation.  The  ministry of the Rev Neil Churcher (1984-1994) spearheaded a  new emphasis  on  spiritual renewal, a  deepening  of   community  and  prayer life and enabled people influenced by the charismatic movement to find ways of participating in a broadly inclusive congregation.   David  Grant (1995-2003), a fine biblical scholar,  “had  a  way with language” and imaginatively continued Knox’s thoughtful attention to the Bible.  He also quietly moved folk away from traditionalist attitudes to the role of women in church and  society. The  thoughtful and musically lively  ministry of Sarah Mitchell (2005-2013) expanded that emphasis and sought to bring the best of feminist scholarship to worship and the living of the Christian faith.

Much  has  remained  constant  over  the  years  in the  life  of  Knox  Church:   a  commitment  to being good neighbours in  the  city  and alongside the  university,  a willingness to go beyond narrow  churchliness, an  investment in good worship and music, an engagement with issues of societal concern.  Under  its  current minister,  Kerry Enright, its  profile   as  a  city church which  is  ecumenically and theologically open has  continued to strengthen.

 

Ministers, of course, come and  go. The  resilience of Knox Church to the multiple challenges posed by  contemporary Aotearoa undoubtedly lies in the  breadth of its membership, which remains refreshingly diverse.  The myriad links of many of its members to hospital, university, schools, and many aspects  of civic life as well as the experience of those whose occupations involves tough practical conditions may help to explain why it  remains unusually inter-generational, inclusive and outward looking. Its long-term ‘open door’ policy embraces people who identify as  LGBTQI+. Respect  for scholarship remains pivotal and new patterns for worship are  sensitively explored. 

 

The Afterword  to "They Continued in Faith",  its most recent history, noted Knox’s respect for tradition but also its  determination “to participate in a faith which speaks into the exciting and challenging context of this globalised  world with all its problems and potential.” Like Donald Stuart bunking down on a settee in snow-covered St Bathans (but sleeping soundly all the same) Knox Church still appears ready to take some risks for the Gospel!

 

Get in Touch

449 George Street
(corner of Pitt St and George St)
Dunedin 9016

Email: admin@knoxchurch.net

Phone: (03) 477 0229

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