Illustrated Guide to Christchurch and Neighbourhood
The second religious body to thoroughly establish themselves in Canterbury was the Wesleyan. Towards the middle of 1853 the Rev. Mr Kirk visited Lyttelton on his way to Otago, to which district he was appointed, and in response to the earnest solicitations of members of the Wesleyans here he consented to remain for a short time and act as their minister, which he did for some time. In April, 1854, the Rev. John Aldred, the first minister appointed to this station, arrived. It is significant of the strong feeling of the Church of England founders of the settlement, that the arrival of a minister of another denomination was looked upon, at that time, almost in the light of an encroachment; indeed, a special sermon was preached in Lyttelton, warning the congregation of the advent of a wolf in sheep's clothing, who would seek to draw the flock from the proper fold. This narrow-mindedness was happily of but short duration, the several sects subsequently working together harmoniously in their religious work.
Mr Aldred's first sermons, in the new settlement, were preached on the 3rd of April, 1854; in the morning in Christchurch, to a congregation of fourteen or fifteen persons, in a carpenter's shop, somewhere near where the Working Men's Club now stands; and in the evening in Lyttelton, to a congregation of forty persons, in the Oddfellows' Hall.
But neither Mr Aldred nor his congregations were content to be without churches of their own any longer than was absolutely necessary. A very few weeks saw the Christchurch. members having service in their own building—small, primitive, and plainly weather-boarded though it was—on the site in High-street, where May and Co's drapery shop now stands. It was an inexpensive building, all the requisite labour being given voluntarily. In Lyttelton they also built themselves a church, which was opened on the 6th of March, 1855, when the collections amounted to £14 2s 0½d. Thus housed they worked steadily on. The Christchurch building was several times lengthened and enlarged, till, being found too small, it was replaced in 1859 by a very pretty wooden building, accommodating 400 persons, on the same site, given to the body by Mr. J. Broughton, which was for a long time one of page 47the handsomest erections in Christchurch, the spire being a landmark for miles around. This was opened on the 26th December, the Rev. T. R. Fisher conducting the morning service, the Rev. C. Fraser the afternoon one, and the Rev. J. Aldred that in the evening. The collections in the church that day amounted to upwards of £80. This church was used till 1865, when the handsome stone church and schoolrooms in Durham-street, so well known to all residents in, and visitors to, Christchurch, was opened—the first stone church erected in this city.
Members of the Wesleyan body were pretty numerous, even in the early days, throughout Canterbury, and Mr Aldred held services so far back as 1854 in Kaiapoi at private houses—Mr. Jones's, Mr. Sidey's, and others; at Riccarton, in Mr. Ellis's cottage; and at Papanui. His first visit to Kaiapoi was one to be remembered. There was a fearful snowstorm at the time— the worst Canterbury has ever experienced—and if we mistake not, three men lost their lives in it. Mr. Aldred's horse liked it no better than the settlers, and breaking away from its tether it wandered down towards the river, and took shelter in the kitchen of a cottage.
In April, 1861, a church was opened in Kaiapoi, the opening services being conducted by the Revs T. R. Fisher and J. Aldred.
Mr. Aldred—who, among other duties, conducted the first burial service in the Wesleyan cemetery, Barbadoes street, over a Mrs. Philpot—continued in charge of the station for five or six years, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Buller.
The growth of the Wesleyan body in Canterbury has from the first been steady and rapid. In Christchurch they have two handsome churches, one of stone and one of brick, besides another at Sydenham, on the Colombo-road. Throughout Canterbury 46 others are planted in various localities, not including 30 places where services are held. They have 19 ministers, 2 catechists, 81 local preachers, 467 Sunday-school teachers, 68 class leaders, 1755 full and accredited church members, besides 161 on trial for membership. They have 51 Sunday-schools, with 4709 scholars, 12 school rooms, and 14 parsonages. The average attendance at services on Sundays is 12,126; the first cost of the buildings belonging to the Church is £41,449 5s 6d; and the cost of school management for the year is £514.