July 1868 several families who had previously worshipped with the
Wesleyans began meeting as a Baptist fellowship in the cottage of Henry
and Sophia Driver* on Hape St, seated on planks laid across old
blasting powder barrels.
They were lead by
William ‘Daddy’ Mason, known for his flowing white beard and his bag
full of bibles and writing gear with which he’d traverse the mining
claims among the hills to minister to the miners; writing letters home
for many of those who were unable to write themselves, and distributing
bibles to those who could read.
James Renshaw, mayor of Thames for 17 years, was brother to Sophia Driver and a foundation member of the church.
1869 they were granted land by Te Hoterini Taipari and Rapana
Maungaroa. This was the first instance of close cooperation
between NZ Baptists and local iwi.
Henry Driver’s orphaned
nephew, Harry, was the first Baptist minister to be trained in New
Zealand, working as a student pastor in Auckland from 1881.
1889, without losing their Baptist identity, they shared buildings,
services and minister with the Congregationalist church in Mary St.
whilst keeping the older, Willoughby St. Property for Sunday School and
other activities. This arrangement continued for 36 years.
Thames has the oldest Baptist church in the Waikato / Bay of Plenty region.
*Great Great Grandparents of the previous pastor, Roger D-B.
'Daddy' Mason arrived in Auckland in May 1863 at the age of 60. While
in Auckland he served both the Auckland City Mission and the Bible
Society. This latter work took him to outlying areas of Auckland
where his sharp eyes, quaint speech and aged form supported by a long
staff became well known to many. Economic depression in Auckland
prompted Mason to move to Thames in 1867. There he earned a
living by mining, but continued his mission work until re-employed by
the Bible Society. In the absence of a minister, Mason preached
regularly at the Thames Baptist Church for about a year. From “A Handful of Grain: The Centenary History of the Baptist Union of New Zealand, Vol.1 – 1851 – 1882” by Paul Tonson.
water-colour of the Mary St. building before the church lounge was
added on to the front. On the right of the building we now have
our community ministries building, and there is a service lane on the
Thames goldfield opened on the 1st of August 1867 and from the
beginning there were Baptists working here. Some were miners and
others were in business. The minister of the Auckland Baptist
Church had challenged the unemployed men of the church to go and work
at the Thames since there was no work offering in Auckland. The
challenge was to discover Christian ministry in a rough pioneering
This proved to be the beginning of the Thames
Baptist Church. In July 1868 regular Sunday Services were held at the
home of Henry Driver on the Hape Creek. The cottage was small and
seating was planks between empty powder kegs. Violin players
provided music. After a few weeks it was evident the venue was
too small and so a building fund was quickly organised.
land grant from the Maori community provided a freehold property in
Willoughby Street. At the 125th Anniversary of the church the
descendants of Te Hotoreni Taipari and Raupana Maunganoa were invited
to the celebrations and as a mark of gratitude were presented with
copies of the new translation of the Maori Bible.
new church building was opened for worship on Sunday May 6th
1869. The building, which was basic, held 200 worshippers.
At this time the church was a branch of the Wellesley St Church in
Auckland but on September 27th 1869 the church was formally constituted
with the installation of its first minister, the Rev. Stuart Wilson
from Tarungulla, Victoria, Australia.
photo of the 'new' church building was taken at the time of the Diamond
Jubilee in 1929, forty years after it had ceased to be used as the main
place of worship for the Baptist congregation. The sign reads:
"THE ENEMY OF THE RACE - ALCOHOLIC LIQUOR"
first baptismal services for believers in Christ were held in the
Kaueranga Creek. A Thames newspaper describes one such service in 1872
as follows,” Yesterday morning at seven o’clock a most interesting
religious service was held on the banks of the Kaueranga Creek
near the Maori settlement when six persons were baptised by Mr William
Mason of the Willoughby Street Baptist church, Shortland. There
were upwards of 200 persons present to whom the ordinance of Believer’s
Baptism was explained and from the sacred scriptures as the only
authority.” A baptistry was built in the Willoughby St Chapel in
October 1874. The Provincial Government gave the water free for the
first baptisms in the church – 6 candidates were baptised on 1st
As well as employing a minister,
right from the start the Baptist church employed William Mason who
visited the miners two days a week. He was very effective and respected
in his work and became generally known as “Daddy
Mason.” It could be said that this was the beginning
of the Thames Baptist’s calling to community
ministries. Apart from a period working amongst the
railway workers on the new railroads in the Hamilton district, Mason
was based in Thames. He died in 1879, at the age of 76 years, and was
buried in the Shortland cemetery.
With the slackening of the
gold boom and the resultant decline in population the church began to
see the need to centralise in Grahamstown which had become the centre
of population and commerce. Under the ministry of the Rev William
Woolley it was proposed, as a result of a congregational initiative,
that the Baptists combine with the Thames Congregational Church using
the Mary St Chapel as the main worship centre. The Shortland
building then became a Youth centre. This union of churches became
effective in 1889.
In 1925 the Congregational Church
discontinued the alliance and the Baptists purchased the property from
the Congregational Union of New Zealand after the February 1926 fire
destroyed part of the back wall of the building causing considerable
damage. Later a kitchen and Bible Class rooms were added to the
rear of the property. Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of the
church in 1929 twelve coloured glass side windows were installed as
memorials to foundation members and early leaders. Family members
contributed to the cost of these. The Friendship Centre was
added to the front of the church during the ministry of the Rev Gavin
Smith who became mayor of Thames. In the 1990’s the property next
door to the Church was purchased to provide much needed space for the
rapidly developing community ministries, and later a purpose built
kindergarten was added at the rear to house the burgeoning
The Thames Baptist Church took a
keen interest in the development of the Coromandel Peninsula
contributing leadership and members to Waihi, Paeroa (Ohinemuri), Te
Aroha, Pauanui and Whitianga which now have active Baptist churches of
their own. In 1882 Thames was one of the founding churches
of the Baptist Union of New Zealand and through the years has played a
part in denominational life. Locally cooperation with the other
Christian churches has always been a priority.
In the closing
years of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first
century commitment to Christian mission has been demonstrated in active
involvement in community ministries. Three trusts, Koinonia,
Ebenezer and the Rainbow Connection have served different needs in the
community. With the developing of these ministries the church staff has
expanded far beyond the original concept of a minister and part time
Extracts from “In Search of the City of Gold” By the
Rev Don Dickson, published for our 140th Anniversary, September
2009. This is available from the church office for $15.00 of can
be sent anywhere in N.Z. for $20.00 including postage and packaging.
The Original Story...
scanned pages are the beginning pages from the first minute book of the
church, begun in September 1869. After the list of church
officers (see third page, below) the book continues with the core
elements of it's confession of faith, before going on to list some of
the clauses of its trust deed relating to the calling of meetings
etc. Then follows the minutes of members' meetings over the first
decade of the church's life and witness in Thames.