This church was formed by nineteen English Baptists in 1863 – thirteen years after the founding of Christchurch. The first minister was Rev Decimus Dolamore, who was one of the pioneers of Baptist work in New Zealand. The congregation initially met in the Town Hall in High Street, and then built a chapel on land it had purchased in Lichfield Street (1864). After an unfortunate division within the membership (1867), the people reunited in 1870 and worshipped in a chapel in Hereford Street, which was moved to the present site in Oxford Terrace in 1879.
The church has had a long association with the life of the city, has been involved in setting up new congregations in Christchurch, and was a founding member of the Baptist Union of New Zealand and the New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society (now called TRANZSEND), both of which had their original meetings at Oxford Terrace.
The church building pictured below was opened in 1881 and then destroyed by two major earthquakes, and the site cleared in 2011. Its classical design was notable in a city dominated by Gothic church architecture, perhaps reflecting our English roots by taking cues from Spurgeon’s Baptist Tabernacle in London. It was listed as a Category 1 building by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The refurbishment of the interior of the church in the late 1980s provided a light, open space. The Bevington pipe organ, imported from England, was installed in 1915 and continued to play a part in the 10.30am Sunday worship of the church until the building was declared unsafe following a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on 4 September 2010. The pipe organ was successfully recovered from the building for restoration and eventual reinstatement.
The building suffered serious damage from the 4 September 2010 earthquake and the front facade was propped up in anticipation of repair.
The building was totally destroyed by the magnitude 6.3 earthquake on 22 February 2011 which caused the side walls to fall outwards and the roof to collapse. Amazingly no-one was killed in the church properties although 185 people lost their lives in different locations around the city in this devastating event.
The church also lost three residential properties next to the church site. All of the buildings were insured and in 2016 plans for a new mixed use facility are close to being built. Insurance proceeds are expected to cover perhaps a third of the new build, as the church tries to develop facilities that are an expression of current church life. This will include gathering spaces, commercial offices for rent, a cafe, and 10 residential apartments. Our architect has described it as “a modern day monastery”… living, working and worshiping together.