St John’s has been part of Wellington since 1853. The current church building was built in 1885 and is an important symbol of God’s grace and love for the city.
It has a New Zealand Heritage Category 1 rating, meaning that it is recognised to have special or outstanding historical or cultural significance or value. This listing befits St John’s importance as a large Church for national gatherings, the funerals of Prime Ministers Peter Fraser and Sir John Marshall and large concerts. Built from kauri and other native timbers, to a design by renowned architect Thomas Turnbull, it would be impossible to replicate today.
BUT – it cannot currently withstand major earthquakes. It could move off its foundations, or the steeple could collapse in a large quake. The immediate risk to life is modest but we need to act now for the long term – to both protect human life and to preserve and enhance the building. Due to the risk, only limited use is currently possible. If we don’t act, we face the probability of closing the church building.
We are well underway with strengthening the building and invite you to join with us in this task. By caring for this important part of Wellington’s heritage, we are investing in the future of our community, and keeping St John’s both as a symbol of hope and a community asset.
Work is well underway. Here’s what you need to know.
We have a good plan for the work. Engineers from Dunning Thornton have prepared a design to strengthen the building to 70% NBS (New Building Standard) – which will take the Church beyond its earthquake prone status and provide a level of safety that balances cost and risk. We also have the commitment of another well-known and experienced Wellington firm, L.T. McGuiness (who recently completed the strengthening work at St Mary of the Angels).
The strengthening work consists of new reinforced concrete foundation piles, cross-tied under the building, with side-wall buttresses made more robust by the improvement of connections, including new connections to the foundation. New bracing elements at the ends of the church and ply bracing to the main towers will be installed. In areas which require ply lining – namely the two towers and the vestry and choir rooms at the southern end of the building – careful removal, numbering, storage and replacement of the existing kauri match-lining interior cladding will be necessary in order to minimise the disruption to the building aesthetics and original design. We’re also replacing borer-affected timber, stripping away many decades of old paint that needed to be replaced.
The church will be available for Sunday worship throughout, as there is very limited work required in the main worship space.
Download a map of how to access the various parts of St John’s while the work is going on. Please note that once our contractor has possession of the site and if you are there on a weekday, you will need to obey any instructions from them and/or the St John’s office staff. This is for your safety, and the safety of others on site.
We need your help to pay for the work. Strengthening St John’s was budgeted at $4.2 million. Remedial work of replacing structural timber and maintenance have now taken the cost to $5.6 million.
We have some resources we can call on. But we can’t afford to both continue our work in the community and strengthen the Church. St John’s members have not been asked to contribute to a big building project for over a generation and neither has the wider community.
We have helped others with their building projects, including Knox Waitara, St Peter’s, St Mary of the Angels and St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Now we must seek financial support so that St John’s Mission and the heritage Church building and precinct at the corner of Willis and Dixon Streets can continue to serve Wellington for future generations.
We are grateful to all those who have pledged their ongoing support. As of November 2019, we have raised just over 75% ($3.2 million) of the original target of $4.2 million that we need. This is partly made up of the following:
Thanks go particularly to the Wellington City Council for their support of this project. They have granted St John’s a massive $168,500 from their Built Heritage Incentive Fund (BHIF), which shows just how important they consider St John’s is to Wellington. Find out more about this grant.
We also thank the Government’s Community Matters programme and many other people both within and beyond St John’s for their support.
This substantial earthquake strengthening work will need both big and small gifts and a lot of time and energy. It is possible for people to contribute in all these ways, in addition to regular giving:
All gifts are currently eligible for a Government rebate of 33% of the amount gifted to a maximum of each individual giver’s income tax paid in that year.
Two ways to donate
If you would like to donate directly, you can deposit your gift into the following account:
BNZ. St John’s Presbyterian Church.
(Please include your name in the Reference field.)
This way is preferred, particularly for St John’s members, as all of these funds will be allocated directly to the strengthening project.
We also have a Givealittle page set up – https://givealittle.co.nz/org/stjohnsinthecityorgnz – so if you or others you know would prefer to donate this way, we will gratefully accept your donation. This facility also accepts credit cards.
The trust fund
We are indebted to those who have gone before us, who planted a Church community, had the vision to build for the future, and provided an enduring spiritual presence and witness of God’s hope in Wellington City. We are indebted too to those who have given to support the mission of the Church, preserved the capital in the Trust Fund and applied the income to many causes.
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