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.
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!