The first meeting of Baptists with the object of forming a church in Hawera was held in May 1921. At first the group met monthly as a fellowship. In February 1922 a Sunday School was started and by November 1922 the group formed a recognised church of 29 members meeting in the Forester’s Hall.
The first pastor, Rev Ernest Goring, began work in February 1923. The present church site was bought in October 1923 and the new church took its place in the Central Districts by hosting a meeting with 18 Baptist churches represented. By August 1928 money had been raised and working bees had been held enough for a church building to be opened.
Succeeding pastorates in the 1930s tended to be brief. After the departure of Mr Goring in 1925, six ministers served the church before the arrival of Rev Ayson Clifford in 1941. He was pastor for 5 years and memories of his valued ministry during the difficulties of World War II remained with older members. The roll increased especially in the non-resident section with members in the nearby country districts. Ayson Clifford traveled by train to Stratford to keep in contact with non-resident members at Mangatoki and Ngaere. To the south he visited at Manutahi and Normanby and later Awatuna further to the west.
In the years after WWII there was a period of considerable effort in outreach around the Central and South Taranaki areas under the leadership of Rev Ewen Simpson who came to the Hawera pastorate in February 1946. An interdenominational service was established at Oeo (later taken over by Presbyterians and Methodists) and Baptist fellowships were begun in Stratford and Patea. The Stratford fellowship went on to become an independent Baptist church but by the 1960s the Patea group was discontinued.
Rex Goldsmith commenced his pastorate in Hawera in March 1949 and stayed until 1955. It was very beneficial to the church to have continuity of ministry which was vital at the time of former members returning to Hawera to take employment after serving in the forces. The membership grew as he developed confidence in younger people and adherents and in particular in outlying families in country areas. Services were held monthly at Oeo and Stratford and later Patea and new members were received into church membership from each area.
Early in 1956 a Sunday School was established in the Whenuakura district where a considerable number of school age children lived at the time. In June Rev D Dallaston formed a Youth Group and the meetings were held in the church on Sunday afternoons and as the year progressed it gained momentum with young people taking part with the various programmes arranged.
In April 1959 when the Billy Graham Crusade commenced and the landline link was made the attendance in Hawera was very pleasing with 1,100 attending during the two nights. As a result of the Crusade 83 people attended the counseling meetings.
EXTENDING THE BUILDINGS
With the increase in membership since the end of the 1939 – 1945 war, it was decided a hall should be planned in the future. In September 1957 the church took a big step forward in making arrangements to purchase a nearby property for use as a manse. On the 14 May 1958 the church agreed to proceed with the planning and building of the hall.
CONCERNS ABOUT FALLING NUMBERS OF YOUNG PEOPLE
In 1965 there was concern with fall-out of young people between the ages of 18 and 30. To help the churches the Education Department made arrangements for Dr Kenneth Baker of the United States to visit New Zealand and bring inspiration from the Baptist Convention meetings in the States. The young people of the Hawera church had been given a questionnaire on the programme and running of youth activities and the church in October 1964 had offered to assist the leaders to build a suitable programme. This was put into operation during 1965 and improvement in attendance was evident and the meetings continued on a sounder footing.
NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL INFLUENCES ON HBC
The 1960s and early 70s were years of consistent contact with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Trans-Pacific Crusades and other exchanges. There was considerable emphasis in all NZ Baptist churches on Christian education on the SBC model. There was also a steady emphasis on NZBMS missionary visits, contacts and donations and also a number of local evangelistic “missions” with speakers from out of the area, even from overseas.
By 1968 Waverley and Patea Fellowship meetings were held monthly the average attendance was twelve adults. In 1969 the residents of Manaia requested a prayer meeting to be held and a combined evening service with other local churches commenced. The second Billy Graham Crusade was joined by telecast and there were 22 responses in Hawera.
In February 1970 the church commenced a six-phase program on evangelism and the first phase started by a preparatory address by Rev Eade and in March prayer cells were started in the homes of members. This was one of many such efforts at “special” evangelism following on from the 1960s, but the pattern was not to bring any great growth. Nonetheless some special times have been recorded. In 1972 a vacation Bible School was held in the August holidays and 160 children were enrolled and the average attendance was 110.
In 1973 a successful 50th Jubilee was held, but from then there is little in the records of the outreach groups in Patea, Waverley and Manaia – they seem to have collapsed. The church was struggling to maintain membership by the end of the 70s, with the core group being mainly elderly and containing few young families.
In 1982 there began a new spurt of growth and development. Pastor Paul Tonson brought an emphasis on music into church life. The Sunday School grew into a lively group with several very successful holiday programs being run in the next 5 – 6 years. There was a feeling of energy and purpose which led to the building by volunteer labour of the foyer joining the older church and hall buildings. In 1985 there was a pastoral exchange with Paul and Gillian Tonson and Family going to the San Francisco Bay Area and Pastor Paul Keeler and his wife Beverley spending a year in Hawera.
A change of pastor in 1987 brought another emphasis as Graham Juden did not have the same outgoing musical talents but his wife Elizabeth was very gifted in craft activities and a weekly craft group was begun. In 1990 the church was open for several public “arts festival” displays involving other arts and craft groups in the town. Children’s work continued as a major emphasis with special holiday programs sometimes run with assistance from American exchange helpers. There were also several “mission” events with visitors from the Southern Baptist Convention. By the end of the 1990s, however, church members seemed to have lost energy and were struggling again to gain any growth. The bright spot was the founding of Youth Vision by David Mann and Stuart Millar and the contact this brought with the teenagers in town. Youth Vision brought a new emphasis on co-operation with shared youth ministry among local churches.
GROWTH AND OUTREACH IN THE MILLENIUM
Pastor Raymond McKie arrived from Auckland with his family in January 2000. The church continued its strong focus on youth ministry over all ages, with a flourishing Crèche, Sunday School and Youth ministry.
In 2002 the church started the Alpha ministry, which continued over the following three years bringing new people into the church. The following years were a time of training and development, with courses including:
2002 Network course, Friends for Life and Journey’s
2004 40 days of purpose
2006 40 days of community and The Marriage Alpha course
In 2003 - 04 a new church structure emerged; with the formation of the ‘Board’ leadership team, a new church constitution, and new church vision and values were established.God’s blessing was evident in 2005 when a property developer took interest in the church manse on Glover Rd, which had only been purchased a few years early in 2001. It was agreed to sell the manse for a profit and a new manse was purchased on Rimu St.
With a number of families immigrating to New Zealand from South Africa some of them made Hawera Baptist their Church family. One of many ministries they blessed the church with was rather unique, running Afrikaans Good Friday Services for several years attracting a large number of South Africans in the area who would not usually attend worship.
The Community Craft Group has continued to be a strong ministry over the years, fulfilling a need in the community with older women and including a short Christian devotion.
In 2006 the Church had a makeover with new carpet, interior and exterior paint job and kitchen upgrade.