St Stephen’s, Peel Forest

st-stephens-card-photos-outside It is comforting that our small church of St Stephen’s still continues to play a central part in the lives of many of those living in Peel Forest It is regarded by some as a community church and so attracts those who would not usually attend an Anglican one. With the closure of the school the church became even more important to those of us who live in the area and worshipping and meeting together twice a month is a special part of village life. The amalgamation of our school with Carew, and later with Mesopotamia, has had many positive outcomes and it has brought the communities of these areas together in a way no-one had anticipated. A Montessori pre-school now occupies the old school building and the school house has been set up, fully furnished and equipped by the local community, to be used by families from throughout Canterbury who require time away from looking after special needs children.

In the early days St Stephen’s had a somewhat turbulent history with the weather playing a major part in its evolution. The first church was erected in 1868 and while it was named it was not consecrated. It was built for the people and any one particular denomination, in some small way similar to its use today. However, on 14th May 1884 a whirlwind lifted it bodily from its piles and it was completely demolished. It says something for the faith of the community that within seven months money had been collected which with a small grant was sufficient to build a new church large enough to seat 80 people. The first service was held in June 1885 and the church was consecrated, free of debt, in January 1887. A bell tower was attached to the church but it proved too light for the weight of the bell and anyway in 1914 again the weather intervened and it was blown down. In 1915 a separate and attractive bell tower was built and a vestry was added to the church. In 1939 monies were left in Trust by Miss Barbara Dennistoun for the church to be rebuilt in stone. This money was invested and most of the interest is now used for maintenance within the parish.

St Stephen’s is worth a visit just to view the four beautiful stained glass windows. Of particular interest to the parish is the west window as it was designed by Roy Entwistle in 1977. Roy at the time was the art master at Geraldine High School and up until his death in 2004 was a very prominent and respected member of our parish. The window has a distinctly New Zealand flavour as it depicts St Francis in company with his animals which include fantails, bellbirds, tuis, native pigeon together with native foliage and kowhai. Roy also designed, and in one case actually made, the two recently added windows. One depicts St Brendan and is dedicated to the memory of Captain George Dennistoun and his wife Beatrix and the other in memory of Lieutenant Commander Desmond Martin. This has a nautical theme and mentions seven of the thirty Royal Navy ships he served on from 1937 to 1950. Both windows contain many interesting features and if you haven’t been up to St Stephen’s for sometime you are always welcome to pay us a visit, especially when we are having a service..
I note from the records that in 1901 the average number attending services was 37 from a total population of 170. We cannot match this number these days but we are pleased with the wide age range amongst our congregation, especially when the Acland family is in attendance! However on certain occasions the church is full to overflowing, at Easter and Christmas in particular but also when Ro Acland has organized a drama and carol service for children, or a beginning-of-year “back to school” service or a “pet”service which is always refreshing because of its unpredictability! These services have attracted a number who do not normally attend on a Sunday.

Peter Prosser