First Church Invercargill  
May 2024
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The text below is written as a self-guide for visitors and it is hoped that one day you will be able to visit in person. I have reproduced it here with the hope that the text and the links within it will also be of interest to website visitors. [cs]

First Presbyterian Church has a history which spans nearly 140 years and today is the home of an active and lively congregation which accepts responsibility to care for and use the magnificent building they have inherited from their forebears. Maintenance of a building complex of this size is significant but a policy of continual renewal ensures that this grand architectural statement of faith is kept in good condition.

Please make your way from the office through Stobo Hall and on through the church to the portico at the Tay Street frontage.

First a word about the building. It is of Italian Romanesque design, the only church of its kind in New Zealand. It was designed by Mr John Mair, who grew up in the congregation and later studied in America. He drew his inspiration from the Italo-Byzantine period and the building recalls the beautiful work of the plains of Lombardy, where conditions of climate and available materials are similar to those in southern New Zealand. The building is constructed of locally made bricks, more than a million of them, many placed in beautiful mosaic designs. The campanile, or bell tower, is 32 metres high and is a focal point on the city skyline. The walls at the base of the tower are a metre thick. The original bells, which were of tubular design, have been restored to working use by Mr Bruce Hoffman and are played on special occasions. An electronic carillion, gifted by Mrs Kathleen Kirkby, is used for most services.

The present church was built in 1915, at a cost the equivalent of about $30,000. The Dunedin firm of McKinnon & Hamilton was the successful contractor and the master bricklayer was Mr Arthur Sefton of Invercargill. It is the second new building on this site. The first was opened in 1863 and subsequently enlarged twice. Stobo Hall, at the rear of the church, formed part of the original building contract. It is named after the Rev. A.H. Stobo, the first minister, who came out from Scotland and was ordained and inducted on the 29th of June 1860. Sir George Grey, who was Governor of New Zealand from 1848 to 1853, gave the Invercargill congregation the right to use the site on which the church stands.

On the frontage of the building is a memorial plaque to the Rev J F H Wohlers, a German missionary who was the first to bring the Gospel to this part of New Zealand. He ministered to the Maori at Ruapuke Island, off the coast from Bluff, which was one of the sites where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. The plaque was erected during Southland's centennial celebrations in 1956.

Look through the glass doors at the Ythan Street end of the portico to view the foundation stone of the building, laid on the 26th of October 1910 by a former minister of the church, the Rev John Ferguson, then of Sydney, Australia, and the minister at that time, the Rev R M Ryburn, later the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand. Directly ahead, beyond the foundation stone is a stained glass window based on the theme of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd. This is taken from John's Gospel chapter 10 verse 14, where Jesus is quoted as saying: " I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine." The window was presented to the church by Mr James H. Boyd in memory of his wife, Elizabeth and two sons, Edward and Peter.

Etched into the glass of each entrance door is an Iona Cross, sometimes called a Celtic cross. These crosses tell of the Scottish link with the Presbyterians of Southland. The cross is the type used by the early Scottish Christians on the island of Iona, off the coast of Mull, Argyll. The circle is an emblem of eternity, and suggests the eternal quality of redemption.

Above the doors, etched into the glass, is a representation of the symbol of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, the burning bush. This originates from the Old Testament book of Exodus where an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush, and, as Exodus records, the bush burned but was not consumed.

Facing north are nine small stained glass windows, three provided by the estate of a former choirmaster of the church, William Quinn, and six gifted in memory of William and Eliza Asher. Beginning to your right, as you face them, the Asher windows depict the miracles of Jesus and the Nativity in this order - 'The Draught of Fishes,' 'The Raising of Lazarus,' 'Healing the Leper' 'The Three Wise Men,' 'The Nativity' and 'The Shepherds in the Fields.' The nativity scene was used as the basis for one of New Zealand's Christmas postage stamps in 1970. The Quinn windows depict three parables, 'The Good Samaritan,' 'The Wicked Husbandmen or Tenants' and 'A Sower Went Forth to Sow.'

Centred below the nine small windows in the centre of the portico is a wood carving of The Last Supper, based on the painting by Leonardo da Vinci on the wall of the Santa Maria Della Grazia Monastery in Milan. First Church was presented with the carving in 1909 by Mrs T M Macdonald, a daughter of the Rev T S Forsaith, who had served for a time in Venice, where the carving is believed to have originated. It is a beautiful work of art and dedication and an inspiration to all who see it. The moment of time depicted is a dramatic one when Jesus says 'One of you will betray me.' Mr Forsaith was evidently a man of many parts having been at various times a sea captain, businessman, politician and Minister of the Gospel. As leader of the Liberal Party in 1854 he had the unusual distinction of being Prime Minister of New Zealand for two days.

Look through the doors at the western end of the portico to view the War Memorial Chapel with plaques listing the names of those from First Church who lost their lives in both World Wars. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifice of others and as a place of prayer and contemplation on entering or leaving the church.
Leave the portico and go on through into the narthex, or inner vestibule.

Here are cupboards to house hymnbooks and other equipment and a book which visitors are invited to sign. At either end of the narthex are toilets and stairways leading to the gallery, which is used when seating in the body of the church is fully occupied.

Now move into the nave of the church, which is 27 metres long, 21 metres wide and 15 metres high. Pause a moment to take in the atmosphere and then walk down the wide central aisle to the rail which separates the chancel from the nave. Directly ahead is the Communion table, the centrepiece of the chancel. The front of the table has three panels, representing the Unity of the Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. The centre panel contains the Christogram IHS, an abbreviated form of the Greek word for Jesus. In the outer panels are depicted ears of wheat, representing the bread, and bunches of grapes, representing the wine, the symbols of the broken body and blood of the crucified Jesus. The columns at either end of the Holy Table perpetuate features of the original pulpit, which was replaced by the present one.

Above the table note the Cross, the pre-eminent symbol of the Christian faith, suspended in front of the deep blue curtain, or reredos. The Cross is of strip bronze with filigree ornamentation within the outer framework. Similar work adorns the rail separating the chancel from the nave.

Around the Communion Table are stalls for the elders of the church to sit during Holy Communion. At your left are the choir stalls and lectern, and on your right the baptismal font, the Rodgers 940 organ and the pulpit, from which sermons are preached. The pulpit is round, emphasising the earliest symbols of God, and the circle is ornamented with carved wooden roses. The rose theme is continued on the lectern, the baptismal font and around the top of the chancel woodwork. The Biblical rose is a white flower which blooms only in the winter of Israel.

Turn completely around and face the entrance doors. Above the clock on the gallery fascia is one of the three large stained-glass windows which spill multicoloured light into the church on sunny days. This is the Memorial Window dedicated to the memory of 44 soldiers from First Church who died in World War I. This pictorial window is in three sections, or lights as they are called. The central light depicts Jesus on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice. At his feet are Mary, his earthly mother and John the beloved disciple. In the left light is Peter, a knight of the Middle Ages, and a soldier. The right light depicts St Paul and a Red Cross nurse attending to a kneeling soldier. The theme of the window was suggested by the Rev Lawson Robinson, the artist was J W Brock, of Dunedin, and the work was done by Smith & Smith of Dunedin.

Turn now to your right to face the east gallery window which has as its theme 'Let the children come unto me.' The theme comes from the time Jesus was preaching in Judea and the women brought their children with them. As recorded by Matthew Jesus said 'Let the little children come unto me, do not hinder them, for of such belongs the kingdom of heaven.' This is known as the Grigor window, given by Mrs Mary Woodhouse Grigor in memory of her husband, Dr William Grigor, and son.

Directly opposite is the west gallery window, "The Sermon on the Mount." This window is in a changed, newer form of art and the different colour treatment suits the strong afternoon sunlight which streams through this window. The window depicts Jesus preaching from Mount Jabel Hattin overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was a gift from the Anderson family in memory of their parents, Sir Robert and Lady Anderson, whose home, Anderson Park, is now a city showplace and art gallery.

Still standing at the chancel entrance you can see the windows on the ground floor beneath the galleries; three sets of two lights on each of the east and west walls making 12 separate sashes depicting various disciples, evangelists, deacons and martyrs of the early Christian era. There were two systems of giving these windows to the church, especially during the extensive renovations made to the interior in 1956-57, and a campaign to have the windows installed extended over the decade of the fifties. Some donors gave the entire window, chose the subject and had the window installed at their own expense. The others were paid for from a fund supported by numerous donations.

Start your examination of the windows at the south-west corner, on your left. Here we have St Paul, known as the disciple to the Gentiles. The symbol of the horse and sword represents Paul wielding the 'Sword of the Spirit' which is the message of the Bible itself. This window is in memory of the Rt Rev Jas A Thomson, Minister from 1937 to 1951 and Moderator of the General Assembly at the time of his death. The second of this pair of sashes shows the figure of St James the Great, not to be confused with James the Less or James the Lord's brother. His symbol is often three scallop shells but this artist depicts a sword and staff, a book and a dove, all suggesting the disciple's zeal and missionary spirit. This window is in memory of William McCaw, Session Clerk for 56 years up to 1952 when he resigned at the age of 88.

The middle pair of sashes on the west wall are of St Matthew and St John, two of Jesus's 12 disciples. St Matthew was a tax collector and his symbol is the purse. The scroll signifies his skill in writing and keeping records. St John has a scroll and also a cup or chalice with a serpent coming out of its rim. Early Christian writers state that John drank from a poisoned chalice but was unharmed. Both these windows and the two directly opposite on the east wall, were given by Mrs Alex Strang in memory of her husband, who was a Deacon for 18 years.
The north-west pair of sashes represent St Thomas and St Stephen. St Thomas, one of the 12, has as his symbol the spear. He was said to have built a church in India with his own hands but was later persecuted and killed with a spear. He was also known as 'doubting' Thomas and you see him in this window examining Christ's wounds. St Stephen was one of the seven deacons appointed to look after the daily distribution to the poor, a writer and teacher, as depicted by the quill. He was stoned to death, as shown in the window and was the first Christian martyr.

If you now cross over to the east side the first figure in the north-east light is St Philip, another of the 12. He was the man who questioned Jesus about the lack of bread before the feeding of the five thousand. Not surprisingly, his symbol is often a loaf of bread. There is a second Philip mentioned in Scripture, often called Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven deacons and known for his skill in casting out devils. This may explain the serpent in the window. The second light is of St Barnabas whose symbol is the quill. He was a companion of Paul and kept a written record of Paul's work. This window was given by Mr and Mrs Robert Shields, in memory of their two daughters who were killed in the Seddon railway disaster.

The middle pair of lights on the east wall depict St Mark and St Luke. The drawing of the figures and faces in these two windows is of outstanding quality and is in traditional orthodox church art. St Mark was not one of the 12 disciples but rather an evangelist and his symbol is the book. His gospel is the basis of both Matthew's and Luke's gospels. As far as present knowledge goes, Mark wrote his gospel first.

St Luke, likewise, was not one of the 12 but a physician and an evangelist - a man of learning and culture. He was a Gentile and scholars think that he wrote the gospel bearing his name and also much of the book of Acts.

The last two lights at the south-east corner are of St Peter and St Andrew. St Peter was the most prominent of the 12 disciples and an outstanding leader of the early church. His association with fishing is portrayed by the nets and fishes. This window commemorates the work of the second Minister of the church, The Rev John Ferguson. St Andrew was one of the 12 and is the patron saint of Scotland. His symbol, the diagonal cross, signifies that when preaching in Greece he was crucified on a cross of that shape. The window was given by Mr and Mrs James Stobo in memory of the first Minister of the church, the Rev A H Stobo.

Right alongside this last set of windows is the Bethune Chapel, named after the Rev A Bethune who began Presbyterian services in Invercargill in 1856. This special little area contains a 1915 chair and Communion table and above is a modern stained glass window of abstract design, representing a summary of the Christian faith. It was presented by Dr Una Porter, a grandaughter of Mr Bethune.


Please take a seat in the chapel to hear a little more of the history and witness of First Presbyterian Church, Invercargill. The church has a great history, but it is also a living entity. The members of First Church take every opportunity to live out the mission statement, "A Sanctuary in the City." Maintenance of the building is an ongoing concern and in light of the listing of the church as an "Historic Place," the congregation and office bearers oversee a schedule of maintenance that will guarantee its preservation for future generations.

Floodlighting illuminates the frontage of the building and the distinctive tower and a sophisticated sound system ensures that even those with hearing loss can follow the services. The Rodgers 940 electronic organ and a fine quality Yamaha piano provide the support for congregational singing and also serve as instruments worthy of concert performance. The musical tradition at First Church is maintained by a regular choir and frequent concert performances arranged by the Tay Music Trust and other organisations. The fine acoustics of the building make it a superb place for performance of music and visiting choirs and ensembles often make it their Invercargill venue. The Tay Music Trust was established to encourage public performance of music, particularly by young people.

Witness to the community is accomplished through more than 20 elders' districts as well as through women's groups, Sunday school and boys' and girls' clubs. A lively newsletter is produced monthly and a worship bulletin weekly.

To complete your tour visit the First Church Heritage Centre, above the Church Office, which houses historical records and memorabilia of earlier days in the life of the church. It contains much of general interest and also has facilities for study and research. Copies of records may be obtained by genuine inquirers.

We welcome visitors to our services and trust that you have enjoyed inspecting the church and learning a little of its history and its role in the city.


Having felt the peace of this sanctuary in the city,
seen its beauty,
and experienced its tranquillity,
go now in peace.

May the God who loves you keep you safe
in your journeying and bring you
in good time
safe to your own home.


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Minister : Rev Nyalle Paris
First Presbyterian ChurchTay Street PO Box 941 Invercargill 9840 New Zealand. Ph (03) 218 2560 - 64 3 218 2560 International
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