Over the years, the St Paul’s parish, like most churches, had a rich social and community life. A multitude of organisations existed in the century of the church’s function. While it isn’t possible to track them all in this space, it is worth discussing a few to give the flavour of them. One prominent organisation that existed through the 1880s was the St Paul’s Parochial Association. It organised entertainments and lectures (one of which was ‘Common Sense and Elementary Science, in which the speaker explained the concept of atoms, and acoustics, electricity and magnetism were demonstrated with science experiments, and another was by James Hector about the geological formation of Milford Sound). The Association also had a library and reading room in the Sydney Street Hall which was open to the public. In 1888 the library subscriptions dropped off, as a result of smaller opening hours, and the library collection was dispersed. The Parochial Society had two branches in the 1880s, one for visiting hospital patients and another a Dorcas Society. Both organisations persisted after the Society itself folded.
The Dorcas Society, a women’s organisation, assisted the poor, particularly by providing clothes, coal and boots, and sums of money to widows at Christmas. In the years before the government provision of social welfare and assistance, in particular, organisations such as this took a very active role in the care of families. In 1890 Canon Howell (also discussed here), who was briefly the minister of St Paul’s, urged the women of the Dorcas Society to ‘conduct house to house investigations in the exercise of their functions, as in this way causes of real need would be sought out’. He also reminded the women that they should not only support those of the parish who were in need, but people of all denominations.
The Society continued for many years, and sewed a huge number of garments to give away – in 1912-13 for example they made 380 garments to distribute to families. In the same period a Ladies Working Society (later also called the Ladies Guild) also existed, which made sewing work for sale. This organisation raised very significant amounts of money over many decades to defray the expenses of the parish; for example in 1890 it raises the funds to pay the rent on the Tinakori School Room, and in 1911 made a significant payment for the fund to rebuild the church, and towards the repair of the organ. It seems clear from the record that the parish could not have stayed afloat without the efforts of these women.
For many years St Paul’s provided particular support to the Mission to Seamen, which provided assistance to the visiting sailors who came into Wellington harbour. The vestry of St Paul’s established it in 1888 and ran it for some years. It was later taken over by a public committee, but with continued close ties to the vestry. In 1903 the Mission opened the well-known building on Stout Street (seen in image above). Furthermore, in 1896 the vestry agreed to a request from the Bishop to partly fund a chaplain for the hospital, the goal of which was to ‘relive the Parish Clergy of a large amount of extra-parochial labour’.
In the 1890s Reverend Tisdall established a boy’s club called the St Paul’s Club. This must have ceased operating for a while as in 1912 a St Paul’s Boy’s Club was re-established: ‘it is hoped that in time it will be the means of securing the boys to the Church’. A St Paul’s Boys Scouts existed for some years, and a St Paul’s Girl Guides unit was established in 1924, one of the first units in the country, and which remained an active part of the church until the church closed in the 1960s.
At the beginning of the century an active branch of the Church of England Men’s Society (CEMS) existed at St Paul’s, an organisation imported from the United Kingdom. In its early years, St Paul’s CEMS noted at one point that all but two of the members of the vestry were members. At St Paul’s the CEMS took over managing the church grounds and other work. As discussed in the history of Wellington diocese (H W Monaghan, From Age to Age), the CEMS was a ‘very aggressive body and in the cities on Saturday, they held evangelists services in the open air on the lines of the Church Army’, but that it did not last in New Zealand past the First World War
The Mother’s Union, another organisation originally from the United Kingdom and widespread in New Zealand Anglican churches, played a strong role in St Paul’s for many years. It provided women with an avenue for involvement and leadership in the church. It was devoted to maintaining the Christian ideal of marriage, held monthly services, organised speeches and did a great deal of work in the parish.
At the end of the 1950s some women formed an alternative group called the Young Wives Club, as an antidote to the increasingly elderly nature of the Mother’s Union. The St Paul’s Young Wives Club approached the vicar and asked how they could become a more integral part of parish life, and took over tasks such as the care of the church linens, choir surplices and prayer books.
In the 1930s there was a Social Club, which held dances, badminton, table tennis and billiards. There was also a very popular St Paul’s Nursing Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, which met at the Sydney Street Rooms. It was very active during the Second World War, and its flag was dedicated at the church in 1941.
Towards the end of the church’s active life, Dean Davies noted that he had been concerned for some years about the connection between the church and its young people (blaming his own age as one possible reason), but noted that a new Sunday School teacher, Dudley Smith, had revived the fortunes of the Sunday School, and Minor Canon Pirani had done great work with the young adults through the St Paul’s Young People’s Club and Senior Bible Classes. Davies said that ‘I sometimes felt in the past that this was essentially ‘an old person’s parish’; there is youth in it now, alert, keen, devoted’.
Image: Postcard of the Mission to Seamen Building, Stout Street. Ref: PA1-o-966-017. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22854243