The Early Years
The original church, built at a cost of £100, opened its doors on Friday, 8 January 1886 when it was dedicated to Bishop Cowie. The name “St Mary’s” had already been allotted to the church in Parnell but the name “St Mary-by-the-Sea” had finally been accepted by the authorities. At that time, the church commanded a beautiful view of Rangitoto and the entrance to Auckland Harbour. There were just eight church families in the district and these families, together with a number of gum-diggers, raised the average church attendance to 30 souls.
The Ministers during the first phase of the church’s life were the Rev. Bates, the Rev. Hitchcock and the Rev. Cross. After the death of the Rev. Cross, there was no regular minister for some time and Captain Charles Ross Chomondley-Smith, one of the founder members of the church, led the church as lay reader.
For about ten years during this time, the church was used as a school, the early teachers being Miss F H Chomondley-Smith, Miss Cameron and Miss Hill.
The church hall was built next to the old church in the 1950s. It was dedicated by Bishop Gowing and between 1955 and 1978 was used for Sunday services as the old church became too small for comfort. This same hall is very much in use today, both by the church and by a number of community groups.
The cemetery was founded in 1928. The graveyard, now closed to burials, had been designated an historical graveyard and is now administered by the North Shore City Council. There is a full record of burials at the church office.
The church has recently established a Garden of Remembrance for the interment of ashes. It is situated along the front of the historic cemetery.
The New Church
Amid much controversy, in 1978 the original church building was shifted from the Torbay corner site to the Awaruku Bush Reserve in anticipation of the building of a new church. The Torbay Community Association made every effort to preserve the historic 107-year old church but tragically, it was destroyed by fire in December 1988.
A new church was already planned for the site. The Parish of St Mary-by-the-Sea and St Cuthbert’s Presbyterian Church decided to pool their resources to build the church, which stands today. The foundation stone was dedicated on 29 July 1979 by Bishop Paul Reeves and the Rev. P N Spencer. The dedication of the church itself on completion took place on 4 May 1980.
The design for the new church drew inspiration from the stable of Jesus’ birth, and this is depicted in the exposed rough-sawn beams and the “shed roof” architecture. The building features beautiful lead glass windows and a marae or fellowship area at the front entrance.
The new church was in joint use by the Anglican and Presbyterian congregations until 1992 when the Presbyterians decided to relocate. St Mary-by-the-Sea is now wholly Anglican owned.
The Early Years