Beckenham Baptist Church: An Overview

Beckenham Baptist Church began life as a Sunday school of the Oxford Terrace Baptist church. As a result of this outreach, by 1880 there were 17 adult members meeting in a hall in Montreal Street South. The Sydenham Baptist church was constituted in that year and the first Minister was appointed.
The new church faced difficult times over the next few years, experiencing slow growth and financial struggles. In order to help with funds the first minister was “hired out” to another church one Sunday a month. During those early years plans were prepared for a new building in Elgin Street and a Sunday school was started at Opawa. The first church building still stands on the north-west corner of the Spotlight Plaza car park.

In 1919 the church had a membership of 128 and called the Rev. J K Archer, originally from England, to become the minister. The church roll included the new work at Opawa. Rev. Archer had been the minister at a number of other Baptist Churches and Chaplain of Tauherenikau Military Camp. He accepted the call to Sydenham on the understanding he would be able to participate in politics. “Archer had strong socialistic views” and would become a Labour politician – although he never was elected to Parliament. In 1925 the Rev. J K Archer was elected the first Labour Mayor of Christchurch. He was re-elected in 1927 with a record majority of 10,000.

Under the Rev. J.K. Archer’s drive the church proceeded with a 15 year plan to re-locate to the land where the complex is today. He personally provided the money to buy the section for the church on Colombo Street, chosen as the convergence of four suburbs – Somerfield, Lower Cashmere, Sydenham and Beckenham.
In 1921 a hall was built for the Sunday school, the Elgin street property was sold and the congregation began worshipping in the new hall. The church’s unused land, between the hall and the houses on Percival Street, was turned into tennis courts.

Nine years later the new church building, in front of the Sunday school hall and facing Colombo Street, was officially opened by the new Governor General, Lord Bledisloe. It is designed to seat 210 people and cost a total of 3,600 Pounds “with furnishings”.

1929. The 1st Christchurch Boys’ Brigade Company was formed under the oversight of the church.
J K Archer retired in 1932. His widow had some older lady friends stay with her in the Archer family home, adjacent to the church. The Minister and Elders decided some assistance be given to Mrs Archer and altered the house to provide good accommodation for 5 ladies. The Archer Memorial Home is a lasting reminder of the vision and commitment of that generation.

In 1950 a Girls’ Brigade officer joined the church, which led to the formation of the 29th Christchurch Girls’ Brigade Company. A group of 7 girls became the core of this new Company.

By 1955, three new classrooms had been added to the hall, and Percival Street houses, backing on to the tennis courts, were purchased.

The Brigade Companies were attracting large numbers of young people so, in 1960, with some financial help from an anonymous donor and a ten year mortgage, the Youth Hall – the size of a basketball court was built.

Emphasis upon Youth and on Mission prompted support of a new Sunday school outreach at Halswell. In 1975, after ten years sharing in that Ministry, the Sunday school was passed back to the Spreydon church.

In the early 1980’s, growing out of the church’s interest and investment in overseas Mission, a team of eight men and four women was sent to Papua New Guinea. They assisted with short-term, practical building projects – for Missionary Roy Wood. Such was the impact that one couple returned a couple of times to continue this type of work and, later, to undertake more extended service with the Christian Leaders’ Training Centre. Four married couples began formal training for ministry – two here and two in Australia.

In the cycle of life, which every living thing experiences, including churches, there are times of growth so in 1981, in order to better seat the people, with a membership of 134, a mezzanine floor was built, at the Colombo Street end of the main building, beneath which the foyer area was created. The foyer also doubled as a “drop-in centre”. The rimu, tiered choir stalls, at the opposite end of the church, were removed and replaced by a carpeted platform. The pipe organ was also removed.

The current name, Beckenham Baptist Church, was chosen in 2001. It was agreed the new name linked the church with the local community and would also help strangers identify where in the city it is located.