Our church started as an Open Brethren house church in 1883. The house church began around the time of a revival in Dunedin when 500 people were meeting in a hall along what is now Dunedin’s ANZAC Avenue. On one occasion a series of addresses by R. A. Torrey and his song leader Charles McCallon Alexander witnessed 1000 people counselled for salvation. By 1901, Dunedin had the highest number of Open Brethren assemblies of all the main centres in New Zealand.
After outgrowing the house in which they were meeting, the believers at Caversham began renting College Street School in 1886. By the early 1900s it became clear the growing congregation would need its own building. The Sunday school numbered over 200 children! The present building, located at 17 Playfair Street, was purchased from a Baptist congregation in 1908 at a cost of £575. The building came with a chapel, complete with baptistry and a pulpit bolted to a platform at the front, a kitchen, classrooms, a games hall, a lounge, and an outdoor privy.
The building has never had a denominational name on it. All early photos just show, “Playfair Street Hall.” In the early 1960s, the name was changed to Caversham Gospel Chapel. In the 1990s, it became Caversham Community Church.
In both world wars, a significant number of men and women from our congregation served in the military forces, but not all of them returned. At the homecoming of these service personnel, on both occasions, a service was held to remember those who did not return, to thank God for those who did, and to rejoice at the religious freedom we enjoy in New Zealand.
Home and overseas missions have always been a priority for our church. In New Zealand, we have supported the “Sailors' Rest” at Port Chalmers, youth ministry, children’s Sunday school, school holiday programmes, Boys and Girls Rally, Youth for Christ, Scripture Union, Gideons International, Christian Women Communicating Internationally (CWCI), Prison Fellowship International, the Bible College of New Zealand, outreaches at the University of Otago, and Sunday afternoon children’s radio programmes.
We also have supported many overseas missionaries including ones with Student Life, United Maori Mission, Covenant Players, South Seas Evangelical Mission, Andes Evangelical Mission, Open Air Campaigners, and Word of Life, and individual missionaries in Papua New Guinea and Ukraine.
Associated with our youth work have been some memorable annual inter-church cricket, rugby, and soccer matches as far afield as Invercargill and Christchurch. Our annual in-house married vs. singles cricket matches were also a highlight. There were also all-day car rallies covering some extensive out of the way areas, with petrol at 50 cents a gallon!
We’ve also held annual youth seminars where a wide range of topical issues were discussed and a biblical perspective given. People came all the way from Invercargill and Oamaru for these.
Other events have included church camps, youth camps near Berwick, raft races down the Taeri River, and a “A Night at the Oscars,” in which participating church groups could exhibit homemade movies, the hall set up with round tables for a sophisticated meal. The walls were decorated with huge original movie posters and everyone (youth, late teens, early 20’s) were in formal dress. All these activities provided a good safe environment for people to get together, enjoy each other’s company, form new friendships, and hear a short message from God’s word.
In the 1990s, our church was full of university students who travelled across town by the vanful. The energy of the students brought a lot of life to our congregation. In the new millennium, our Rally and Word of Life ministries thrived with many unchurched teens coming from King’s and Queen’s High Schools.
In the past few years, God in his grace has helped us to regrow with several new families coming and lots of new energy brought by the next generation. Our youth group, Rally ministry, and Sunday school classes are thriving, our music is God-glorifying, and we continue to preach God’s word week in and week out. We thank God for what he has done recently.
Coming out of a foundation of solid, in-depth biblical teaching our church has always modelled itself on the New Testament requirement to be a Christ-honouring, caring, loving, united, and welcoming community of forward-looking followers of Jesus. We have a strong heritage to uphold, both biblically and in our local community, as we wait eagerly for Jesus’ return. Our endeavour is to bring all to spiritual maturity and to help each member find their unique place of service in God’s will.
We are proudly part of Christian Community Churches of New Zealand (CCCNZ), a movement of Open Brethren heritage churches.
Sunday school teachers at Jubilee celebration, 1933
Boys' Rally, 1957
Choir and audio drama actors at the Burlington Street Radio Recording Studio, 1969
Wesleydale youth camp, 1981
Sharing a message from God's word, 2020
Our church family, 2020