Going to church at St John's each Sunday was a family affair for the pioneering settlers in the upper valley. Matilda Whiteman recalled the Saturday evening bustle of cleaning clothes and shoes ready for Sunday service: 'Only a sea of mud caused by heavy rain would prevent the big horse-drawn wagonette with Grandfather at the reins from setting out on the seven mile [11 km] journey; to Grandmother it was a recharging of her spiritual batteries.' And of course the children all came too.
The first record of St John's Sunday School is in 1875, when diocesan accounts show it as having an income of 17/6d, and the following year expenditure of £6/7/- [nearly $1000 in today's terms], indicating a considerable number of scholars. Where the children gathered is not known, but the practice of the time was for Sunday School to meet in the church before or after the main Sunday service. Two years later the Sunday School reported 7 teachers and 80 scholars. In 1881 a 'school room' was being painted and this building, probably at Trentham, continued to need costly maintenance for the next three decades.
Sunday schools waxed and waned during the difficult period in the late 19th century but by 1903 the newly-appointed and energetic Revd Joseph Smith had the youth work on 'a proper footing'. Mrs Bernard was superintendent at Upper Hutt, helped by Mrs Smith and Miss Allan was assisting Mrs Lucre at Trentham. Mr Dalton, lessee of the Criterion in Upper Hutt town, was lending his hall three times a month for Sunday School. A year later, the Sunday schools were going well, spending £3/1/7d [over $500] on 'requisites', and the Vicar was taking children for instruction at Akatarawa, and in the next few years Sunday schools began in Mungaroa, Whiteman's Valley and Silverstream. In 1907, despite the parish being in a 'dire financial state' there were Sunday Schools at Upper Hutt, Trentham, Kaitoke, Silverstream and Lower Akatarawa.
The 1910 building of St Hilda's church in Upper Hutt town helped stabilize Sunday School in the north of the parish, and demand for Sunday school increased in the next years though finding teachers in war-time was a challenge. The Sunday School halls (created from a surplus military hut) at both St Hilda's and St John's came under huge pressure in the 1920s, with the state schools leasing them during weekdays. In 1920, the Sunday School accounts showed turnover of £35/10/4d [nearly $3000], and in 1922, the ever-popular Sunday School picnic involved 111 children, 10 'seniors' and 49 adults taking a rail trip (destination unrecorded) costing £8/7/7d.
By the 1950s the post-war baby boom was putting huge pressure on the old Sunday School (army hut) hall, and even with Upper Hutt becoming a separate parish the need for a new building was acute. Fund-raising in the 1957 Wells programme focused on youth needs, describing the existing hall as hopelessly inadequate; 'unless we as a parish give our young people the opportunity to associate in healthy and happy surroundings, we fail in our duty to them'. Youth work was at a peak, with regular festivals using the Trentham School assembly hall for dances.
The new parish hall, completed in 1963, had a stage, a large kitchen and two badminton courts in the main space. The surrounding community as well as church people made great use of it, and by the late 1970s the seven youth leaders were working with 120 young people and the 12 Sunday School teachers with 140 scholars.
Changes in society and in the Christian community of Upper Hutt made a huge impact on St John's in the 1980s. The newly-formed independent charismatic churches ate into church attendance and lay leadership, and teen togetherness saw the young go where they perceived the action to be - and it wasn't Anglican. The committed youth leaders who stayed worked mostly with the children of church families. Sunday School consolidated and grew modestly, helped by formation of the playgroup for preschoolers, the after-school Tuesday Club which grew out of the Church Army mission in 1987 and the appointment of Church Army sister Ruth Dewdney to develop family ministry.
This pattern of youth ministry mainly to congregation families continued through the 1990s, with maturing young people putting on regular outreach services. The Trentham Youth Worker Trust employing Tuari Reweti and supported by parishioners ran for five years from 2000.
Sunday School has now become KidzStuff, complemented by a weekday lunchtime session at Trentham School (SUPAkidz) and a playgroup, Twinkletoes focuses on music-related activities.
Just over ten years after the first Boy Scout troop was formed in New Zealand, St John's had its own. In August 1919 the vicar announced that a scout troop had started with 32 boys under the direction of vestryman Mr Dry, and a year later the St John's Ladies Guild donated £5 from their bazaar to Mr Dry 'as a small recognition of his work on behalf of the boys'. Nothing more is heard of them however until 1945, when the Scout troop which had been meeting in the parish hall 'temporarily disbanded' and rent paid in advance was refunded.
Though Girl Guides originated in New Zealand before World War 1, the first sign of them at St John's is a mention of a Brownie pack wanting to the use the hall in 1945. The first known Girl Guide troop was inaugurated in 1961 in the parish's centennial year.
The St John's Scout Group was revived in May 1961, sponsored by the parish and open primarily to parish members. Group chairman was B Falloon and the secretary M N Nicholson; scoutmaster K Pryor and Cub master Mr Page. The roll was 29 - 16 cubs with 6 more on the waiting list and 7 scouts, plus 6 leaders. Both groups met in the (old) parish hall and later moved to the new one, but the arrangement was not an easy one with Canon Smallfield remonstrating with the leadership about damage. In the late 1970s the parish and scout group came to an arrangement to build a scout hall extension to the east of the parish hall, and this was opened by the local MP Ron Bailey around 1981.
Scouts, Cubs, Brownies and Guides all made the most of the expanded facilities for some years, but as the heyday of uniformed groups passed, the St John's troops reflected the general decline. This was accompanied by a national trend to amalgamate church groups with other local troops and consolidate facilities. St John's (along with the Cannon Point troop) both joined the Heretaunga Scout Group at the end of 2005. The Scout hall, now surplus to scouting requirements, was returned to the parish and converted into a popular facility known as the Molly Newman room, thus honouring a stalwart parishioner and long-serving supporter and worker for Guiding New Zealand.