In its first half-century, St John’s was led by a number of short-term clergy with local lay people holding the parish together, and lay readers, both local and visiting, taking services between vicars. There were exceptions – Charles Nicholls stayed ten years – but not till G V Kendrick saw the parish through the Great Depression did clergy appointments stabilize. The pattern then changed to a series of long incumbencies, with Canon Smallfield staying for 17 years through the 1950s, Archdeacon Tom Pearson for 14 in the 1960s-70s,and Revd later Canon Peter Stuart for twelve during the 80s.
‘The Upper Hutt’ was not a popular place for clergy in the early days. They and their families found McHardy’s clearing, where the church was built in 1863, wet, cold and gloomy. The early vicarage, a simple slab hut like those used by settlers, was not appreciated by vicar’s wives from England. As the trees were cut down and the sawmillers moved on, building a congregation was hard work, not helped by the shift of people north as the railway bypassed the previous commercial hub of nearby Fortune Lane. Rivalry and sometimes ill-feeling between different denominations did not help. John Devenish (1887-88), posted to the parish while still a deacon, named it Ichabod [the glory is departed] remarking that everyone who was able to get away from the place did so.
Later Canon Smallfield referred to ‘Gashmu'’s successors’ making the parish untenable (a reference to the Old Testament’s Nehemiah, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem despite gossip, nay-saying and a whispering campaign) and no clergyman would serve there.
During these hard times, committed church people including the Barton, Whiteman and Cruickshank families and lay reader Frank Connell, held the parish together – underwriting expenditure, taking services and running Sunday Schools.
A new seven-room vicarage on the ‘church acre’, built in 1894, made Trentham a more agreeable posting and the arrival of the Revd and Mrs Smith in 1903 began the new century with new life. The energetic young (aged 35) vicar reorganized parish finances, paid off debts and opened fresh territory. Regular services in halls, schools and homes at Upper Hutt, Kaitoke, Whiteman’s Valley, Silverstream, Mungaroa and Akatarawa as well as Trentham placed huge demands on lay readers and the vicar. Smith’s successor Mr Sykes said he covered 43,000 miles [nearly 72,000 km] in his 6-year tenure, and that without a car, as the first parish vehicle did not arrive till 1919. He was at least relieved of Pauatahanui in 1913.
The Criterion hall in the growing Upper Hutt township was used for Anglican services and Sunday School before St Hilda’s was built.
Land was gifted in both the north and south of the parish and energetic ladies’ guilds fundraised to build local churchrooms. The first service in St Hilda’s Church, on the edge of the Upper Hutt commercial district, was held on 31 August 1910, and St Mary’s church room in Silverstream was completed in March 1931.
The first long-serving vicar, the Revd George Kendrick arrived in 1924 to find the parish with plenty of land but short of solid buildings. He remedied this through arranging to bring a large Featherston army hut over the Rimutaka hill, and chopping it in half to provide halls in Upper Hutt and Trentham. Despite the financial strains of the Great Depression these proved a great base for Sunday School and youth work. During the second world war it became a social hall for families of soldiers based at the military camp.
Following the difficult wartime period with huge social need and limited manpower for ministry (women were not allowed to lead worship until 1972), the Revd William Smallfield arrived from Taihape and over the next two decades the community, the parish and the buildings all expanded. St Hilda’s became a separate parochial district with its own vicar in 1955, the same year as St John’s church was extended sideways to double its seating. As with many other parishes, the 1957 Wells campaign (for all its controversial techniques) set the parish finances on a sound footing, and a new vicarage with access via Cottle (now Moonshine) Road was at last built following sale of three Main Road sections.
The Revd Tom Pearson, with his wife Ngara, arrived from Gisborne in 1964 and built on this solid foundation for another 14 years. As industries such as General Motors and educational centres – the CIT, Fergusson Intermediate and Upper Hutt College - opened, housing spread over farmland and families moved into the parish. Youth work [link] expanded. Silverstream parish separated off in 1969 but growth continued throughout the 1970s. In 1978, Archdeacon Pearson’s last year at Trentham, there were two clergy – Tom Pearson and Doug Jones, two lay readers – George Cotton and John Allen, 1400 church families, 80 baptisms, 46 marriages and 44 burials.
The next decade was the heyday of the charismatic renewal, with its emphasis on experience of the Holy Spirit and on pastoral leadership by elders. Many church people including some from St John’s were attracted to this spirituality, and Tom’'s successor Tony Gardiner had to struggle with a depleted congregation and loss of youth leaders, though his work in local schools bore long-term fruit. It took another long-serving vicar, Peter Stuart, who arrived in 1982, over ten years to rebuild the church’s youth and music ministries and ease inter-church relationships. The 4-year Education for Ministry course helped deepen the lay leaders’ understanding of Christianity, and, as a pilot parish for the catechumenal process, those new to the parish were welcomed and integrated into parish life. The 125th anniversary of the parish in 1986 was marked by a Church Army visit which reached into the mission field of the geographically smaller parish and established contact with new residents as well as building up the core leadership. As well as Bill Thomas and Bob Clark lay readers included Kelvin Strong and George Cotton, both of whom went on to ordination. Church Army sister Ruth Dewdney served three years in the three Upper Valley parishes, building up ministry to children and families.
In the last 25 years more homes have been built within parish boundaries, notably on the old Craig’s Flat, some big industries and the CIT have closed and the military camp has expanded. For some years the parish hall, renamed the ‘Community Centre’, was the base for further education for teenage mothers, with a crèche for their children in the Scout Hall, and the hall also provided a home for the Trentham youth worker trust, which employed Tuari Reweti. The musical gifts of the parish’s first woman and first co-vicars, Christine and Andrew Allan-Johns, took the parish into less formal worship and began the hall-based mid-morning Sunday service which continues today. ‘Alpha’ courses brought in new people, and ‘Disciple’ helped deepen and broaden understandings of faith.
The current vicar, David Pask, has continued the service pattern, with a mid-Sunday morning modern worship service followed by lunch in the parish hall, preceded by an earlier Holy Communion in the church. The growth of self-supporting ordained ministry saw long-serving parishioner Kelvin Strong priested in 1999 and the Revd Anne Miller joined the leadership team in 2006. Land holdings are being consolidated, with the vicarage sold in 2004 and plans for the empty paddock behind the hall. The Community Centre is well used by ministries to children, overseen by Raewyn Rowney on Sundays, and Anne Miller leads an all-comers music programme for pre-schoolers. A new development is the diocesan ‘pioneer ministry’ of deacon David Smart, who has recently been licensed to Trentham parish.