Church closure marks end of an era for Dipton parish

Farewelled . . .Simon and Mikko Milligan remove the last of the consecration items from Dipton Presbyterian Church as it closed last Sunday. The Milligans represent the fifth and sixth generations of their family who were associated with the church. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

As the doors of the Dipton Presbyterian Church closed behind the old wooden cross, the history books were also closed.

The 60 people who gathered for the church’s final service on Sunday would not have missed the thunder and lightning’s timely boom ringing out around the province.

Parish session clerk John Willis said he was unsure if the ‘‘terrific thunderstorm’’ was a sign from God.

‘‘He might have been crying, or he could have been sharing this with blessings. It depends whether you look negatively or positively.’’

The parish’s services were initially held in 1877 in the local school until a permanent church was built.

But the present building, constructed in 1969, was a relatively new addition to the parish, with the original constructed in 1892.

Mr Willis said the Northern Southland church was the only parish for hundreds of miles that was supported by a minister who did his rounds on horseback.

The culture of the day meant services were well attended.

However, attendance started to decline in the 1970s — not long after the original white pine church was replaced.

The cross carried from the final service had been built from timber from the original building, he said.

‘‘Someone said, it was probably the only two planks that didn’t have borer in them.’’

The decision to close was made in July, but church protocols that needed to be followed had delayed the closure until this month.

Regular attendance had dwindled to about five people each week who would be offered a house church option.

‘‘But there was no point just trying to heat a whole church for about four or five people.

‘‘It’s come to that point where, for maintenance and the costs involved, it was not viable to keep it.’’

Several longtime central and Northern Southland families attended the final gathering.

Memories were shared by former parish Rev Ken Calvert, Lyndsay McDonald and Andrew Watson.

As part of the deconsecrating, the church Bible, communion chalice, plate, baptismal font and cross were removed from the church before the doors were closed for the final time, he said.

Mr Willis said he was unsure of the building’s future but its universal structure and allotment meant it could be converted to a multitude of uses.