Untiring Dedication in the Promotion of Missionary Propaganda.

The Great Depression of the 1930s resulted in a substantial fall-off in contributions to the missionary programmes within the Presbyterian Church. By 1929 their major overseas missionary projects in Vanuatu, South China, and the Punjab, India, had reached a substantial outlay with 27 missionaries, oversight of extensive building programmes including schools and hospitals, and the supply of resources for all aspects of its work. Three years into the Depression the funding had reached crisis point. With the difficulties of foreign exchange rates and the depletion of credits held in London, the deficit for 1932 of £5969 ($634,694) had reached the highest ever, setting the Missions Committee into a spin. From the perspective of Committee officials the cause lay at the feet of the Presbyteries that conveyed a sense of independence from their national responsibilities and a ministry who were not sufficiently able to motivate their parishioners. Acknowledging the financial difficulties church members were experiencing in their lives, the Missions Convener, the Rev. Fraser Barton, reminded ministry and members alike, that their obligation to spreading the gospel was ‘a permanent’ responsibility which, even ‘material or economic’ circumstances could not relieve them from.[1]

The resolution: a decade long intensive publicity, propaganda and education programme. Mr. Joseph Hunter, ex Principal of Gore High School, was appointed as a Publicity Officer, a position he held for three years. Described as a ‘somewhat unromantic and certainly difficult task’ his role was to assist office-bearers in promoting missions, organising fund raising programmes throughout New Zealand and encouraging congregations to be responsible for their share in the mission task.[2]

A publicity programme as outlined by the General Assembly held great appeal for Henry Barton, who formed the Missionary Education Committee in 1931 in Dunedin. Along with convening the newly formed Synod’s Mission Committee, Barton began to fulfill his goal to have the Synod’s work linking more closely into the work of the General Assembly. He convened both these Committees well into the 1950s.

A.H. Reed Building, Jetty Street Dunedin. from http://builtindunedin.com/tag/a-h-reed/

A.H. Reed Building, Jetty Street Dunedin. from http://builtindunedin.com/tag/a-h-reed/

Central to the success of the Committee’s Education programme was the establishment of a Missionary Depot to be housed in the Otago Branch Council of Religious Education Room in the AH Reed Building, Jetty Street, Dunedin. Under the supervision of Miss Ethel Calder, well known for her work in the Free Kindergarten movement, the Missionary Depot opened in 1933.[3] Confronted by a constant lack of funding and shortage of resources, Ethel Calder, with the support of women from the local Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union, gathered resources locally and made numerous costumes from donated fabrics to be used in missionary plays.   With perseverance the Committee ensured a missionary library was established which included books, magazines, photographs, slides, film strips, movies, and projectors, all of which were in frequent demand throughout the Synod area and beyond. Lack of funding was a constant however. The GA Youth Committee paid for rental and power costs and the Missions Committee for publication costs. Anything extra such as new slides or teaching resources was provided by the Women’s missionary organisations and interested supporters. The Synod eventually granted £10 for general use from its office expenses;[4] an amount which did not increase for over 20 years.

Imperial Building 1 Dowling Street, Dunedin

Imperial Building 1 Dowling Street, Dunedin

By October 1943 the Missionary Depot had outgrown its space and the decision to move into the second floor of the Imperial Building, at the bottom of Dowling Street, meant it became closely linked to other Presbyterian Offices. The Imperial Building had been the home of the Synod Office and Committee Rooms, and the Presbyterian Social Service Association (PSSA) since 1940. Some pleasure was expressed that the southern Church had, at last, a centre, which they could call their own. The arrangement lasted into the 1960s when the PSSA relinquished their lease and moved into the Cameron Centre on First Church grounds in 1965 and the Synod Office moved to Cargill House. The Missionary Depot continued from a room in Burns Hall at First Church where it remained until the early 1980s when it’s services were no longer in demand. Laurie Williams, Synod Clerk at the time believed what was left of the very old costumes were disposed of.[5]

The Missionary Education Committee became well known for several significant projects; the publication of the prayer calendar and the annual Missionary projects for children from primary level to Junior Bible class, which survived into the late 1970s.[6] The small and dedicated Committee undertook an important role in maintaining a liaison between the missionaries in the fields with the various church missionary organisations and the church papers. They ensured that missionary information reached as many Presbyterians as was possible through preparing studies, special Sunday Services and displays.

Miss Ethel Calder.  She was a member of Caversham Parish, Dunedin.  Presbyterian Research Centre PL-6-34

Miss Ethel Calder. She was a member of Caversham Parish, Dunedin. Presbyterian Research Centre PL-6-34

The success of the Depot lay with the women who voluntarily staffed it for almost 50 years giving of their time into old age. Miss Pearl Hutton followed Ethel Calder and served for 12 years retiring from the position in 1955. Miss Mary Chisholm, Miss Elizabeth Kaye MacFie and Mrs A. Dick followed. They carried out their work with total dedication and commitment. The responsibility for the Depot became part of the Synod Mission Committee in 1963 when the Christian Education Department of the Presbyterian Church took over all other activities of the Missionary Education Committee.


[1] Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, General Assembly Proceedings and Reports, Foreign Missions Report, 1932, p. 151 [2] GA Proceedings and Reports, Foreign Mission Reports, 1934, p156; 1935, p.89; 1937. P80. [3] A.H. Reed purchased the building in 1925 for his business the Sunday School Supplies Stores, which he had established in 1907. See further information about the building at http://builtindunedin.com/2014/03/ [4] The Ecclesiastical and Education Trust Funds narrow definition for the disbursement of funds limited any genuine support for mission work. Anything outside what was understood as church buildings or theological education, even when Mission Education was perceived as education, fell outside the criteria. Some flexibility occurred through the Education fund with the withdrawal of support for University appointments in the late 1940s and the division of the Ecclesiastical Fund in 1991. [5] What happened to the lantern and glass slides, films and photographs no one has knowledge of, but this material does not appear to have been donated to the Presbyterian Research Centre at Knox College. [6] References for the Missionary Education Committee are from Committee Minute Books, GA29