Earthquake destroys iconic church: 1942

Interior of the second St Matthew's Church, showing the chancel, Hobday organ and sanctuary

 

At 11.18 p.m. on June 24, 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, a huge earthquake hit the Wairarapa and St Matthew's changed forever.

When the earthquake hit the parish was flourishing under the capable, positive leadership of Archdeacon Eric Rich.  It was debt free, building up reserves, preparatory to giving the vicarage next door a much-needed makeover.  Each year saw it exceed its own records for communion attendance, giving, as well as Sunday School and Bible Class attendance.

In an instant this all changed.  Grown men stood in the street and wept at the sight of their much loved and iconic church in ruins.

 

Experts deemed the church dangerous and beyond repair. The army were brought in to demolish it.

To complicate things further, the demolition took out all the windows in the vicarage (and some in the parish hall, which was otherwise unscathed.)  At a time all when all his reserves were needed to encourage and support the parish, Archdeacon Rich and his family had to leave the vicarage, which had also sustained earthquake damage as well as broken windows from the demolition blasts.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.  Archdeacon Rich immediately rallied the parish and early in August - a month later - a special general meeting got planning and fundraising for a replacement church under way.  

Although many homes in Masterton had sustained damage, particularly from falling brick chimneys - parishioners enthusiastically joined in working bees each Saturday to clear rubble and clean bricks for sale.

Complicated logistics ensued as the church was transferred to the parish hall and Sunday schools and Bible Classes and other activities had to be either squashed into the hall and common room, or spread round other buildings in Masterton.  The Masterton Trust Lands Trust provided accommodation for the dismantled Hobday pipe organ.

Subsequent parish magazines indicate Archdeacon Rich never wavered in his vision to build a new church to meet the needs of the parish  - and Masterton - as quickly as possible.  

The disaster took a personal toll on the vicar: in February 1943 he collapsed at a service and was hospitalised, although back at the helm at Easter.

Read Archdeacon's Rich excellent account in the July 1943 Parish Magazine.