On abandoning sacred places

Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, Awhitu Peninsula, Auckland. Deconsecrated in 1976. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

Kohekohe Presbyterian Church, Awhitu Peninsula, Auckland, New Zealand. Deconsecrated in 1976. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

There are many littled churches like Kohekohe dotted around New Zealand. Our devout nineteenth century settler ancestors built churches as a matter of course wherever townships sprang up.

Population shifts and a decline in church attendance has led to the abandonment of many of these small, rural places of worship.

The old church at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

The old Free Kirk, or Duff Memorial Church at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Like the Kohekohe church, the now-abandoned Free Kirk in Kirkmichael was built in the 19th century. It came into existence because of a schism in the Church of Scotland whereby the evangelical wing of the church broke free from the established Church. In Kirkmichael, the Free Kirk stands south of the River Ardle, along a narrow farm track, while the established Church is on the north side, on a site that has been used for worship for around 1000 years. The Free Kirk ceased to be a place of worship in the 1950s.

It may seem odd to think of graves as abandoned, yet when I walk in old cemeteries, I feel the same sense of abandonment I experienced with these churches.

A church is left empty when those for whom it is a special place no longer visit, but of course, graves continue to hold the remains of the deceased. Their abandonment comes not as emptiness, but as neglect. When those for whom a grave is a special place no longer visit, moss and weeds grow, stones crumble and vandals do their worst.

Headstone of Arthur John Percival. Helensville Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

Headstone of Arthur John Percival. Helensville Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I saw this headstone while walking in Helensville Cemetery. I have no connection with the young man buried there; I photographed it purely out of curiosity. Arthur Percival’s headstone was erected by his Masonic brethren.  I assumed this to be because he either had no family, or they could not afford it. A quick bit of research tells me that Arthur was born in Nelson, New Zealand, had married Elizabeth Poynter in 1885 and left his widow with three young children. I know his parents were still alive at the time of his death, and I also know from a newspaper report of a trial at which Arthur Percival was called as a witness that he had been the Postmaster in Helensville.

The people who mourned the death of a young father in a small rural community are themselves long dead and his grave is abandoned.

Fallen headstone. Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Fallen headstone. Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, Symonds Street Cemetery, Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Su Leslie 2013

Like Arthur Percival, both Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts died over a century ago, and their headstone is not only abandoned, but toppled and apparently incomplete. According to a 1950s memorial inscription record, the headstone also contained an inscription for the couple’s son Thomas, who died – age 23 – in 1881.

I found records for the birth of four other children to Thomas and Mary Elizabeth Batts, as well as newspaper announcements for the marriages of their daughters. It is likely then, that there are descendents of the Batts – perhaps still living in Auckland. But like many of us, they may not even know the names of these ancestors – let alone where they are buried. We do not deliberately abandon our dead – but without stories and artifacts to keep their memories alive, there is often little incentive to do otherwise.

This post was written in response to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge. Here are some other blogger’s responses to the theme “abandoned” that I have enjoyed:


Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned












Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned



Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned





Weekly Photo Challenge: Abandoned


Weekly Photo Challenge: The Sign Says

Christianity with a sense of humour

Christianity with a sense of humour

I saw this sign round the side of St John’s in the City, in Wellington. I think it’s brilliant; funny and clever and understated and best of all, useful.

I’ve said before that I’m not really a Believer. I’d probably describe myself as a Presbyterian aethiest with catholic tendencies. I like the socialism of christianity and I absolutely love old churches and rituals and choral music. It’s just the notion of a God I have trouble with. That and any kind of humourless religion that thinks it knows best and wants to make everyone in it’s own likeness, preferably with maximum violence.

Life is ridiculous, humans are ridiculous, love and fear and hate are all ridiculous. So why not laugh?

Travel theme: pathways of light

Pathways is Ailsa’s theme this week at Where’s my Backpack.

Lighting the way; an installation at the New Plymouth Festival of Lights

I’m one of those people who focuses on the destination, not the journey; the goal rather than the process. I understand this about myself and accept it. I know it means I miss stuff but I’m ok with that. I figure I’m happy enough with who I am not to feel the need to change that particular part of my psyche.

So focusing on pathways is an interesting concept for me. Afterall, pathways exist to go somewhere and I have probably always been too busy thinking about that somewhere to capture the road I’m on. Then I found the photo above of an installation at the New Plymouth Festival of Lights. You could say that it’s connection with pathways is a bit tangential, and maybe that’s true, but it got me thinking about how light itself is a kind of pathway.By illuminating some things and leaving others in darkness, light creates a way forward – a direction.

“There are apparently few limitations either of time or space on where the psyche might journey and only the customs inspector employed by our own inhibitions restricts what it might bring back when it reenters the home country of everyday consciousness.” ― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

The photo above was taken in Federation Square, Melbourne, in June 2009 during the annual Light in Winter Festival. The sculpture consisted of this series of columns each of which lit up at different times, in different colours. Arranged in a grid, the columns formed multiple, transient pathways, based on the timing or the colour of the lights. In this photo, the pathway could be seen to lead to St Pauls Cathedral opposite Federation Square on Flinders Street.

Churches have traditionally been a source of light – both actual and spiritual. Many different pathways can take one to church. I don’t really believe in God, but within the large, elegant churches of the more established forms of Christianity, I find peace and beauty and joy. I experience these things not because of any belief in a supernatural being, but because they represent some of the highest forms of human creativity; in architecture, design, painting, sculpture and music.

pathways of light church

On a wet and bitingly cold winter’s night, St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland is a place of sanctuary. A path of gleaming white leading to the sacred space within which music, ritual, tradition and visual harmony embrace believers and those of us who are content to celebrate the genius of humanity.

The religious music of John Rutter embodies for me much that is truly good in humanity; a pathway to joy.