Berea church gets new lease of life

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Dec 7, 2019

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Durban - Presbyterians emigrated to Natal in the early 1850s, forming congregations in various towns in the colony.

With the growth of Durban and the expansion of the residential suburb on the Berea, St Andrews Presbyterian Church, in the city’s centre, was too far away for the Berea congregants.

In 1884, they were given permission to form their own congregation, which had 53 foundation members in 1886. They bought a half-acre site on the corner of Berea and Manning roads for £50 and, 17 years later, a further quarter acre for £284.

WE Roberts designed a church for them with a floor plan in the form of a cross.

The foundation stone was laid in February 1887, but the building costs of £2750 were beyond their means - £700 was raised through subscriptions and £870 from a bazaar which Sir Theophilus Shepstone opened in the new Town Hall. A further £1000 was borrowed. After completion of the church, £300 was raised for a pipe organ and communion plate.

In 1896, a hall was built with a seating capacity of 200. This was well-used by the Sunday School, a Literary Society and a Boys’ Brigade. The regular worshippers numbered 220.

After the death of the first minister, Reverend Hardy, in 1892, aged only 39, the congregation installed a stone baptismal font as a memorial to him. In addition, his mother presented his pulpit Bible to the church.

His successor, Reverend MacPhee, had been a minister in Yorkshire and, more exotically, in Singapore. A man of energy, he would ride out on horseback to visit his congregants.

No church was unaffected by the horrors of World War I. Sixty men from Berea Presbyterian were on active service; seven lost their lives, including MacPhee’s only son, who was killed in action in 1917.

After 25 year’s service, MacPhee resigned on December 31, 1918, but remained involved in the church. He unveiled the brass plaque commemorating the war dead in 1921.

MacPhee died in December 1935, followed a few days later by James Henderson, a congregant for more than 40 years and MP for the Berea constituency for 19 years.

The lych gate on the corner of Berea and Manning roads was dedicated to his memory by his daughter, Mrs Neilson. This gate is still there.

When the church was enlarged and renovated in 1936, Neilson’s husband presented a new stained- glass window depicting the Presbyterian emblem of the Burning Bush.

Memorial windows also honour Reverend Evans, who was minister from 1919 to 1938, Henrietta Wilson, who was a former principal of Berea Road School, while a third window is in memory of those who served in World War II.

The second photo was taken in 1961 during the 75th anniversary of the church.

The church celebrated its centenary in 1986, but in the following years the membership began to decline, eventually to a point where the congregation was no longer sustainable.

The church has been sold and the developer confirmed this week that there are plans for a fitness centre.

KZN Amafa and Research Institute, the provincial heritage resources authority, confirmed the owners had been given approval to go ahead with renovations, after a long process which included public consultation. The church will remain a listed heritage building.

Independent On Saturday

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