Christmas at St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Tamahere, is a time to reflect.
“The church gets decorated around the true message of Christmas,” says St Stephen’s Christmas Festival spokeswoman Denise White.
“Christmas is not as obvious in the community. It’s easy to get caught up in all the busy-ness that goes on around this time of year. It’s easy for people to forget. There’s a lot of people who come here almost on a pilgrimage each year. There’s always a nativity scene and a Christmas tree,” reports the Waikato Times.
The life-sized nativity boasts a trio of life-sized shepherds and wise men gathered around the baby Jesus lying in a manger where he is being attended by his earthly parents Mary and Joseph. The animal stall in which the story is set is occupied by real stuffed animals.
“It’s part of the festival atmosphere,” Denise says.
At the altar a smaller nativity scene is another reminder of the reason for the season, a painting of Jesus hanging central with the words “Jesus, the Christ child on Christmas Day” inscribed below. Contrary to popular belief Christ was not Jesus’s surname, but comes from the Greek word Khristos which means anointed. It’s a title that recognises his anointing from God.
The little breeze block church’s pews are rearranged for the festival, facing each other rather than the altar, for the twice daily 25 minute carol concert held by Waikato school choirs at 11am and 2pm. The vicar, the Rev Sandy Neal, is on hand with a couple of Christmas themed readings from the Bible.
“As part of the festival we have the hall decorated as well,” Denise says.
Tables there are heavily laden with thousands of home-made Christmas decorations which nearly 40 dedicated craftspeople have toiled away with on Wednesday and Thursday mornings since February. They call themselves the Tamahere Charitable Flowers Trust and since launching the Christmas festival in 1986 have typically raised between $20,000 and $25,000 a year for charities. The Red Cross, Save the Children, the Bible Society, Hospice Waikato and Guide Dogs for the Blind all benefit from proceeds from sales of Christmas good, tea, coffee, Christmas cake and shortbread.
Tonight there’s a special carol service at 7.30pm.
The festival takes just over two weeks to set up each year, and about 80 people keep it running.
“The St Stephen’s Christmas Festival was one of the reasons I wanted to come here to work, to be honest,” says Mrs Neal. “It’s the one time of year I can go and buy a halo and wear it. I have got flashing earrings too.”
She and husband Colin, a deacon and chaplain to Tamahere Eventide Home and Retirement Village, moved to the parish four years ago after nearly seven years at Clevedon parish in Auckland.
The Christmas festival enables Mrs Neal and parishioners to connect with people they might not see other times of the year. They get involved with the pupils of Matangi School and Tamahere School who come and help decorate the church and hall at the beginning of festivities.
“The St Stephens parish has a huge commitment to community service. We have a number of things happening in the parish: women’s group, men’s fellowship, social group for people wanting to play board games, Tamahere Tots and Tunes.”
The church seats just over 100 people, and Mrs Neal says it is half full most Sundays.
There’s been a church at Tamahere since 1882.
The current concrete breeze block building was consecrated in 1983 after the original church building was burned to the ground in 1970.
“A psychiatric patient living in the community burned it down.”
The cemetery, which stands alongside the church, is testament to a community that has endured all sorts of hardships.
Like the death of little Joy McGruther who died September 10, 1916, aged two months.