New book captures a century of history, and the unlikely survival and success of a Wellington church
100 Years on The Street chronicles the highs, lows, survival and success of an enterprising Wellington church. The book retraces the history of Tory Street Hall, which was to become Elizabeth Street Gospel Chapel, later known as E-Street, and The Street City Church today.
The culmination of three years of research and interviews, and full of personal testimonies, 100 Years on The Street
tells the stories of the church’s life and mission work, its leadership and beliefs and its underlying reliance on God through the decades.
“The inescapable impression I got as I was researching and writing is that God is interested in every single person, and uses the most unlikely of us to make a difference in the world. It’s been humbling to capture these stories and a real highlight for me,” says author Harvey Rees-Thomas.
From the beginning, in 1917 the church has been open to people from all walks of life. In the pews at Tory Street, there were wealthy businessmen and industry leaders. But there were also substance addicts, migrant workers, and young people who were new to faith.
100 Years on The Street is the story of people like Alice “Tommy” Thompson, who would minister to the sick and downtrodden in the squalor of the Tory Street slums, an area rife with typhoid and tuberculosis.
It’s the story of Don Gillies, who in 1932 bought an old Ford Model-T van and visited country farms and towns throughout the North Island, holding open air meetings.
It’s the story of the Ladies’ Prayer Fellowship which met in the back room of the chapel in the 1980s, remembered as the “engine room” of all that was of value and was accomplished in the life of the church.
“It’s always struck me that the church is full of people who may not be all that wise in the world’s eyes, they may not be all that wealthy, and may not be very influential, but God raises them up. That’s the pattern in the Bible and we see it reflected in the history of this church,” says Rees-Thomas.
Over the decades the church has navigated shifts in society and innovated with different ways to connect with an evolving culture.
Elizabeth St. Chapel had a long-running radio ministry, including a Children’s Radio Choir broadcast nationally in the 1950s. In the 70s a thriving “Gateway” ministry drew hundreds of young people to the basement of the church for coffee and contemporary Christian music after Sunday night services. The church also has a long tradition of sending missionaries abroad, to countries in Africa, South America, India, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Looking back on our history, what’s inspired us is the sense that every generation has done what’s necessary to reach out to our society and the world. They have stuck to their core beliefs, but they haven’t been afraid to reinvent themselves and to set aside personal ambition to reach others with the good news about Jesus Christ,” says Nick Field, Senior Pastor at The Street City Church.
As well as capturing high points in the church’s history, 100 Years on The Street takes a candid look at the challenges it has faced. This includes the struggle to break out of rigid traditions and tensions between conservative and progressive groups within the church.
After a low point in the early 90s, the church underwent a rejuvenation, and today around 800 people worship at The Street every week. The Street focuses on cultivating an intimate, authentic, and supportive church community, and has a growing programme of local ministries, and overseas missions, to the poor and vulnerable. The congregation is growing quickly, and there are plans to establish new gatherings across the Wellington region.
“In many ways, we are returning to our roots. We want to build a community where you can come as you are, without judgment, be transformed by the love of God, and empowered to make a difference in the world. What hasn’t changed, and we pray never will, is our central focus on Jesus Christ as our Saviour and the hope for a broken world,” says Field.
The book: 100 Years on The Street
In hardcover and beautifully bound with a ribbon bookmarker, 100 Years on The Street is a wonderful story of God’s grace and the distinctive journey of a New Zealand church through the generations. The 550-page book features over 300 black and white and colour photos, and alongside the historical narrative is full of inspiring testimonies and anecdotes.
100 Years on The Street can be purchased at our City location in Hania St., Mt. Victoria, after Sunday services, or by writing to Harvey. The book is sold on a not-for-profit basis.
The author, Harvey Rees-Thomas
After teaching in various secondary schools and employment in systems sales and marketing with IBM New Zealand, Harvey Rees-Thomas was appointed Principal of Onslow College (1977), then Headmaster, Wellington College (1979-1995).
In mid-1995 he joined Ernst & Young New Zealand as Director Human Resources. He took leave on three occasions to lead schools during periods of restoration and change. The schools were Hutt International Boys’ School, Kings’ School (Auckland) and St Andrew’s College (Christchurch).
An elder of Elizabeth Street Chapel and The Street City Church from 1968 to 2009, Harvey was the founding Chairman of the Ronald McDonald House, Wellington (eleven years); Past President of the Bible Society of NZ and, also, Scripture Union in NZ; and Chairman of HCJB New Zealand. From 2001 to 2015 he chaired the board of a group of investment companies based in Auckland.
Harvey and Jeniffer have five married children, 16 grandchildren and two great grandsons.
Jeniffer has spent her whole life associated with Tory Street Hall through to The Street City Church. Her knowledge of the people and events of the church has been the mainstay of this work.