KBA Newsletter December 2018: Character of K’ Road - Lynne Frith, Pitt St Methodist Church Presbyter

Character of K’ Road - Lynne Frith, Pitt St Methodist Church Presbyter

- Photo of Lynne Frith by Angela McCarthy

One of the oldest and well known landmarks within the K’ Road precinct is Pitt St Methodist Church. It’s soaring eaves have been a familiar sight to many generations of K’ Road visitors and residents.

The  presbyter Lynne Frith talks of the role of the church in K’ Road and how feminism encouraged her own journey into ministry, despite resistance to a married woman becoming a presbyter in the seventies.

How long have you been presbyter of the church?

I’ve been the presbyter for 10 years. I’m also superintendent of the Auckland Methodist Central Parish, which includes Mt Eden, Epsom and Kingsland.

What does the church offer to K’ Road?

We offer a friendly presence. The church itself is a sacred space where anybody is welcome. We are rainbow friendly so I mean everyone. We run weekly church services, open to anybody. Our halls and meeting rooms are available for community use, including funerals and relationship celebrations.

Spiritually, we offer solidarity with people whatever their personal circumstances. We are concerned about a wide range of social justice issues.

Social justice issues?

Churches often get a bad press for being opposed to social change, especially around gender and sexuality. So I think it is important that there are some voices from religious institutions that are progressive and liberal. Social justice is part of the Methodist heritage.

What would be the biggest challenge around K’ Road and social justice currently?

In an odd sort of way gentrification because it inevitably means those who are already marginalised will be further marginalised. Every now and again there is a bubbling up about moving rough sleepers on just because we don’t want to face the harsh reality of some people’s lives when we’re strolling down the street.  

You carry the weight of church both ways, don’t you?

Yes, it is a burden for us all. The extreme homophobic positions of some Christians also impact on how I’m perceived but it is also really important that people like me and members of this congregation do speak out, not only about injustices in the wider community but also within the wider Christian community as well. We can’t pretend it doesn’t happen or remain silent.

Why was the church established in Pitt St?

Originally the church was located in High St. It moved to Pitt St 152 years ago to be nearer the expanding population in the Newton area.

And soon you’ll have a railway station on your doorstep. Your thoughts on that?

We are exploring a community led development model collaborating and working together with the community to work out what would be good to happen. We already have groups using the church buildings, for example, the Auckland Street Choir, AA and Galatea Theatre.

I think we could develop further the provision of hospitality that is safe and welcoming and offers a comforting place for people to sit a while and be reflective. But it is not about getting out there and proselytising {preaching}.

Is it important to offer a place to be reflective…?

I think so. Being reflective is something that seems to be missing from today’s lifestyle.

Is the physical church important?

People come here for all kinds of reasons and many are very attached to this building. It is imbued in meaning and it has had an enduring presence in this area.

The cost of maintaining the buildings is significant, and there will always be ethical questions because we’ve got all these iconic, beautiful, historic places that are monumentally expensive to maintain.

Is there a need for churches anymore?

We still need places for people to explore the spiritual dimension of life. Some people still need that but might not want to engage in the practice of religion. There is a difference.

What led you into ministry?

Feminism in the 1970s, specifically International Women’s Year in 1975. When I realised that there was no equality for women generally in the Christian churches I thought I couldn’t expect change to happen unless I was prepared to be part of that change. That was a major motivation for me to train for ministry. I became very attracted to the Methodist church because of its social justice focus - I was married to someone who was already training for the ministry.

How hard was it to do?

It was harder as a woman married to a man already training than unmarried – my husband was very supportive. There had only been one other woman do that. Methodists were the first denomination to ordain women in New Zealand – a woman was ordained in 1959 but you had to resign if you got married. That changed about 1970.

There was a lot of hostility during my training at St Johns and Trinity Colleges, a joint Methodist and Anglican seminary. Some men were worried about things like having a menstruating woman celebrating the Eucharist. And a woman asked me who was going to darn my husband’s socks!

What keeps you ministering?

Being a minister of religion, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other is a position of priviledge and I mean that in a good sense. There is still a role for people like me, whether clergy or whoever, who are unencumbered by the things that often constrain people in their employment environment. That is an immense freedom.

For example, I’m not going to lose my job if I write a critical letter to the newspaper on a political issue. We’re expected to have a prophetic voice and speak to whatever is going on and I do that from time to time.

It’s also a privilege to offer help and support to people who may be experiencing tragedy in the community. There aren’t many roles for “no strings attached” caring in today’s world so that sort of privilege has kept me going.

Also, this church in Pitt St is one of the few churches in Auckland that welcomes same gender marriages - another good reason for keeping on doing what I’m doing.

What motivates you?

Love of people and a passion for justice and peace.

A Christmas message to K’ Road?

Whatever meaning Christmas has for you, I hope it is filled with gifts of peace and love.

Return to Dec 2018 Newsletter