At Te Puna in the Bay of Islands there is a monument known as “The Marsden Cross”. It commemorates the site of the first mission settlement and the first Christian service conducted in New Zealand by the Rev. Samuel Marsden. The service was held on Christmas Day, 1814, in an open space by the beach and attended by Maoris and Europeans. Rough planks and an upturned boat served for seats, and a temporary altar and reading desk were draped with black native cloth and European white duck. Some three weeks later, on the second Sunday in 1815, another service was held, this time in a building sufficiently advanced in construction at the Mission Station to be used as a church. This was probably the first church building in New Zealand.
At other centres the same urgency was given to a place of worship. At Waimate North, where the first inland settlement was established in 1831, a temporary church measuring 20 by 40 ft was erected in six weeks. At Kaitaia the earliest raupo church was built in 1833. By 1840–the commencement of official colonisation–these and other settlements had replaced the primitive structures with properly designed churches built of timber, in some cases seating from 300 to 400 people. The designs were somewhat crude examples of colonial Georgian architecture with truncated towers or belfries. Later still, somewhere between 1870 and 1880, these were again replaced by churches with steep roofs, tall spires, and larger windows designed in the manner of the Gothic revival which was then the prevailing fashion in church architecture.
The oldest surviving church is at Russell in the Bay of Islands, then known as Kororareka. It was built about 1834 but, it too, was remodelled in 1871 and given a steep pitched roof and larger windows, but it retained the original fabric, hence its claim for seniority. This church was closely associated with important political events of the early colonisation period and has therefore been classed as a “National historic place”. These examples merely demonstrate that the church is an essential part of organised European settlement. It shares the vicissitudes of human existence. In primitive conditions a humble structure meets the common need, but when life is affluent in material things, the church is built in noble proportions and resplendent in craftsmanship of the finest quality.