Twenty-eight years ago when Pastor Peter Ballantyne helped plan for the formation of the Tuapeka Christian Centre in Lawrence, little did he know that he would be the one closing it down years later.
“I was on the Elim church council in Dunedin that mooted the idea of establishing a church there.
‘‘I didn’t know then that my wife Anne and I would be the only pastors to serve there and sadly I never thought I would be the one to shut it down,” Mr Ballantyne said.
“The shutdown wasn’t forced by the recent lockdown. We had already shut the doors before it happened.
“It happened for a number of reasons: falling attendances in recent years, the struggle to find younger pastors willing to take on a country church and my decision to finally retire at 75 years of age.
“I’m going to miss the fellowship of all the wonderful people I have met over the years. I’ll miss the singing and am very grateful that as a farewell present the small congregation here gifted me the piano.
“I have played in churches since I was a kid in Outram where my feet could barely reach the pedals. It is something I have always cherished and I will miss sitting around the keyboard singing with people every Sunday morning.”
Peter Ballantyne was born in 1944 in Outram and said he came from a long line of people willing to dedicate their lives to the service of others.
“My father was the country GP at Outram and my grandparents were missionaries at the turn of the century in the Solomon Islands. Sadly, my grandfather died of black water fever, a malaria-borne disease when my father was only 1 year old.
Mr Ballantyne joined the RNZAF as a radio technician and recalls it as “one of the most enjoyable times of my life.”
Returning to Dunedin he worked as a radio repairman, before working at Fisher and Paykel in Mosgiel as a procedures engineer.
It’s there he met and married his wife Anne, a home nurse.
“I had been involved with the Dunedin Elim church for about 25 years when Anne and I were asked to start the new church in Lawrence.”
When the Ballantyne family arrived at the Tuapeka Christian Centre they found there was four inches of snow on the ground and a power blackout.
“It was a great way for Anne and I and our children to start our new life in Lawrence.
“In the ’90s the church was very active with over 40 members.”
“Lawrence has always been very good to us. The whole community turned out when Anne died of cancer in 2004. They all gathered around to help us grieve; they were just incredible.
“She was the pastoral carer, so I took on all the roles, but it was hard work.”
Over the next 16 years the church’s roll declined as some people died and others moved away for work or school.
“I knew 10 years ago, when I turned 65, that if we couldn’t find a replacement pastor, the church might close but I persevered, hoping it would come right.
“But it just become too hard. Now I’m 75 and it’s time to go,” he said
Mr Ballantyne paid tribute to all the wonderful folk who have worked so hard to support the church. “They were gold”.