High on the hill at the north-eastern end of Oriental Bay, stands the little weatherboard church of St Barnabas, its spire outlined on the skyline. The church's life began in 1898 as a 'church room' (so-called because St Mark's in Mt Victoria was the mother-church of the parish). In 1907 electric light was added; later the tower and bell; later still an organ. Roseneath became a parish in its own right in 1915.
The 116-year-old church has survived two near-death experiences. In 1924 fire broke out. Lectern, walls and timbered ceiling were scorched and smoke damaged. The baptistery ceiling and the windows were burnt, and solid timbers holding up the tower were heavily charred. The fire started in the altar area where the floor was burnt out — the replacement floor was built over the top of it. In its post-fire restoration, concrete buttresses were added on the eastern side of the building and some extensions added.
During the church's 70th anniversary in 1967, memorials included the triple stained-glass Ascension window above the altar commemorating the first vicar Father McLevie. Five years later the ten remaining stained-glass windows, depicting the life of Christ, were completed.
The second crisis was less dramatic. But the building had deteriorated to such a poor state that its continuing existence was in serious doubt. After much debate, it was decided to renovate and the church was closed for six months. Huge community effort was made towards the final cost of $640,000. The tower was replaced, foundations were strengthened, a new gabled porch replaced the flatroofed one and renovations brought the building up to adequate earthquake standard. Some eccentricities were retained in the restoration. The church always leaned away from the prevailing northerly wind and it still does! The tower continues to move a bit, but doesn't squeak anymore! What has not changed in the building is the wonderful warmth that rimu walls give.
Apart from regular services in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the picturesque church is popular for weddings, baptisms and occasionally concerts. Extensive and thriving weekday programmes include pre-schoolers’ music and craft, plus Supakidz for 5 to 12-year-olds.
JCD, Bay View newsletter 64, November 2014