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'Acting for change’

19 July 2022

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Avarua Ekalesia undergoing major renovation works

Wednesday 6 July 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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Avarua Ekalesia undergoing major renovation works
The removal of the wooden interior of the Avarua Ekalesia Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) will be re-designed. Photo: SUPPLIED/22070505

One of the oldest churches in the Cook Islands is undergoing major renovations in preparation for next year’s Bi-Centennial Celebrations in Rarotonga.

The wooden interior of the Avarua Ekalesia Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) church is being completely stripped to remove rotting wood and make way for a new design.

Although most of the wood was infested with the termites, the original posts and beams inside the church which is believed to be made with local native wood in 1853 or 1887, appeared to be in amazing condition considering it was built over 130 or more years ago.

Remodelling the Avarua CICC interior is part of the plans for the churches’ 34th Bi-Centennial General Assembly next year. The event was scheduled to take place last year in October but got cancelled due to Covid-19.

The new design is also for the churches’ 200-year Bi-Centennial celebrations which will be observed on July 25, 2023.

Makirere Poila, secretary of the Avarua CICC Ekalesia, said the renovation works started with the relocation of the pews (seats) in the church to the Sinai Hall where it has been nicely set up to accommodate its church services.

“When the Sinai Hall was ready, we (Ekalesia) moved in there and then we started stripping the inside of the church, so much of the wood is rotten,” said Poila.

To save costs, the Ekalesia which consists of six villages – Tupapa, Maraerenga, Takuvaine, Tutakimoa, Ruatonga and Avatiu – and the Takamoa Theological students are helping with the removal of the wooden structures.

Plans for its remodelling will not include the narrow upstairs balcony on both sides, instead a bigger upstairs area will be built out from the back wall.

During the removal of the church’s interior, a message in a jar was discovered. It was written by the late Eric Vincent Browne also known as Papa Man in 1995 when the first major renovations of the church were done.

Routine maintenance was carried out over the years.

Unfortunately, on January 13, 2003, the pulpit inside the church was damaged by a fire believed to have been triggered by an electrical fault.

The pulpit was restored by builders Charlie Tamangaro of Atupa and Teremoana Tongia of Ruatonga and the church was reopened for service on March 30, 2003.

Established by Reverend John Williams and Tahitian missionaries in 1823, the first church building of the Avarua Ekalesia was built by Reverend Aaron Buzacott on August 23, 1831.

It measured 100 feet in length and 48 feet in width and accommodated around 2000 people. The church made out of coral limestone was destroyed by a tropical cyclone three years later.

In 1853, Reverend Buzacott built the second church and named it Ziona Tapu (Holy Zion), which still stands to this day measuring 64 feet in length, 40 feet in width and 30 feet in height.

Thirty-four years later in 1887, major renovations were carried out on the church by Reverend Adoni during the reign of Makea Takau.

“It’s been a long time since the Ekalesia had undertaken such a major project, and we are planning for everything to be completed in time for the Bi-Centennial next year,” said Poila.