Religious Artifacts / Where Are They Now ?

The New Zealand Young Men's Bible Class Union Athletics Championship Banner :

Alfred Austin (at left) and Howard Townrow (at right), both from Caversham Young Men's Bible Class in Dunedin, posing with the YMBCU Banner which they jointly won at the 1916 Athletic Championships. This banner, which would most likely date from around 1900, has not been seen for some considerable time. Being mainly of fabric it may not have escaped the ravages of time however should it still be extant it would be of some considerable historic significance.


The Yan Woh Banner :

The "Yan Woh" Banner was sent out to the New Zealand Young Men's Bible Class Union in 1915 by the Christian Church at Yan Woh in the Poon Yue District of Kwantung Province in South China to show their appreciation of the Union's action in sending out the Rev Bert Davies to their district as an Evangelistic Missionary. There is no trace of the banner, which would no doubt have been framed.


The Rev JD Gordon "Relic" :

This blood-stained "Acts of the Apostles" book was being used by the Canadian Missionary Rev JD Gordon when he was martyred at Potnuma on the Island of Erromanga in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) on the 7th March 1872. It was in the hands of the Rev Peter Milne (Snr) of Nguna for many years until it was given to the NZ Presbyterian Church Missions Committee on or prior to 1936. In 1942 the Committee, after obtaining detailed notes on its history from a Daughter of the Rev Milne, deliberated on sending the book to the Synod of the Maritime Provinces of Canada to be placed in their care.  However, no action was taken at this time (23/6/1942) and no further mention has been made of the book which appears to have completely vanished. We have contacted the appropriate Church Archives in Canada who have no knowledge of this 'relic' bearing the martyred Missionary's blood.


Parish Communion Tokens :

"This Do in Remembrance of Me"

Metal Communion tokens (which preceded Communion cards) were in common use by parishes, especially in the Southern 'Free Church' influenced Parishes, until around the turn of the last century. It was normal practise to hand out Communion Tokens to those who attended a Preparatory Service prior to the actual Communion Service, but only should they be considered (and feel) worthy to accept such a token which then enabled them to partake of Communion on the appointed Sabbath. Even then, the Communion Table was 'fenced' to act as another barrier to emphasize that only those who considered they were truly worthy and repentant of their sins would enjoy the great privilege of partaking of Communion.

Communion Tokens, in fact, date back to the formation of Protestantism. The Scottish Presbyterian Church had used tokens for over two centuries, having been introduced after a suggestion made by John Calvin at the Council of Geneva on the 30th January 1560 :

"To prevent the profanation of the Table it would be well if each took lead tokens for each of the eligible ones of their household. Strangers giving witness of their faith could also take these, but those not provided with tokens would not be admitted to the table."

A Dunedin Token collector, Mr HG Williams, amassed a large collection of then redundant tokens from parishes, the tokens at that time being of very little value. We are aware that Mr Williams contacted many Parishes around 1936 asking for disused tokens to form a collection of New Zealand Presbyterian Tokens. A letter dated 1938 confirms that the same Mr HG Williams had sent the Clerk of Assembly, the Rev JH MacKenzie, a framed set of NZ Presbyterian Church tokens. Mr Williams refused any form of payment whatsoever and replied thus :

"I... note your suggestion that I should make a charge for the tokens. No, my good friend, I could not do that, and never shall; they have been given to me to enable me to build a number of collections for various Presbyterian institutions in New Zealand, and those above the number required.... I am using to exchange with collectors throughout the world, and by this method I have now a world's collection numbering over 4,000 varieties."

While the Presbyterian Church still holds a significant collection of its own tokens as well as many early Scottish tokens dating back to the 18th Century, a number regularly come up for sale or auction, some commanding staggering prices. A full board (as made up by Mr Williams) is an extremely valuable and historical artifact. It seems sad to think that these historic Presbyterian tokens are now merely objects of speculation and profit which differs greatly from the intention of John Calvin and of Mr Williams.

We would welcome the addition of any tokens to permanently add to our varied and interesting collection of New Zealand and overseas Communion Tokens and thus preserve a little bit of our Presbyterian history for posterity.

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