09 May 2023

Centenary Celebration Event

It was a delight to welcome alumni back to the Henderson campus on 14-15 April for a two-day Centenary Celebration.  We were joined by a number of Australia-based graduates (and a current distance student), a couple from the USA, and the rest from around Aotearoa, all representing decades from the late 1950s through to the 2020s. It was extra special to have all our living principals attend – John Hitchen, Hudson Deane, Mark Strom, and Rod Thompson - as well as our longest-serving Student Deans, Helena Stretton and Rod Edwards.

There were many excited greetings as old classmates reunited, with nametags aiding the recognition process! Photographic and video displays brought the memories flooding back, as well as the anecdotes shared throughout the weekend.

A pōwhiri led by the College’s Te Rūnanga welcomed old friends back to their campus. Throughout the weekend the gathering was held in the familiar lecture rooms 1 and 2 - rooms which had hosted the opening ceremony of the campus back in 1961 and held many memories of lectures and the people who delivered them, of community worship, Guest Weekend concerts, mission events, graduation dinners and even weddings.

Former Laidlaw College chef, Garth Flannagan, volunteered his time and skills to cater for around 250 people for Friday dinner and Saturday lunch. It has been a long time since the College kitchen has been called into service to cater for that number, and Garth did a magnificent job, ably assisted by volunteers.

Friday night’s programme was an opportunity to reminisce. Songwriter, and graduate of 1974, Brent Chambers led the worship, and reflections on College life and God’s faithfulness were shared by alumni Alan and Averil Bennett (1960s), Stuart Lange (1980s), Jenny Mackie (1990s) and Lesoni Tafuna (2020s). The time became flexible as anecdotes flowed and the schedule quietly ignored! Former Head of Missions, Cathy Ross, now lecturer in mission at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, was the keynote speaker. She shared her fond memories of then Bible College of NZ and spoke of the changes and new initiatives she is seeing in mission.

The Saturday morning gathering was led in worship by Laidlaw staff with Hudson Deane giving a devotion, and challenging those present not to simply reminisce but to look forward and to continue to strain to what is ahead. His devotion was reinforced by a prayer activity with time to reflect on the past and the future. Electives on a range of topics filled the rest of the morning, with former and current staff speaking on themes of Urbanisation, Māori and the Church, Restorative Justice, Mission, Reading Paul, Spiritual Formation, Educating God’s Way, Encountering Spaces, Emerging trends in theological studies, and trends in church leadership in Aotearoa.

The afternoon was an exercise in logistics and a glimpse into the future as decade groups were bused, at various time intervals, to central Henderson to tour a floor of the new campus building. Renovation was halted for the afternoon while student leaders led the tours, outlining some of the vision behind the design and layout, with groups pausing to pray. Then it was back to the current campus for afternoon tea and an opportunity to reconnect in decade or half-decade groups.

The grand finale was a Thanksgiving Evening held at Church Unlimited for former and current students, staff and board members, supporters, church and mission leaders. After a mihi, karakia and waiata, key elements of the College’s 100-year history were presented, former Principals were honoured, and graduates’ testimonies were given. Finally, those present were invited to continue partnering with the College as we look to the next 100 years. The names of past students scrolled up the screen at the conclusion of the evening – in recognition of the more than 20,000 students who have studied at the College during its 100-year history.

It was a fabulous weekend of reconnecting and remembering, of giving thanks to God for his faithfulness, and looking ahead with hope to where God may lead the College in the future.

In the words of some who attended:

It is wonderful to see what God has done through many BTI and BCNZ grads, both in NZ and in many countries around the world. How great is His family! It's amazing to be part of it; I guess we'll only know its full extent in Glory!
The reunion was a joy and privilege. You certainly gave us plenty of meat, and variety, and beautiful food and interesting details to chew over.
We enjoyed the time and especially the chance to catch up with a number of friends, quite a few of whom we hadn't seen for about 50 years.
The planning, provision and execution of all your efforts was incredible. From the smallest details and items that were included in the welcome bag, to the hospitality and food, all the way through Friday and Saturday, culminating in Saturday night, went far beyond any perception that we may have anticipated.