Alongside the hustle and bustle of State Highway 1, a
South Otago couple has carved out their own slice of rural
heaven - in the former Milburn Presbyterian Church near
Milton. Otago Daily Times reporter Helena de Reus
takes a look inside the private home.
For Bernard and Christine Flannery, the old church at Milburn
offered a change in pace from city life and a chance to have
a rural lifestyle in a unique building.
Standing alongside State Highway 1 at Milburn, less than 5km
north of Milton, is a 112-year-old church converted into a
private home and gallery.
A firefighter from Invercargill, Mr Flannery also builds in
his spare time.
Bernard bought the church in 1989, after he spotted it while
driving between Invercargill and Dunedin.
''I happened to notice this church - it was a five-second
glance, that for some unknown reason kept recurring until I
did something about it.''
The church was not for sale.
Bernard visited the neighbours who showed a custodial
interest in the church property and showed some reluctance by
confirming it was not for sale.
''However further discussions with some other locals, led us
to members of the church committee that appeared more
favourable and the decision was made to put the property up
''I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do, there was just
something about this church.''
His tender was accepted and suddenly Mr Flannery found
himself the owner of a church.
''I made the decision to move here but I wasn't really sure
what I wanted to do.''
The purchase of the church also uncovered some of Mr
Flannery's family history.
''I come from Edendale but my Dad asked why I wanted to live
in a cold, wind-blown place like Milton. I said, ''What would
you know about Milton?'' He said he was born there.''
However, the church was not in good shape and restoring it
was no easy task.
''We had no running water, no heating, and limited electrics.
It was very cold. The water tank that I had supplied for rain
water was stolen and some vehicles that I moved to the church
property were also tampered with. I cracked a rib the first
day preparing the building for my family to relocate. It
wasn't a great start. I don't know what it was about this
place. The building itself just appealed.''
The Flannery family was without running water for years,
using water from a tank kept on a trailer supplied by the
One of the biggest projects was lifting up the floor and
making it level, he said.
Another large job involved taking out a stage and using the
timber to build a mezzanine floor, creating an upstairs
Bernard also extended the vestry, building on a
conservatory-aviary area, dining room and garages.
''I know a lot more about building now, full stop. I just saw
lots of fun ahead and we'll keep on making changes. You've
only got one whack at it, so you just get in there.''
Every window has been removed and re-puttied. Many required
The Flannerys have added their own flair to the building,
including stained-glass windows and panels they designed and
However, the couple have also tried to keep the identity of
the building, using old wood and furnishings in the
''We've tried to keep the character of the place. We salvage
beams, wood, and furniture from old houses.''
The church pews provided seating throughout the house, the
old wooden barrier around the pulpit was used to build stairs
to the upstairs bedrooms, and an old offering tray is now
proudly displayed in the kitchen.
The building is closed to the public with the exception of
Mrs Flannery is an artist, and the gallery is filled with her
quirky designs on glass, fabric, and canvas.
Painted glassware - wine glasses, vases, jars and bowls -
feature flowers, butterflies, and other flora and fauna. Old
chests of drawers and shelves are lined with colourful
glassware which attracts travellers passing by.
Work by guest artists, her friends, is also featured in the
gallery, which is open when the Flannerys are home. Visitors
are welcome to stop and browse.
Mr Flannery is also a talented self-taught pianist, quickly
picking up tunes by ear. Tucked away in the gallery is a
piano and when he plays, the sound carries well in the former
On 0.2ha they have established several gardens, a vegetable
plot, and an enclosure with turkeys and chickens.
''Everything we do is without sprays.''
Although the church and grounds are still a work in progress,
the couple are happy in their rural property.