The chapel, kitchen and supper room at St Mary Immaculate church in Tauranga have been withdrawn from scheduled use in the wake of an initial seismic assessment.
The assessment found that the bell tower meets less than 20 per cent of the New Building Standard (NBS), the east wall meets less than 34 per cent and the canopy over the front door also meets less than 34 per cent, which fits the statutory definition for being
“earthquake-prone”.

A notice to parishioners stated that “this means that significant sections of the northern part of the building are vulnerable”. (Apart from the canopy, the assessment found that modern parts of the complex, built in 1991, are “90 per cent compliant”.)

As a result of the initial assessment, parish priest Fr Mark Field, after consulting the parish pastoral council and parish finance committee, decided that no scheduled use of the chapel, kitchen or supper room would be permitted.

This means that weekday Masses are to be celebrated in the main church and that the tabernacle has been moved to the main church. Confessions are also to be held in the main church.

A notice on the parish facebook page on November 1 stated that, given the new position of the tabernacle, “it would be good if we could try to remember this when we enter the church and keep talking to a minimum”.

“Let us allow the presence of the Blessed Sacrament to prepare us more deeply for the celebration of the Eucharist,” the notice stated.

Fr Field told NZ Catholic that some parishioners have said they are pleased that the tabernacle is now back in the main body of the church, but this will be a time of adjustment for everyone.

He added that there is sadness at the loss of use of the chapel, with some parishioners saying they miss the intimacy of the chapel.

“We are currently looking at shortterm and long-term options, moving forward,” he said, adding that not having the use of the chapel, supper room and kitchen is an inconvenience.

The notice to parishioners stated  the bell tower would not be strengthened, as the cost would be prohibitive.

“If we decide to partially demolish the bell tower, we may be able to use some of the building again — but partial demolition will also be an expensive option, and would not happen before next year,” the notice stated.

“All of this now makes urgent our decision with regard to future parish development.”

The notice added that people will only be allowed into the northern portion of the building for ingress and egress purposes and for toilet visits. Parishioners are not permitted to remain in this area.

Other impacts of the decision include the closure of the parish library until a safe place can be found for it, altar servers will have to vest in the basement (once a suitable space has
been arranged), and the overflow area of the main church will be closed, meaning people must be seated in the main church area for Mass.

Also, another venue for Christmas Eve Masses will need to be found, but the 9am Christmas Day Mass will take place at St Mary Immaculate, with other Christmas Day Masses at St Therese (Bethlehem) and St Joseph (Te Puna).

Parishioners were thanked in the notice for their “understanding of our difficult situation”.

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