by MINA AMSO
“Do not take my rock away from me”, was the message from a Catholic woman to Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, at a meeting in the hall at Sacred Heart, Addington.
Linda White spoke through tears during question time at the July 10 meeting, attended by Bishop Martin and diocesan staff and about 400 people from the southern suburbs of Christchurch city.
The meeting was one of several being held by Bishop Martin in Christchurch city, Selwyn and Waimakariri/Hurunui during July to engage with parishes about his proposal laid out in a pastoral letter “Our Faith, Our Future” issued at Pentecost.
The proposal would see a reduction in the number of parishes in Christchurch city, from the existing twelve to five new parishes, with teams of two to four priests living and ministering together in these newly-formed parishes (North, East, South, West and Central).
Changes are also proposed or possible for Selwyn and Waimakariri. (NZ Catholic, June 16).
“The number and age of our clergy does not allow us to maintain the current structures,” the letter explained.
At Addington, Bishop Martin reiterated another significant reason for the
proposed changes — the need to have a missionary, outward-looking attitude, instead of one focused upon inward maintenance.
In his letter, he explained that too much parish energy and resources goes into maintaining parish plant that was built for, and appropriate to, an earlier era.
The proposal could mean the closure of the much-loved Sacred Heart (Addington) and St Peter’s (Beckenham) churches, both in Sancta Maria parish in southern Christchurch.
A new church would be at the Our Lady of the Assumption site in Hoon Hay,
with a new Christchurch South parish amalgamating the Addington/Beckenham and Hoon Hay/Halswell parishes.
Concerns were raised at the Addington meeting about the unknown fate or
possible loss of the surplus churches and fears that their history and connection with generations of families and parishioners would be gone for good.
Ms White has close ties with Addington’s Sacred Heart. She said it’s her
“home since birth”, and while she now lives 20km away, she attends Mass there every Sunday.
“My great grandparents were buried there. All my grandparents, my parents, all my aunts and uncles were Addington people . . . I was christened at Sacred Heart, as were my children, I was married there and received all my sacraments there.”
She said she understood that change was needed, but Sacred Heart is a very
special place to many people.
“I’d like to see if they wanted to try one of these mega churches, say at Papanui, where they do need to build. But keep some of these big ones here and let us have a reprieve for a while. Let them try the new system without demolishing everything, because I think if this turns to be a mistake it can’t be undone. And that’s awful.
“Wiping everything when we’ve lost so much in Christchurch — this would
just about pull me over the edge,” she said, shaken and in tears.
She suggested lay ministers could be trained to celebrate the Liturgy of the
Word, if priests weren’t available.
“Leave Sacred Heart alone, for now.”
While grief and the fear of future changes could be felt in the room, confidence in the bishop’s proposal and his courage was made known at the meeting.
Sacred Heart Massgoer, and member of the finance and property committee, Tony Lockington believes the bishop’s rationale for putting his proposal forward is very “sound”.
“It’s around sustainability, and for the Church to be vibrant and present in
Christchurch, Canterbury, in the future.”
Mr Lockington is aware of the issues around attendance, declining numbers
of priests and small parishes that don’t have enough attendees to engage in the missionary work envisioned.
“We’re needing to do something different to be able to re-invigorate and sustain. But, by virtue of that, that will bring growth and opportunities, and
I guess, a new start, and I think that’s really exciting.”
He says he understands perfectly the loss some people would feel for a
church or parish. Other questions around feasibility, affordability and transparency were also raised at the meeting, and whether there was enough money to cover the costs for building new sites.
Kathleen Gallagher of Addington/ Beckenham parish presented what she
called “the good plan”.
It entailed a “no land sold” motto, along other ideas, including building only what is required immediately.
“The idea of hubs is a good idea for our priests to live together in community, but we have six very vibrant, large parish communities, all with populations bigger than 800, and those are the places that need to be hubs.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”
She believes the hubs should be Sacred Heart church in Addington, St Teresa’s in Riccarton and Christ the King in Burnside.
“Sacred Heart, Addington, and St Teresa’s survived the earthquakes brilliantly; these other churches (new and existing proposed to be hubs) have required a lot of earthquake work and are very expensive to build because of that,” she argued.
Mrs Gallagher said the plan that’s being proposed is very costly.
“We basically need two or three plans to be considering, not just one, and that’s where the problem is.”
Ms White said: “I don’t know where the money is coming from. They are going to rely on us to pay and we’re not going to pay if we’re not happy.”
Ms White would be “very happy” to fund evangelical programmes to bring more youth into the Church, and help bring back some of the Catholics who no longer attend Mass.
“It would be wonderful to bring back some of 85 per cent of Catholics who
don’t attend church regularly.”
The proposal feedback process closes on August 30.
Bishop Martin will review the feedback submitted and will announce results of the process on December 1.