Empty pews see church changes

By Mike Barrington

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St Stephen the Martyr's Church in Kaikohe, victim of falling congregations and rising costs. Photo / Debbie Beadle
St Stephen the Martyr's Church in Kaikohe, victim of falling congregations and rising costs. Photo / Debbie Beadle

An attendance survey at four Anglican churches in the Waimate North Mission District found they had only 28 regular worshippers and two of the six people attending one church were Methodist.

"With six people a church is not functioning," the Anglican Assistant Bishop of Auckland, the Rt Rev Jim White, told the Advocate.

Caring for Waimate North Mission District churches is a big challenge for Bishop Jim. Photo / Mike Barrington
Caring for Waimate North Mission District churches is a big challenge for Bishop Jim. Photo / Mike Barrington

He had no regrets over the Auckland Diocesan Council decision to give one of the four churches, St Stephen's at Kaikohe, to the Anglican Maori pastorate.

Parishoners at the Waimate North Mission District management group meeting last month had been critical of the Kaikohe church changing hands without them being consulted. But Bishop Jim said from his perspective it was a great outcome. "Some people think they were not consulted, but we have been talking about these issues for a while," he said.

Empty pews meant few hands to tackle church maintenance work historically carried out by community volunteers.

Bishop Jim said he faced a challenge devising a long-term strategy to care for the Waimate North Mission District churches, particularly when two of them - St John's at Waimate North and Holy Trinity at Pakaraka - were listed historic buildings, "taonga for the Anglican Church and the whole nation," and the other, St Catherine's at Okaihau, was "one of the prettiest churches in the North".

"We have some money, but we need to manage it well," he said, referring to two local bequests to the Anglican Church. It is understood they total about $600,000.

The Anglican Church was not about buildings, Bishop Jim said. It was about people getting together and worshiping and serving God. The church could not just accept the decline indicated by the reduction in worshippers. The issues the church was facing was not unique. The voluntary fabric was crumbling in society and the church was "like an elderly widow with too much house sitting around her."

The challenge for the church was how to respond to the changing environment.

Describing how he was recently in Whangarei to install two young priests in new jobs in the city, Bishop Jim said: "We've got to inject real life into our church and grow it so this development is exciting and positive".

"I think people's lives are better with Jesus in them and the Anglican tradition gives a great way to connect with the Jesus story. We're not going to lie down, put a white flag on the end of a stick and surrender. We believe in resurrection."

Giving St Stephen's at Kaikohe to the Maori pastorate kept it in Anglican hands. Parishioners would have lost access to St Stephen's if it had been sold, say to an independent church.

Bishop Jim said that when the Diocese of Auckland received St Paul's at Kamo after a restructuring a few years ago, it was given to the Maori pastorate, which had refurbished the building, adding a kitchen and conference facilities, and was now using it as an education centre for Northland.

"They are over the moon with it," he said. "They have named it Te Karaiki te Aranga - the Rising of Christ - because it is about new life. They are saying they will do something similar at St Stephen's in Kaikohe in the Far North".

- Northern Advocate

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