Christchurch parishes are overflowing, so let’s address the lack of priests

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Well, I guess we have had just about everything here in Christchurch since September 4, 2010.

Two years of death-defying earthquakes then the grief-stricken, the demolition, the dying, the rebuilding aftermath.

Followed by March 15, 2019, with 51 people dying while at prayer in the mosques, and while we are prayerfully and painfully recovering ourselves, we now have, on June 9, 2019, Paul Martin turning up with his Roman-like directions to demolish or sell off seven of Christchurch’s 12 Catholic parish community churches that have managed to survive the earthquakes.

All this is not because we don’t have enough parishioners in our churches.

Our parishes are full and some overflowing.

It is because he hasn’t enough male celibate priests to minister to them.

He is using a North American big church heavily oil-dependent model – parishioners travelling, not the priest.

Bishop Paul Martin is using a North American big church heavily oil-dependent model – parishioners travelling, not the priest.

And because he can’t seem to consider the practice that is common in the rest of Oceania, Latin America and Africa – in fact throughout the whole of the Southern Hemisphere, where lay ministers – married folk and women – can minister the liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion, without a priest being present, and the priest can turn up once every month or two and celebrate Mass and support them.

Maybe he sees the writing on the wall for clericalism and wants to finish it all off as quickly and painlessly as he can.

So he looks at the oldest, strongest base community parishes, churches like Sacred Heart Addington, St Teresa’s Riccarton, Christ the King Burnside, strong parishes with high daily Mass attendance and university student communities and sells these churches or bulldozes them.

These communities and their attached schools have taken decades to build to the strength they are today.

You don’t get rid of the places where your strength lies.

These churches and halls are our marae – the places where we gather to celebrate our births, deaths, weddings, first communions and ordinations. They are like cloaks that support our schools.

They were built with the blood, sweat and tears of our communities over generations.

Consultation?

He has not consulted with the priests, with the staff, nor with the parishioners. He simply announces his plan. He claims it is a proposal.

We are to pray and discuss it, but that his proposal will all be carried out within one year.

Our priests and staff and parishioners should have been consulted, involved and listened to, not just briefed.

Announcing a fixed plan and pretending it is a consultation, when it has been already decided upon, is the practice of clericalism at its very worst.

Shortage of priests

Currently we have 30 ordained priests in the diocese.

In 10 years we will have 12.

What about in 20 years?

In 20 years we will have four priests – if the trend continues. Something needs to be done about this.

Unlike the Anglicans, there is not a shortage of parishioners.

We need lay ministers – married people and women to be able to minister, for the Catholic Church to survive in the Christchurch diocese in 20 years’ time.

Ten years is far too short a timeframe.

Knocking down churches and building a few new ones is not going to solve the long-term problem.

We need to be planning for 20, 50 and 100 years’ time.

These lay ministers need to be trained and supported in ministry and in preaching and this is the place where our empty seminaries need to be putting their energy.

Working from strength

We need to work from the old strong base hub parishes and support the work the priests do there, with work by lay ministers in the surrounding churches.

In South Christchurch we want none of our four churches to be sold or destroyed.

We have had enough of death, destruction, building, selling and rebuilding.

Sacred Heart, Addington is the oldest and largest parish in our region and the safest church earthquake-wise – it is on good ground that doesn’t break open or have springs or liquefaction rise up from below. (It is well worth checking the old black map of Christchurch springs.)

We suggest that Sacred Heart be our hub church.

The other three parish churches can remain having Mass celebrated once a month there by a Priest and a liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion by lay ministers on the other Sundays and days of the week if the community has able lay ministers.

We don’t want more church name changes.

Name changes are not new here, they are old hat, we have had enough name and street and church and building changes to last a lifetime.

We want the emphasis to be on strengthening our communities and educating our lay ministers, not on demolishing and erecting buildings.

We want energy to go into how we can minister to one another in the absence of a priest.

We want to know how to be present to each other and to our beloved priests, who have done an amazing job in our parishes of all shapes and sizes through such a long difficult and continuing period of unrelieved upheaval.

  • Kathleen Gallagher is a Christchurch author, playwright and film-maker. She is a member of St Peter’s Church, Beckenham.
  • First published in the Christchurch Press. Republished with permission.

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