A way forward for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch

Big, 600 seat church buildings don’t “bring people” in Christchurch.

Good healthy functioning communities small or large, with community – enabling priests and lay ministers, folk who include everyone in the mix, and allow all sorts of community lead projects to flourish, create the places where people want to come.

In these places the interface between our primary schools and our local community churches is creative and vibrant and children, young people, old folk and those in between, all have creative parts to play in the liturgy.

In his first “proposal” on 9 June Christchurch’s new Catholic bishop Paul Martin said he wishes to close and sell off 13 of the 20 churches in our diocese and replace them with five, 600 seat churches, to “evangelise and bring more people” to add to our 11,600 regular Sunday mass goers plus all the Catholics and others who attend funerals, baptisms, first communions, confirmations, high days and holy days.

The 13 churches he proposes to close, include the largest, most vibrant, and most historic churches in the Christchurch Catholic diocese.

There has never been and is not now a shortage of migrant priests happy to come to New Zealand.

This is a major contraction of the Diocese when we are experiencing population growth in Christchurch and in the Catholic Church.

By 2028, there’s predicted to be around 120,000 more people in Christchurch, than in 2013.

The proposal also assumes a shrinking Catholic Church and a shortage of priests, as in Halifax.

In New Zealand the Catholic Church has grown to be the largest Christian denomination in New Zealand, with around 492,384 people, representing 12.6 percent of the total population, according to the 2013 census.

Packed Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Church Addington.

Our NZ dioceses have always been “the Missons” originally to French, Irish and now Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino and American priests.

There has never been and is not now a shortage of migrant priests happy to come to New Zealand.

Neither is there any shortage of folk happy to become lay ministers to work together with our priests.


Many folk feel betrayed.

Christchurch people have had to cope with major disasters and shocks and are in the process of developing a resilient spirit of peace.

The staunch rigid approach of the announcement of 9 June 2019 stands in stark contrast to this spirit.

  • The failure to answer direct questions by Catholic bishop Paul Martin and property developer Tony Sewell at the Q and A’s,
  • the lack of empathy,
  • the leaked half-truths,
  • the secrecy,
  • the small elite group who have concocted the proposed plans,
  • the seeming “fait-accompli” and the lack of transparency

has shocked and dismayed many people.

Our churches are places of refuge, friendship and intergenerational memories that can’t be swept aside.

The proposal will further decimate religious and spiritual heritage at a time when the people of our city are just beginning to regain our confidence.

Christchurch has already lost most of our CBD heritage.

Corporate model of Church

The model proposed is a corporate, supermarket-type, mono-cultural one – of five, 600 seat churches, and identikit 50 seat chapels with no halls by our schools.

Totally unlike the rich mosaic of community based churches, halls and their primary schools we have developed here.

The proposal is based on a dated, overseas, maintenance to mission model that would increase our car miles driven, when we in Christchurch, are developing a sustainable eco-friendly city.

On our side of town, Sacred Heart Addington, St Teresa’s Riccarton, and Christ The King Burnside, located in densely populated suburbs, are our hub churches, each have a long history of community enabling pastoring.

Their priests live together in community alongside vibrant thriving communities full of a multitude of different nationalities and age-groups, with their primary schools.

St Teresa’s runs as a family community church in the morning and a large university student lead community in the evening.

Questionable choices

The proposal plans to close down these 3 church hubs – Christchurch’s largest, most historic and vibrant community parish churches and incur needless expense and debt, building 2 church hubs one at Hoon Hay by a petrol station and one at Sockburn on a main road in an industrial area.

Neither of these churches are in areas of dense population.

This does not reflect wise, long-term nor healthy decision-making.

As our Catholic schools have evolved from being run by religious to being run by lay people, with appropriately facilitated consensus decision making, so too can our churches.

To do this we must fully resource community-enabling training and consensus decision-making up-skilling of our students, priests local and migrant, bishops and lay ministers.

  • Kathleen Gallagher is a Christchurch author, playwright and film-maker. She is a member of St Peter’s Church, Beckenham.
  • A gathering to talk about the future vision for our diocese, will take place at Sacred Heart Church Hall Addington on Sunday 11 August 1 – 5pm. Everyone is welcome and free childcare is available. Feel free to bring a plate for afternoon tea.
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