Parishioners mourn orders to close three out of five Catholic churches.

Many in the Wairarapa Catholic community are mourning orders to close three of its five Catholic churches.

Earthquake-prone building regulations, ageing populations and shrinking Mass attendance have all had a part to play in deciding to close the buildings.

Cardinal John Dew, of the Wellington Catholic Archdiocese, said at least one Sunday Mass or Vigil Mass would be celebrated in both remaining Wairarapa churches – St Patrick’s in Masterton at one end of the parish and Featherston’s St Teresa of Avila at the other end.

He said with only one priest covering the whole of the district, providing masses in all five Catholic churches “is not an option for the future”.

One of the parish churches to close is St Anthony’s Church, which is on the main road into Martinborough.

The average age of the active parish members of its congregation is around 75.

The church building has been out of use since it was deemed earthquake prone in 2018.

Parishioner Yvonne Riddiford (95) is “desperately sad” to find her church will probably be sold for other purposes.

While she acknowledges the challenges such as shrinking congregations, lack of priests and repair costs, she’s dismayed at what she calls “defeatism”.

“… just to close it on those grounds, you’ll never open it again.”

Carterton’s St Mary’s, which is also earthquake-prone, and Greytown’s Sacred Heart are also earthquake-prone and they will also be closed.

Victoria University of Wellington religious studies lecturer Dr Philip Fountain says the Catholic churches closing in the Wairarapa reflects broader trends of decline in some traditionally prominent denominations.

“One of the big stories of religious change in New Zealand has been a fairly steady decline of Christian affiliation across New Zealand census data since the 1980s,” he says.

This comment is borne out by the 2006 census where 508,812 indicated they were Catholic, as against 492,324 in 2013 and then fewer than 470,000 in 2018.

Like rural areas, metropolitan centres parishes are also consolidating heavily.

Fountain says the counter-balance to this trend is growth in new religious communities.

“These dynamics are reshaping rural communities in important ways,” he says.

“Indeed, while the urban stereotype of rural areas is that they are the ‘conservative rump’ of New Zealand society, they are better considered as spaces of vibrant and dynamic religious innovation,” Fountain says.

Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty, says at a sentimental level, he agrees it is a shame the Carterton church where he was baptised, made his  first holy communion and was confirmed is no longer going to remain operational.

“At the same time, we have to face up to the fact that a lot of these buildings are earthquake-prone … it’s very much a case of use it or lose it.

“The church is faced with significant costs to keep up buildings that a relatively small number of people are attending, they can’t keep these buildings going for large congregations twice a year at Christmas and Easter.”


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

Tags: , ,