Tears at Christchurch parish plan meeting



“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.

Posted in

NZ Catholic Staff

Reader Interactions


  1. Bruce Jones says

    It IS possible to bring back that 85 % of Catholics who don’t attend church regularly.
    All that is required is for the rosary to take precedence in the home over the TV.
    TV does two evil things: 1. Reduce the sense of shame.
    2. In today’s world promote the glamour of evil.
    By saying the rosary the door opens to more intrinsically good aspects which can then be appreciated by the youth,
    including and most of all the Real presence. The Sacraments follow as essentials about which the remainder of the
    priceless heritage of faith will follow.
    Bishops can do wonders by simply advocating family prayer, and taking a leaf out of Bishop Fulton sheens book.
    It takes courage to confront those arenas that Catholics do not like to discuss. But they must be faced.
    The size of a family for instance. More children, more selflessness, and more attendants at mass.

  2. Greg says

    You have my prayers and sympathy.
    It’s tough but Bruce might be on the right track, even though it isn’t new, won’t sell any books or make anyone a national touring expert. Grace builds on grace, sin builds on sin.

    Maybe, the reason we have surplus churches is because there is a demographic collapse, i.e. in the 45 years and younger group there’s only enough people to some Toastmasters and Rotary clubs. How much am I exaggerating? Toastmasters has about 2000 people nationwide. How many Mass attendees are there under 45?

    I cautiously suggest that the major signs of life seem to be in corporatised areas. That is, areas subsidized by the state, schools and some NGO work, and the same-faces diocesan committee/working group enthusiasts.

    If the widows-mite that we steward is exhausted on “programs” and, as it’s called in change management, “intiativitis”, then nothing will change. Please try to diagnose root causes, find and understand bright-spots, rather than adhering to office group-think and been trapped by late 20th-C influences.

  3. Greg says

    Bishop Paul needs to be decisive and make unpopular but prudent decisions. It has been over 8 years since the first lethal quake.
    Accordingly after some quick research, I correct my statement from above.
    1. Toastmasters NZ has 5000 members not 2000. By the figures below there’s about 7000 Mass goers under 40 years nationally (?)

    2. NZ Catholic reports Mass Counts here: https://nzcatholic.org.nz/2016/03/15/most-2015-diocesan-mass-counts-down/
    “Auckland: 35,718; Hamilton: 9451; Palmerston North: 6693 (2014, 6193); Wellington: (no figure); Christchurch: 9961 (2014, 10,497); Dunedin: 4798.”

    3, Christchurch diocese published useful data on demographics from a 2013 survey here : https://ourfaith.chchcatholic.nz/2019/07/11/survey-graphs/
    The data in (3) shows that SIX YEARS ago over half of the Sunday Mass attending Catholics are 60 or over. 30% over 70.
    The data in (3) also shows that independent adults between 19-40 years were about 15% of Mass attendees. The 40-60 year olds of 2013 were about 30% of attendees.

    So, in a very simplistic calculation, in 30 years from those 2013 surveys how many people will be attending Sunday Mass? The 20 year olds will be 50, the 60 year olds will be hopefully near the Beatific Vision.
    Let’s say 20% of the recent Mass count surveys. So that is about 2000 people in Christchurch, which is less than half of the Mass count in the current smallest Diocese of Dunedin. Indeed, using the same proportional rule of thumb that means all Dioceses except maybe Auckland might be half the size of contemporary Dunedin.

    Given that the 2013 survey was 6 years ago, that means there’s only 24 years to go until until we hit that size. It won’t be a smooth decline/singing anew/re-imagining either because a third of Mass attendees were 70 six years ago. That third of Mass goers is now 76, 77, 78…

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