Church facing last Christmas

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 26/12/2012
St Stephen's Presbyterian Church
CLOSING DOWN?: St Stephen's Presbyterian Church

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It has stood for more than 130 years, but this Christmas may be the last for St Stephen's Presbyterian Church in Ponsonby.

Dwindling worshippers and large bills to make the building earthquake-proof may force the place of worship to close its doors as the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ assesses its buildings.

Churchgoers were told earlier this month that paying to safeguard the building would cost in excess of $500,000, something the parish can't feasibly afford to pay for as it only has 30-40 members.

"We are a small congregation, we certainly don't have half a million dollars," St Stephen's session clerk Ross Prestidge said.

A recent evaluation showed the church, which opened in 1879, only scored 29 per cent of the current earthquake standard for new buildings. The Building Act 2004 requires them to be no less than 34 per cent.

As it stands the church would be 10-25 times more at risk during an earthquake than a new building. It is considered to be legally earthquake-prone.

The church is required to consider temporarily closing, pending a decision on the building's future.

Prestidge said they are reluctant to leave, fearing they won't be able to return if the work is not considered viable.

"There's a lot of anger about the situation."

St Stephen's former minister resigned from his post in August and has yet to be replaced.

"The church has been heading for the rocks for a while but it was chugging along until the potential costs forced the church to look urgently at the situation," Prestidge said.

The congregation would have to have at least 60 members in order for it to be viable, with selling the church a possibility, he said.

Northern Presbytery project manager Forbes Worn said the decision is out of the hands of the Presbyterian Church.

There were up to 30 Presbyterian churches in Auckland facing similar problems.

The trustees' will be looking at the long-term future of each parish, he said.

Congregation member Wayne MacDonald is concerned about the building's future.

"It was a shock to a lot of people. Some members have been coming here their whole lives - it's a Ponsonby landmark."

A decision on St Stephen's future is likely to be made by February.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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