Last rites for Ward church

CHURCH SERVICE: Catholic priest Father Aidan Kay and deacon Richard Booker, outside the earthquake-damaged St Peter Chanel church in Ward, which is to be demolished.
CHURCH SERVICE: Catholic priest Father Aidan Kay and deacon Richard Booker, outside the earthquake-damaged St Peter Chanel church in Ward, which is to be demolished.

Marlborough's Catholics are to mark the end of an era on Sunday and hopefully a new beginning, as the Ward church is formally shut for demolition.

Meanwhile, work is continuing to be done on the seismic upgrade of Blenheim's main Catholic church, St Mary's, which has been rated as about half the building standard it needs to be to withstand most of the impact of a large earthquake.

Parish priest Father Aidan Kay was unwilling to be drawn on the future of St Mary's, saying formal engineering reports were yet to come it.

However, earthquake committee chairman Paul Ham said there was no suggestion St Mary's would be demolished. "Hell, no, not at all."

It was thought St Mary's had been reinforced with steel trusses when it was renovated in the 1990s, but the wooden lining of the church needed to be removed to check that and its connections, Ham said.

Strengthening plans could not be made until that had been done, he said, and it would take some time.

While the building's rating was low, it was a timber building, Ham said.

"I would prefer to be in that than a concrete building during an earthquake, I can tell you. And that's without divine intervention."

Father Aidan, who also serves the Ward and Seddon parishes, said a service of decommissioning would be held at St Peter Chanel's church, which is just off State Highway 1 at Ward, at 3pm on Sunday. The service would be held outside, on the grassed area surrounding the church.

People should bring folding chairs and warm clothes, he said.

There would be some singing, a reading, and a prayer at the church site, and then the congregation would take the church's altar and sign and make a procession to St Peter's Anglican church nearby where the sign would be installed and the rest of the service held.

After that, Father Aidan said, everyone would go to the East Coast Tavern for refreshments.

The Catholics and Anglicans in Ward would have a closer relationship, the way different denominations did in Seddon, he said. There, the parish shares the Catholic church with Presbyterians whose church is to be demolished shortly. It was decommissioned last weekend.

"It is going to be pretty interesting. I think the Anglicans are pretty interested in coming along and walking with us."

While it would be a sad end of an era for Ward's Catholics, it would hopefully be the start of a good relationship and community between the Christian communities in Ward.

The church is to be demolished by Simcox, the firm which will also be demolished the earthquake-damaged Presbuterian church, St Andrew's, in Seddon.

St Peter Chanel is a small red-brick church, built in 1923. It was damaged in the 6.6 earthquake last August which caused cracks in its tower and water damage from a broken cylinder.

Father Aidan said the tower was worse now than it had been immediately after the earthquake. Later aftershocks have dislodged bricks and caused it to slump.

"It is a demonstrative sign of why it is being pulled apart, because it's falling apart."

The interior of the church was stripped a fortnight ago, he said. The church bell had yet to be removed.

A tender was held for people to buy salvaged materials from the church, and Father Aidan said parishioners had agreed the church contents should go where possible to the prospective buyers who lived near Ward.

No decisions had been made on the future of the church's land, Father Aidan said.

The Marlborough Express