Churches' fate still bound by red tape

Christchurch and century-old stone churches were once synonymous.

The February 2011 earthquake wrecked some of the city's best-known religious landmarks and few denominations were spared.

The Anglicans and Catholics lost their heritage-listed cathedrals, the tiny Coptic Orthodox Church bought a rugby club after its Edgeware Rd building was demolished, and the Jewish synagogue was out of action until December last year.

Thousands of church-goers around the region this holiday weekend celebrated a fourth Easter while using makeshift or shared facilities.

Religious leaders say repair and rebuild progress is being made, but it appears that even those closest to God can be snared by red tape.

Christchurch's Catholic diocese has more than 50 properties in Canterbury and the West Coast to be either strengthened, repaired or rebuilt.

About 75 per cent of the strategies have been finalised.

Diocesan financial administrator Paddy Beban said although progress could have been faster, he was "happy where we're at".

Its insurance claims were settled in 2012, but the pool was not sufficient to repair and strengthen all churches.

"It's not so much those that are subject to an insurance claim, it's those that aren't [but are] earthquake-prone. Because of heightened awareness, we need to look at those in the mix too."

Churches at Burwood and St Albans are due to be demolished and up to 12 projects, excluding the historic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, are heritage restorations.

Some parishes will continue to share facilities, while others have officially merged. About 50 parishes have become 30.

"I guess [the share arrangements] are working, but I have to say it isn't as good as being in your own local church," Beban said.

The former St Paul's site in Dallington has been sold and the Burwood church is unlikely to be rebuilt. A church will instead be built in Mairehau.

The Catholic cathedral remains in ruins in Barbadoes St but engineering and geotechnical reports have been sought.

Factors being considered include central-city population projections and other development plans for the area.

Christchurch Methodist spokesman David Bush said its buildings with minor damage had been repaired, and work was under way on those needing more significant repairs.

Insurance settlements had been finalised, but there was "hard work" to done deciding how funds would be allocated.

Of the most seriously damaged, repairs to St John's - a heritage-listed stone church in Bryndwr Rd - were about 50 per cent complete.

The rebuild programme was "only at the beginning", Bush said.

Contracts to rebuild churches in Papanui and Opawa have been let, while discussions were being held with the city council over use of a parcel of land in Shirley occupied by Crossway.

Wainoni was caught in the residential red-zoning in Avonside Drive, but church officials declined the Government's offer.

Bush was unsure of the future ramifications, but the church sustained "very minor" damage.

"What it means for the long term, we don't know. [The church] is a vital part of the east Christchurch community scene."

The future of the empty site where the historic Durham St church once stood is still unknown.

"[The congregation] will definitely come back into the inner city . . . when we rebuild, we want it to be something that will actually fit into the future," he said.

Presbytery of Christchurch co-moderator Nancy Jean Whitehead said five city Presbyterian churches were written off, while three others were seriously damaged.

"There's still an awful lot of unanswered questions," she said.

The rebuild of the Knox Church on the corner of Bealey Ave and Victoria St is so far its crowning glory.

Concept plans for St Paul's Trinity Pacific, which stood across from the CTV Building in Madras St, are being prepared for land bought in the city's east.

Whitehead said a congregation known as The Village had been formed after the demolition of St Giles in Papanui and St Stephen's in Bryndwr.

They were still meeting in their church halls and were considering their options for a joint facility.

While rationalising building stock, parishes were not necessarily being encouraged to merge, Whitehead said.

A new concept being set up, known as Kiwi Church, will follow a British model where congregations do not meet in non-church buildings.

The 129-year Oxford Tce church was the key Baptist facility destroyed in the February 2011 quake.

After using facilities at Christchurch East School, the congregation last year moved back to a hall on the site.

The church will soon begin the reinstatement of heritage-listed apartments it owns in Chester St East, while an update on plans for the church rebuild was expected in about two months.

"We've got some pretty exciting ideas about what we're going to put back," senior minister Chris Chamberlain said.

"It's been a very tricky time. Processing a major thing like a building project when you're already contending with earthquake stuff, you've got to tread pretty carefully."

Major repairs on three other Baptist churches, mainly in the east, are still to begin.

The Salvation Army lost its Christchurch citadel on the corner of Durham St and Chester St West.

South Island divisional commander Major Ivan Bezzant said the insurance claim was "just about there" and a planning committee was considering what could be rebuilt with the funds available.

Plans to move to Salisbury St were progressing before the quake and the new facility would relocate there, he said.

"We're hoping we may be able to use a similar design, but it's a matter of working through the budget issues."

The Hope Centre, its central-city community ministry, was lost but the centre's work had moved to the suburbs.

Since the quake, the existing ministries in Hornby, Belfast, Linwood, Aranui and Sydenham had been "beefed up" with additional resources, Bezzant said.

An October 2012 update listed 31 Anglican Diocese of Christchurch buildings, including the Christ Church Cathedral, to be either repaired or rebuilt.

The diocese said it was unable to provide an update on its damaged buildings, and declined to be interviewed by The Press.

"The staff are working more hours than exist in the day at stages it seems and such a request is a substantial amount of work that would not be right to place on them," spokesman Jayson Rhodes said.

Fairfax Media