Church rejects highest bid

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 12/05/2014

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A Timaru religious community says it offered the highest, unconditional cash price for Chalmers Church but was unsuccessful with the recent purchase and is concerned with Chalmers' potential loss of history.

Timaru's Coptic community is one of four in New Zealand established by native Christians of Egypt.

About eight families make up the local Coptic community. They meet in a room at the Phar Lap Raceway but hope to eventually buy their own church.

Waimate pharmacist and member of the Coptic community Sylvia Tawadrous said she was not worried about her group missing out on buying Chalmers but was more concerned at the potential of losing the history it represented.

"It is not just a building, it's about the symbol behind the building and about the community, about the morals and what society has been built on," she said.

In her homeland of Egypt, Tawadrous said there are churches still standing that had been built in 64AD when St Mark the evangelist travelled to Alexandria. The ancient churches were well looked after there and remained religious and historical places telling a story of the past.

"Churches are a symbol of history. If you sell history you have nothing else to stand on."

Tawadrous worries that as churches are sold and converted to night clubs or restaurants, the values that were taught there could be seen as an old ideology and no longer recognised.

"I just want to raise a red light ... about the treasures a new generation needs to know which are the foundation of society."

She said she was not judging the Presbyterians for not accepting the Coptic community's offer.

"The main point is the history of New Zealand is in the church."

It would be just as important for any religion, she said.

Peter Wilson, of Reid & Wilson First National real estate, said he could not comment on the negotiation process which saw a Timaru businessman buy the church properties ahead of the Coptic community.

"There are no rules, the vendor can decide [who to sell to]," Wilson said.

Timaru Presbyterian Parish clerk Ken Falconer said there had been "quite a few" interested parties in the properties, which included Zest and the Friendship centre, but he would not comment further.

"I do not want to discuss it, it's our business," Falconer said.

The church was sold without being earthquake strengthened. The parish decided after the Christchurch earthquakes not to use any of its buildings which were not 67 per cent of the Building Code. In its present state Chalmers is at 11 per cent.

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- The Timaru Herald

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