Editorial: Shame about the churches

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 28/03/2013

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When Chalmers Church was built in 1904, it would have been a beacon on the skyline.

It still is; we've just got used to it.

But we'll certainly notice it if it's gone, which has to be a prospect now that local Presbyterians have agreed it should be sold.

And if sold, there's every chance it could be pulled down, which would be a shame.

Older churches add character to a town, and harbour fond memories for worshippers. Worshippers whose forebears would have worked hard to raise the money to build them.

The prospect of demolition is possible because a change of use would trigger $1 million worth of earthquake strengthening work. That's a lot of money. And there has to be a limited market for a church in the first place.

The congregation has swallowed a practical yet bitter pill here.

It's not the earthquakes that have forced the issue, it's falling numbers.

Sure, the earthquakes haven't helped, but this was a decision waiting to be made.

Having 200 regular Presbyterian churchgoers with four churches in Timaru doesn't make sense, so a hard call has been made.

Chalmers and St Paul's in Seddon Street will be sold, Trinity Church in College Rd is likely to be sold later leaving the congregation at a revamped St Stephen's in Wai-iti Rd.

The Presbyterian church in Pleasant Point has been closed, and Trinity Presbyterian in Temuka was demolished a year ago.

The Anglican Church faces its own dilemma. Its pride and joy, St Mary's, has been closed for more than a year even though it legally does not have to be. It requires strengthening work of $1 million to bring it up to 67 per cent of the building code, and this after having spent $900,000 on restoring it.

The church has expressed a determination to do the work, and for the town's sake the hope is it will.

There are three other Anglican churches in Timaru.

The two main Catholic churches in Timaru remain open, but St Joseph's in Temuka and St Mary's in Pleasant Point have closed.

There's a fair bit of praying to be done before we know finally which special buildings we'll keep and which we'll lose.

Whether we go to church or not, simply by living here we all have a stake in the outcome.

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