A major shake up of Christchurch's Catholic Church could result in the sale of up to seven parishes, freeing up about $26 million.
Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin has announced a proposal to merge 12 parishes to form five new "super parishes" by 2023. The five new parishes would be called Christchurch North, Christchurch West, Christchurch South, Christchurch Central and Christchurch East.
Congregations were told of the major changes on Sunday, with some in tears at the possible closure of much loved churches.
Martin said land and buildings used by the St Francis of Assissi parish in Mairehau, Christ the King in Burnside, St James in Aranui, the Sacred Heart in Addington, St Peter's in Beckenham, Saint Peter and Paul's in Halswell and the Holy Trinity in Bryndwyr would no longer be needed under the reshuffle.
The land for those parishes totals about 8 hectares and has a rateable valuation of about $26.7m. Martin said some of those surplus sites could be sold.
"We will have some surplus buildings, but what happens to them will vary," Martin said.
"It will be a discussion with the parishes when the time comes, they may want to keep the land for the parish."
Selling the land could help fund the construction of two large new churches proposed for two of the new parishes, Martin said.
The two churches would cost about $10m to $12m each. The new North parish on the site of the St Joseph's church in Papanui and the new South parish on the site of the Our Lady of Assumption church in Hoon Hay would both require new churches under the proposal.
Martin said the cost of the new churches would have to be paid for "by assets that will need to be sold" along with fundraising and insurance payments.
TEARS AND DISTRESS
Alice Flett said worshippers at St Mary's church in central Christchurch were shocked by the announcement on Sunday, with one worshipper in tears after the service.
"There was quite some distress," she said. "One woman was just devastated. She is still very distressed."
She said an older woman was "terribly distressed" by the news. "She said she loved our church and felt that she had never been in a more beautiful church."
One of the pamphlets about the changes was ripped in half after the service, she said.
Christchurch writer and film director Kathleen Gallagher of the Beckenham parish said people were "devastated" by the plans.
"These are very old strong communities that we feel are being wrecked with a ball and chain," she said.
"Our churches are all full. We are not struggling for people. It is a horrific decision for us."
Former mayor Garry Moore, who was raised Catholic, speculated the shake up was motivated by a desire to make money from the church's land holdings.
"The three parishes of Addington, Riccarton and Burnside – they are all quite strong parishes and I wonder why the bishop is proposing to close those parishes.
"I hope it has nothing to do with the fact that those areas are quite good to subdivide. They will all be worth a lot of money."
BIGGER CHURCHES CAN DO MORE
Martin said the move was motivated by the desire to create larger churches that could do more for their congregation.
About 11,500 people regularly attended mass on a Sunday in Christchurch and congregation numbers were holding steady, Martin said.
"I want to bring people together from larger communities to do more to support people in their faith.
"If we can get a critical mass we can do things to support them better in their lives."
Parishioners were asked to spend two weeks considering the proposal and provide their feedback by August 30.
David Saunders of Linwood said congregations were being kept in the dark.
"We have not been given enough information about what the proposed 'Mass Centres' will look like," he wrote in a letter to The Press newspaper.
"We are expected to trust the bishop and his faceless bureaucracy, while losing our beloved parishes and parish priests."
Ian McInnes of Burnside said in a letter to The Press he was concerned about the impact of the changes on older worshippers.
"Consolidating local churches is a mistake as the local congregation and community will be dispersed, weakened and left to fend for themselves," he said.
"How will older parishioners get to churches that are many kilometres away [when] buses are infrequent on Sunday?"