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Christian leaders across the South have urged project managers to rethink having only a multi-faith centre in the new Dunedin Hospital.
The centre is being proposed by Southern District Health Board staff as an alternative to either a standalone Christian chapel or a chapel and a multi-faith centre, as planners work with what will be limited space in the new building.
Staff say the trend is for multi-faith centres in new hospitals and there is not enough space or budget for both.
But a petition signed by 52 people, mainly leaders of Presbyterian congregations across the South, but also including the Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, the Right Rev Stephen Benford, seeks assurance from the health board that a Christian chapel and an office for chaplains be given priority for the new hospital.
The signatures are attached to a letter to New Dunedin Hospital programme director Hamish Brown, from Leith Valley Presbyterian Church minister the Rev Richard Dawson, which calls for hospital planners to revisit their plans and include a "discernable Christian presence" in the new hospital.
"Hospitals and the health systems in which they operate can largely be said to be an invention of the church and they certainly rely on values espoused by the church throughout its 2000-year history," Mr Dawson writes.
"More than this, however, is the concern that the Christian faith will not be primarily represented within a city founded on Christian principles and a country in which, still, the largest group of people claiming religious adherence are Christian."
He argued non-denominational chaplains at the new hospital would administer to the spiritual needs of anyone using the hospital, but said the nature of modern hospitals was due to the impact of Christian churches on ancient military hospitals.
And he asked that "the faith tradition upon which this nation and this city have relied on to guide them in forming an holistic health system be duly recognised".
A report the health board will consider today seeks its endorsement of the multi-faith centre, so that can feed into planning for the design of the new hospital.
In the report, Mr Brown said space allocated for the religious centre in the new hospital’s plans would be halved from chapel space at Dunedin Hospital at present, from about 150sqm to about 75sqm.
The proposed religious space would have a prayer room, a wash room, interview room and a pastoral care workers’ shared office.
He noted the health board’s leadership team endorsed the plan because it agreed it was important to provide a holistic, spiritual place reflective of a growing diversity of population and spiritual needs.
Providing for one faith above others could lead to a perception of inequity, he said.
His report noted that between the 2006 and 2018 censuses the number of Otago people who identifed as Christian dropped from more than half (54.1%) to about a third (33.4%).
Those identifying with no religion rose from 38.8% in 2006 to 55.8% in 2018.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Maori religions, beliefs and philosophies, and "others" all remained marginal at 0% to 2%.