Historic church's future in doubt

The future of the Andersons Bay Presbyterian church is uncertain, but the Rev Alofa Lale still...
The future of the Andersons Bay Presbyterian church is uncertain, but the Rev Alofa Lale still has hope. Photos by Gerard O'Brien.
The church.
The church.

One hundred years after the Andersons Bay Presbyterian church opened, the historic building's future is uncertain, and its parish on the point of dissolution.

The possible last days of the church in the suburb are taking place 150 years after the Rev Thomas Burns conducted the inaugural service in the first church building on the Silverton St site.

The present building, designed by architect E. W. Walden, had its first service on December 6, 1914.

Earlier this year, an earthquake assessment found the building was far below the required strength.

Now, church members say they have accepted they do not have the means to pay for repairs.

However, church minister the Rev Alofa Lale, said despite being realistic about the issue, she lived in ''hope and faith'' a way might be found.

Southern Presbytery executive officer Alan Judge confirmed this week the Andersons Bay parishioners were discussing dissolving their parish.

''The pattern in the Presbyterian church is you have an initial decision, like an in-principle decision, and then a group from outside the parish comes in and works with them for a few months.

''Then they have another congregational meeting, where they have a more developed plan, so people can actually see what it's going to look like if they do that.

''We're at the halfway point between those two things at the moment.''

That meant a final decision would not be made on the issues until ''well into February''.

The church building was closed in May for winter, to save heating costs, as was done the year before, and the congregation worshipped in the church lounge.

In June, news of the earthquake assessment came, meaning the main church could not be reopened.

Mr Judge said the congregation had to ''talk through a number of issues, because there are two congregations in the one parish - the other is Portobello''.

''There's a conversation between two congregations going on.

''The Andy Bay people really have to decide what they want to do, but they are really in two minds.''

If the parish dissolved, decisions about the building became the responsibility of the regional bodies, the Synod and the Presbytery.

''There would be no assumptions the property would be sold.

''I think the Presbyterian church would be reluctant to have no property in that area.

''There's questions about at what point to demolish a building, and what elements of a building have to be retained in some way, and things like that.''

Mr Judge said churches were waiting for the Government to clarify its earthquake-prone building legislation.

Mrs Lale said with ''dwindling numbers, dwindling finances, and then the building on top of that, we don't have the resources to fix it up''.

''The desire is definitely there, but unfortunately the reality, you know ... but we always live in faith, live in hope.

''We're also aware that God works in mysterious ways, and often when something dies it rises again.''

Parishioner 78-year-old Anne Ayson said she had been going to the church since she was 14, got married there, and her children were baptised there.

She and the rest of the congregation were ''terribly sad''.

''But we're on the hill. People have moved to the flat or to rest-homes, or died, because it's an older place.''

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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