New Zealand diocese mulls closing half its parishes: The Church of England Newspaper, September 27, 2012 September 27, 2012Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand & Polynesia, Church of England Newspaper.
Tags: Diocese of Dunedin, Kelvin Wright
Empty pews, rising costs and a cash shortfall has led the Diocese of Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island to consider a plan put forward by Bishop Kelvin Wright to close half the diocese’s parishes.
Delegates to the diocese’s synod held on 15 Sept 2012 accepted a draft plan for study that would reduce the number of congregations from 32 to 15 and cut the number of stipendiary parochial clergy from 20 to 17. The diocese’s administrative offices would also be reorganized and redundant churches closed.
In a May 2012 letter to his diocese subsequently posted on his blog, Dr. Wright warned the diocese was “two years out from a crisis.”
“For many years, the diocese has been in decline on any parameter that could be named … attendances, numbers of families served and the real level of giving have all been steadily dropping over the years to the point where several of our parishes are on the very edge of ceasing to exist altogether,” he wrote.
The diocese’s 32 parishes supported 60 churches, many of which had been damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Insurance costs had risen by 60 per cent in the aftermath of the earthquake and each building required an inspection that would cost upwards of £1500, while one church needed £100,000 in repairs to remain open.
“We’ve got to ask the hard questions. These people go to church for spiritual and social reasons. They did not sign up to be the custodians of historical buildings,” the bishop said, but noted the cash crunch may be a “blessing in disguise” as once congregations are free from the cost of maintaining crumbling buildings “they may be stronger for it.”
“We are about two years out from a crisis, but we’ve got to make the changes now while we’ve still got a bit of wiggle room,” the bishop said.
The Dunedin synod accepted the bishop’s proposal for reorganization and has asked parish councils to offer their responses within the next sixty days. A committee will then begin work on a restructuring plan for the diocese. Considered one of New Zealand’s more progressive dioceses, Dunedin elected the first diocesan woman bishop in the Anglican Communion in 1990, Dr. Penelope Jamieson. In 2006 her successor, Bishop George Connor, ordained New Zealand’s first openly gay clergyman, the Rev. Juan Kinnear.
First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.