Durham Street finds new life as church of choice
For the parishioners of Christchurch Central Parish (better known as the Durham Street Methodist Church) being a ‘church of choice’ means many things.
It means being a place where people can strive for personal and spiritual growth with integrity. It means maintaining traditions while exploring new understandings. It means finding creative ways to establish common ground on which to engage the wider community.
Given its location in the centre of the city, its association with the Methodist Mission that is adjacent to it, and its renowned choir, the Durham Street Church has long been a prominent congregation in New Zealand Methodism. Its affiliation with the Mission puts social justice at the forefront of its concerns and it stands staunchly on the liberal end of the theological spectrum.
Within the life of Durham Street are a number of dynamic initiatives. One is the Theology Group, whose members keep abreast of contemporary spiritual and theological thought through monthly readings and discussion sessions. This year they have examined the work of Don Cuppitt, Walter Brueggemann, Clive Pearson, Tom Harpur and others.
Another initiative is the Faith Community Health Team. Led by retired nurse Heather Spence, the six person team runs seminars on health topics and provides personal support to help parishioners get the health care they need.
When Conference decided two years ago to separate the Christchurch Mission from the Durham Street Church, it prompted the congregation to ask itself ‘who are we now?’
Presbyter Rev Kathryn Walters says in August 2004 the parish council led the congregation in a dreaming day. People broke into groups to consider who they want to become and what their dreams are. After hours of brainstorming and discussion they arrived at notion that they want to be a church of choice.
“We decided we want to be a church where people could safely explore their faith and spirituality. We want to be a place of wholeness and well-being. We also recognised that there is a big spiritual vacuum in the wider community and we want to help meet some of those needs,” Kathryn says.
“Once we decided we want to be church of choice, we asked ‘how do we do that?’ Some things were easy to implement. One was to make children’s packs so children would have something to do during services.
“Another was to start all age activities where people of the parish could engage one another. This in an integral part of our services and we endeavour to have some form of engagement each Sunday. Whilst they include young people the focus is on all ages.”
Reaching out to the wider community in new ways required a longer term effort that is just now bearing fruit. On October 15th the congregation hosted its first ‘Making Spiritual Connections’ events.
These are workshop seminars that provide a chance for people outside the church to explore spirituality. The first one focused on Celtic spiritual traditions and creation theology. Kathryn says possible future seminar topics include the justice tradition in the Quaker and Catholic churches, and Buddhism.
“We plan to hold two Spiritual Connections seminar a year. They will not all be on Christian topics but rather on spirituality. We want to provide an open door so that people can find a way into faith, a way they can reconnect with the self, with the divine, and with others.”
Another outreach initiative the congregation plans is to the business community.
“Some business people have a renewed interest in spirituality. You can see this in trends such as life coaches who help people get balance back in their lives. We want to hold a series of lectures to reach out specifically to professional people. Topics under discussion are the spirituality of leadership, energy, justice, sexuality and death and loss.”
Kathryn says like other congregations, Durham Street is shrinking and aging. It is a tight knit congregation that takes care of one another but it has reached a crossroads. It can keep doing what it has been doing or it can find innovative ways to build on its strengths and reach out to the community.
“Initiatives such as Spiritual Connections may not get more people to come to church on Sunday. It’s about being church and finding ways to empower the wider community.”