By Paul Titus
A major chapter in Methodist history began to close last month, when Methodist Mission Northern (MMN) announced it has sold a property in the heart of Auckland that it has occupied for more than 150 years.
The property includes the Aotea Chapel and the LIFEWISE Centre, which provides meals and support services to homeless people.
MMN superintendent and executive director Rev John Murray says the Mission Board decided in principle to sell the leasehold interest on the property last September. It was not an easy decision but one driven by economic necessity, the shifting focus of the Mission, and the changing nature of Auckland.
Ultimately the sale was the freehold ownership of the site. The settlement date for the sale is in December 2008 but MMN will continue to lease the property for another year and a half. In that time it will decide how and where to relocate the services it provides there. The services MMN delivers to families and older people in other parts of Auckland are not affected by the sale.
John says MMN could not afford to upgrade its central city buildings to contemporary standards. Their sale will provide capital that can be invested to further the work of the Mission.
He acknowledges that some members of the small congregation that worships at the Aotea Chapel were upset by the decision to sell the property outright and the way that decision was reached.
“We have had a presence in the CBD for a long time but to a degree we have lost sight of what the purpose of that presence is. Our aim is to be where the people are. While we deliver these services in the central city, Auckland is much larger than that. In fact it is five cities but we are only in one of them in this particular way,” John says.
“We have had to take a fresh view of our physical presence in the heart of the city. This has been painful for the congregation that worships at the Aotea Chapel. They have been part of the Mission for a long time but we have to recognise there are other ways to be that congregation.
“Working with a congregation is very important to the Methodist Mission and part of what makes us different to other social service agencies. As the Methodist Mission, we are committed to the Cycles of Hope and theologies of community development and social justice. At times the congregation reminds us of that.
“The congregation was quite upset they had not been informed about some of the steps taken during the sale of the property. They knew the leasehold was up for sale but the actual sale happened very quickly. We could not announce it until it was final.”
John says it is likely another worship centre will be established in the heart of Auckland. The congregation will be part of the discussions as that decision is reached.
The sale provides an opportunity to think creatively about the Mission’s work and explore the most effective ways to provides. No changes will be made quickly, or without the appropriate discussions and consultations with those affected.
“The capital released by the sale of the central city properties will enable us repay borrowings and create a more secure future. The money is not a pot of gold we will spend. It will be invested wisely so we can afford to do our work.”
The buyer of the property is Prince Corporation. John says the owner of the corporation is an active member of the Korean Methodist Church. He is very supportive of the work of the Mission and has agreed to generous lease arrangements for the properties until July 31, 2010.