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The church is sold & Long live the church!

By Paul Titus

Why would a growing healthy congregation sell its church building?

That was the decision the congregation at St David’s Union Church in Marchwiel, Timaru made back in December 2006. In July of last year it made good on that decision and held its final Communion service at the building it had worshipped in for more than half a century.

Top: All hands to the chairs.Left to right John Davidson, Tony Flint (rear), Doug Traves, Ma Tupe, and John Pemberton.

Bottom: Amy Thoson manager for ABC Childcare (left) with Rosie Straite, lay resourse miniister for St David's Union.

Rosie Staite is lay resource minister at St David’s. Rosie says the congregation had leased half its property to a childcare company for the past 20 years, and recently the company made a business offer to buy the entire building.

“We still had four members who had worshipped at St Davids for all 55 years of its life. They remember raising money to build it. Nevertheless the vote to sell was unanimous.”

So what now the congregation of 50 who gathered on Sundays to worship at the church? St David’s Union is a diverse congregation made up of families and older people from a mix of ethnic groups.

First of all they decided that they would keep their identity as St David’s. They looked at a range of options to find another worship space.

“We prayed and looked. We talked and visited neighbouring parishes. We were thankful to be making choices from a position of strength. The sale process was complicated and the Church Court requirements too time.

“Suddenly we had to be out by the end of July. We accepted an offer to share the Woodlands Road Methodist Church building. We took an earlier timeslot which allowed us to stay as a separate parish and keep our long term options open.

“We are still together, still caring and worshipping, still serving the community – just in a new place. Now we continue in our Local Shared Ministry journey, developing our teams for mission and ministry. There is no schism in the church family but rather an agreement to go forward together,” Rosie says.

At its final service the congregation decommissioned the building and formally turned it over to ABC Learning Company, its new owner. The company’s manager Amy Thomson was at the service where she received a plaque that expresses people’s memories of St David’s that will be hung in the childcare centre.

St David’s member Linley Brooks says it wasn’t an easy decision but the congregation is happy in its new home. “Are we there to stay? Who knows but God hasn’t failed us up to now. It has been a long journey with sadness, tears, and worried hearts but we have never doubted that we have done the right thing.”

Margarte Johns says that she was only at St Davids for 35 years, not as long as some others but still long enough to see three children baptised there and one daughter married there. “I reminded myself the church is not the building, it’s the people. This is an on-going story. Tears, yes. Regrets, no.”

John Davidson is a new parishioner at St David’s. He says he and his family chose St David’s not because of the building but because of the love and support of the congregation. “When the church moves, the love in the hearts of the people moves with it. God is moving us because we are willing to be moved. We are part of God’s plan. When it unfolds, we will be right in the middle.”