The Earthquake prone Report
Following on from our congregational meeting and considering the opinions expressed, I read the Property Trustees’ Report to form an opinion on the challenges facing us in our responsibility to the Presbyterian Church as a national entity and in our own interest.
The facts of the matter are that our church building’s structure does not measure up to accepted earthquake resistance standards. This cannot be mitigated by an assumption that Auckland is not located in an active seismic zone. It places an obligation on the Church Council to react responsibly with the erection of notices in terms of the Health and Safety Act. This could have the potential of inhibiting the use of the building at own risk and the need for a documented evacuation procedure as a necessary precaution.
Some criticism was expressed about the role and powers of the Church Property Trustees. It deserves recognition that as owners and custodians of all church property throughout the country they manage a balanced investment portfolio, meaning that the aggregate value has been measured in relation to each property. This involves their location, usage pattern, maintenance cost, structural integrity and life expectancy of its buildings. The risk factors inherent in their construction and maintenance standard also have a bearing on each individual property’s insurability. Insurers have the option to either refuse cover or provide it at a premium level reflecting the likelihood of a claim arising. Policy holders are required to inform the insurer of any known risks that could influence this business relationship. In summary the Property Trustees have to act responsibly in their overall accountability to all congregations and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand as a whole.
Where does this leave us as a congregation? Putting all emotional attachments aside, we have to weigh up the risks and opportunities to provide us with a secure home and a legacy for successive generations. The harsh reality is that the construct of our church building has failed accepted safety standards. But there are other considerations. Foremost of these is the economic value measurable in usage patterns and operational costs. The Church as a worship centre is occupied 20% by a static, but aging congregation. Indicative of this are the number of funerals compared with baptisms and weddings over the past few years, a pattern that is unlikely to change. The earthquake rating prevents its use for fundraising events that involve a wider public. However, there is much greater use of the later addition of facilities with useful space that is occupied on a more regular basis.
What are the options? Taking all factors into account, the location, access and urban renewal calling for the freeing-up of land for accommodation dwellings, an outright sale and re-establishment or merger with another congregation with better facilities could be considered. A better solution mentioned at one of the meeting tables may be replacing the existing church with a purpose-designed, multi-story building that will serve the wider community with a multipurpose auditorium on the ground floor and residential accommodation on several floors above. It can also generate much needed regular and dependable income.
An important influential factor in all this is the financial health of our congregation and our ability to appoint a new minister with the same high performance and achievement record as the present, who may have higher expectations of an enticing work environment. We are faced with a declining pool of generous contributors and cannot rely on growth without being able to present a better image in terms of physical resources.
All over it deserves serious and urgent deliberation. Unfortunately time is not on our side and God helps those who help themselves. May His grace prevail and guide us into the future.