We have continued to look at building possibilities for the future of the church. While we have focused our energy on our local mission initiatives through grass-roots redemptive communities and our many great ministries reaching specific needs of people; we are also very committed to being able to gather together as one church.
We hugely value the times we gather from all our local communities, ministries and vocations to be together to worship God, hear scripture, pray together, share our stories and be reminded of God’s mission that needs us all. Both locally and globally. We gather together in this way so we are reminded of our identity together as one church. To sense again our personal belonging to this body of Christ. And to gain and give encouragement for the week ahead as we scatter across the city for another week as God’s people in our vocations, locations and ministries.
As we grow the grass-roots we also need to prepare for how we will gather as the church grows. So we have continued to look for appropriate facilities. Either bare land to build on or existing buildings we could renovate to make into a gathering space for worship.
Our ideal would be a venue big enough for us all to gather together at once. But it seems that is a prohibitively expensive option.
So we have been considering two gathering places across the South West of the City.
Recently something quite unexpected has happened. We were invited to a meeting with the chairman of the the Sockburn primary school board of trustees and Hope Presbyterian church leaders. The chairman explained that Sockburn school was going to be moved to a new site in the centre of Wigram. The new school wants to build a strong community hub and would like to include both churches in programmes like after school care (which Hope is already doing for Sockburn) and other connections. One specific collaboration they are open to is sharing the building and use of the school hall. The leaders from Hope church said that their building focus was towards Rolleston and West Melton so they wouldn’t be able to look at this as well.
The proposed suggestion is that the school provide money for the school hall and SWBC also contribute to the hall building costs. This would enable a bigger and better appointed hall to be built than the school could afford on its own. In return the church would have the usage of the hall on Sundays on a long term, well documented, lease basis. It could be somewhere from 70-99 years that the church has an agreed lease for Sundays.
This would give us two venues for Sunday gatherings and would allow us to have two 10am services. One at Spreydon and one at the Wigram school hall.
Why do this?
Our 9am is often full and when a building is regularly 80% or more full it becomes a restriction to greater growth. [While you can say there are free seats in the front row the late arriver typically doesn’t see those as an option]. At the same time our 11am is growing. This year the number of children alone has more than doubled. So we need to plan ahead.
The school is in a great location in the heart of residential Wigram. The proposal involves a school-church partnership in the community which fits beautifully with our local vision. The multi-purpose nature of the school hall reflects the multi-purpose usage of our gym at Spreydon and comparatively it is an inexpensive way to provide more space which allows us to keep our financial focus on mission more than buildings.
At this stage we have simply got a team of appropriately skilled people together and asked them to research this option further and we are asking the church to pray. We know this will raise many questions and we have many questions about this too. But we want to do now is listen to the voice of the Spirit and be open to what God might be calling us into.
At this stage there is nothing on paper but we are considering it and continue to remain open to other options. The time frame will be tight because the school and the Ministry of Education have a tight time frame to work within.
We will keep on informing you as progress is made.
After talking about this on Sunday a number of great questions were asked so I have put them below and tried to add a few comments from our thinking at this stage.
1. Does this mean we would become two churches? – This is absolutely not the direction we would be heading in. We want to be one church together in mission spread out across many locations, vocations and ministries.
2. Won’t the two gathering spaces become two churches over time? – we will continue to work hard to be one church with one vision and direction and trying to link all we do together. Our rhythms, elders, pastors, speakers, calendaring of events and communication would all be one. At the moment we do this across three Sunday gathering points – 9am, 11am and 7pm. We would need to work harder to do this across two 10am’s and at least one evening service.
3. What about ministries during the week? We have many ministries spread across the south west already and we sense this peppering of ministry locations will continue. For example, pre-schools. Presently through our trust arms we have 4 pre-schools operating. This could grow over time to 6 or 7 spread across suburbs.
4. What about the Halswell site? (Balcairn St) The Halswell buildings are used for many ministries and events and we sense that will only grow in the future.
5. Why not use the Halswell site (Balcairn St) for a second 10am service? – this was one option we looked at in detail last year. But the building is just too small. The school hall we are talking about with Wigram school would be around the same size as the Spreydon gym.
6. How will we pay for our contribution to the school hall? – we would need to do this together. As previous generations have given sacrificially for the future of the church we would need to look to God and each other to cover the costs. The good news is the cost is much much lower than it would be for us to buy land and build on our own.
7. Isn’t it a better investment to own our own building rather than a long term lease? Yes, it would be better in the long term to own a buiding. But owning also means many millions of dollars. A 70-99 year lease gives the church a long window of time to prepare for the future. This site also gives the potential of a great school-church community hub in the heart of residential Wigram.
8. What happens at the end of the lease? Probably the final document would be a licence to occupy for an agreed time period. The length of the time period is dependent on how much of the original cost of the hall the church was contributing. At the end of the licence to occupy the church could negotiate with the school an ongoing rental arrangement or move elsewhere. If we were to proceed we would have decades to prepare.
9. Surely we want a 7 day a week venue not just one day a week? We presently have ministries spread across many different locations and we anticipate that will continue. Some churches look to build one big site at which most of their activities and ministries happen. Today with the car parking requirements of the city council, the size of our church and range of ministries we have operating that would require a very big site.. We sense a continued peppering of sites across the South West.
10. Would the school allow us to use the hall in the evenings? The primary use of the school is for school purposes but we and Hope Presbyterian will be doing everything we can to develop a great relationship with the school. So we would anticipate being bale to use the hall at other times outside of school usage.
11. Would we being paying towards maintenance, and other ongoing costs? These details need to be part of the negotiation with the School and Ministry of Education. There are a number of scenarios that could be followed and we will need to update everyone as these are discussed and the finer detail around them clarified.
12. Will we be asking people to move to the new school based gathering? And would we expect people who live nearby to go to this Sunday gathering? We do encourage people to connect with their local community during the week. [This can be as simple as knowing our neighbours or attending one or two neighbourhood community events a year. For others it means being more fully involved in community activities throughout the week and many others are re-framing their lives around their local communities. Different people connect with their communities in different ways and we celebrate every connection whether it is big or small, regular or a one-off.] But, for an hour and a half on Sundays the key thing is that we gather together for worship, teaching, stories and prayer. Where we do that is less important. And we’ve learnt from recent years that trying to ask people to move isn’t great. So we would now say to people go to the gathering that fits you best.
An after thought. Reading our church history shows we have always been a church on the move and we have changed church name and location readily. The church has from the beginning been part of planting new congregations and later bringing them back. Reading our history has reminded me we need to be ready to move….