Now in Canterbury, indeed the whole of New Zealand, we face an extraordinary financial reality, that the mixture of an inability to insure buildings as we would wish and the sheer cost of insurance premiums will drive wholesale rearrangements of parish boundaries, size of church buildings and maximization of church building usage.
Yes, it is true that a new insurance relationship in theory could be taken up with an insurer which has outstanding capital funding and reinsurance contracts. Find that insurer and the questions I raise below may never need to be asked.
These questions, I suggest, are going to need to be courageously faced by many churches in New Zealand as insurance premiums sky rocket and/or earthquake coverage is denied. To give just one example of an increased insurance, I heard the other day of an independent church whose premium will increase from $40000 p.a. to $150000 p.a. and its excess will go out to 10% of the valuation of the property.
In one report on the situation we read the following which is slightly bizarre while putting the issues in a blunt manner:
"Anglican Insurance Board chairman Don Baskerville said the move to refuse any new earthquake cover, and to renew existing cover only until December 1, could lead to some churches being sold to private investors.The bizarre aspect of this article is that it reads as though the Anglican Insurance Board will be making decisions about which churches survive and which don't, and about whether one denomination will continue in a town when the others won't!! The blunt reality, however, is that whoever makes the decisions, according to whatever appropriate decision-making process, the outcome could be pretty much as Don Baskerville says, where there are three church buildings now, there will be one in the future.
"If it is a small town and there are three churches, we may have to speak to the other two denominations and work out which one we would use.
"The other ones could be sold to become a restaurant," he said.
At-risk churches that sat unused and could not be sold could face demolition.
"But the issue is whether churches can afford to insure their building. If they can't, then they wouldn't be able to rebuild should it come down in an earthquake."
Mr Baskerville estimated 300 Anglican, 150 Presbyterian, and 50 Methodist churches would be affected, along with those of other denominations, including all Catholic churches in the South Island."
So, to some questions which arise about the way in which basic financial considerations - nothing to do with strategic planning or dreaming dreams - will force change to churches in NZ:
Will 'sacred space' be affordable? That is, will we be able to justify having sacred spaces used for a few hours on a Sunday and as required for weddings and funerals during the week? Will flexible spaces, utilized seven days a week, be the only affordable way for a church to consider ownership of a building?In the future of our churches and halls, the most radical changes may be led by the colour of our money, or lack of it, not by our dreams and hopes. But that may be a good thing, leading to a church lighter and nimbler on its feet as journeys into the future.
Will denominations need to radically revise arrangements in regions so that they have less churches? For churches used to boundaried divisions of regions (i.e. "parishes"), will we need to rearrange boundaries so that we have fewer-but-equal-sized parishes?
Will some or many of our buildings be uninsured?