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St Francis of Assisi Church – ‘The soul of the community’

Kahutara’s historic St Francis of Assisi Church is on the chopping block.
Distraught residents said the 19th Century church and “soul of the community” was being sold from underneath them, and in response had launched an eleventh-hour petition to save it.
However, its fate is likely to be decided in a special general meeting tomorrow, where the only vote that counts is from those on the parish roll.
Church neighbour Susana Scott-Te Tau said the value of St Francis extended far beyond the immediate community and parish roll.
“So many people come and stop here. They’re always asking us to take photos, and they tell stories about how their dad helped move it, or about their own wedding day.”
Scott-Te Tau moved to Kahutara four years ago and said Christmas at the church had become a family tradition.
“It was our first Christmas here and we saw everyone going in, and we said ‘Merry Christmas’, and they asked us if we were going to join, and that was it.
“They were fun services.”
Scott-Te Tau said the family was not on the parish roll, but there had been talk of consultation and community involvement in the church’s future.
“That’s the part that gets me. They said ‘you’ll know about it’.
“We only found out by chance. We would want to vote.”
Resident Jane Borjesson said she remembered the church moving from Morison’s Bush, where it was originally constructed in 1882, to Kahutara in the early 1960s.
She said it was a community effort.
The Ladies’ Guild fundraised to buy the church and the Bidwill family gifted the land. She said it was originally an inter-denominational church.
“I remember all the families embroidered the kneelers. They’re still there.”
Borjesson said she learned of the meeting on Wednesday and knew people who donated specifically to the church every month for its upkeep.
She said it was community volunteers, however, who maintained the church.
“I can’t see that it’s theirs to sell.
“John and Pam Peace have been looking after it for years.”
Pam Pearce launched the petition ‘St Francis community church Kahutara’ this week to save the community church from being sold ‘for the profit of the Martinborough Vestry’.
At the time of publication, the petition had 305 signatures.
One signer said there was a ‘whiff of ungodliness’ about the proposed sale, and questioned the motivation behind depriving ‘a small rural community of its much-loved church’.
Pearce said the reasons cited for sale were erroneous.
“It doesn’t cost them [the parish] a cent. There’s no power, it doesn’t pay rates, the upkeep is all done voluntarily.
“It’s the soul of the community. It has always been there. Money is not going to replace it.”
She said it was incumbent on her generation to save the church for the generations that followed.
John Pearce, who had lived in Kahutara his entire life said he had been inundated by calls from people anxious about the potential sale.
He said the community, deprived of regular services, cherished the two it still had – Christmas and Easter.
He said the services over the past five years averaged 30 people, bringing in around $250 in donations.
“The members of the Kahutara community have never asked for a thing or any money to be spent on it.”
Slim resources, maintenance costs, and declining congregations have seen a spate of church sales in recent years, and, if sold, Kahutara would become the second Anglican church to disappear in South Wairarapa in five years.
The meeting agenda sent to certain residents two weeks ago said following leadership and governance discussion, the South Wairarapa Parish Vestry had decided to ‘begin the process of selling St Francis Church, Kahutara’.
It said the primary reasons for the decision were an infrequency of services, the financial maintenance burden, frequent and accessible services elsewhere in South Wairarapa, and an already stretched priest resource.
Motions included selling the church and land, and a 10 per cent tithe to the Diocesan Development Fund.
It said any resolution was subject to the approval of the Diocesan Council and the Wellington Anglican Board of Trustees.
The meeting is at 11.45am tomorrow at St John’s Church, Featherston

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