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Your Gathering Place.

By Greg Hughson in All Sorts

how a new building can help build a fairer, more inclusive city

LAST WEEKEND Hilda and I travelled by bus to
Christchurch to attend our granddaughter’s 4th birthday. The party was held at “Inflatableworld”(!) on Saturday afternoon. At the same time as we were partying (and bouncing) with our granddaughter and her friends, a pōwhiri and official four-and-a-half hour opening was being held for the new Methodist Church Aldersgate Centre Puari Huinga (your gathering place) on the site of the old Durham St Methodist Church. A celebration dinner was held on Saturday night, following the dedication of a garden to the memory of the three men who died whilst removing the old Church organ, the day the earthquake hit. The old Church building was completely destroyed bythe Christchurch earthquake.
The new building has taken nine years to plan and build. It is a sleek and modern new design, completely different to the old Church. I highly recommend that you take the time to explore the photos and text on the new Aldersgate website (https://aldersgate.org.nz/ ) It is an impressive building.
But even more impressive is the inclusive community-facing theology and ethos made very clear by Christchurch Methodists to the world via their website, and at the worship service we attended.
Here are some words from the new Aldersgate Centre home page: “A unique, modern space for you in the heart of Christchurch. Aldersgate Centre is an initiative of the Durham Street Methodist Church. We are committed to the post-quake Christchurch, and want to do our bit to help build a fairer, more inclusive city. This exciting new community centre is open to all, and we want to especially offer a place of refuge and support for those most at risk of being marginalized or left out. Aldersgate is the home of the Durham Street Methodists and our Streets ministry and other community activities. It also provides a base for others working locally and internationally for social justice, including Christchurch Methodist Mission (Child & Family Social Services) and Christian World Service. We also want to provide a warm and welcoming gathering place with soul – for community or business meetings and family events – open to people of all faiths or none.”
Certainly Hilda and I were made to feel very welcome at the service last Sunday. The service was led by three ordained women Methodist Presbyters, coming from three quite different cultural backgrounds. The worship leader was Rev Philomeno Kinera, the Guest Preacher was Rev Dr Mary Caygill and the Communion Celebrant was the Rev.Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune, President of the Methodist Church of NZ Wallace Woodley was the organist and Choir Director. The singing was wonderful, led by an “augmented” choir.
The liturgy, readings, prayers and hymns had been carefully chosen and crafted to set the scene for a potentially deep encounter with God and with each other. Children present were warmly affirmed and included. The sermon from Mary Caygill was a thought provoking “first-Sunday-in- Lent-reflection” on the second Hebrew creation story (Genesis 2 ).
Mary’s sermon sought to remind of us all of our human need to co- operate with God in creation, not to dominate and destroy the creation which feeds and nurtures us.
The Call to Worship and Opening Prayer, from last Sunday at Aldersgate comprised these words:
As we gather in together in this sacred place May we recognise and affirm;
The pieces of possibility,
The bits of good we bring,
Allowing our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of peace.
Let there be joy in our coming together this morning
And let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life.
The opening hymn was “God of ages, times and seasons” with words by Jocelyn Marshall :
God of ages, times and seasons
light that shines through all that lives yours the spirit which empowers
yours the caring heart that gives confidence to face the future, strengthens faith when courage wanes, challenges to new endeavours,
when we doubt, our hope sustains.
Prior to receiving Holy Communion, the six people who were serving the bread and the wine made a united and conspicuous/dramatic show of cleansing their hands with hand sanitiser. This action could not have been missed by anyone present at the service. Here is a Church taking serious note of the potential for disease (including coronavirus) spread via human contact. I was reminded of the religious sect in South Korea, hundreds of whose members have been infected with coronavirus as a result of being together in religious community. How ironic it would be to be infected with coronavirus (or some other virulent pathogen) whilst receiving the bread of life and the cup of salvation.
It was wonderful to meet with many friends, and to meet some new friends, over morning tea after the service. I have a copy of the order of service if anyone wants to borrow it.
The auditorium of the new Church has hundreds of seats. The Chapel end of the auditorium can be closed off by a large sound proof partition, and seats 80-100 or so people. Currently an electronic organ has been installed, without pipes. Room has been left however for possibly installing tall pipes at some future time. The ceiling of the auditorium is high, creating an almost cathedral-like uplifting sense of space. Windows make the most of natural light, and people walking past can see in to the worship space. (as is the case with the new atholic Church in South Dunedin.) The large Aldersgate auditorium flows into a lovely spacious and green garden space. There is no cross outside the Church. However, there are many modern street-lights all along Durham Street, in the shape of crosses. One of these (unintentional) crosses is located directly outside the Church. The secular town planners helped us locate Aldersgate, in Christchurch, last Sunday, via the design of their street lighting!
At the opening ceremony on Saturday afternoon, banners expressing goodwill were received from representatives of the local Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish faith communities. These banners
(see photo below) are on clear display in the new worship space - a tangible sign of our Methodist-Christian mutual respect for people of all faiths.
If you are ever in Christchurch, you will find your heart strangely warmed at Aldersgate.
Rev Greg Hughson.