For some parishioners in Carterton, as with others in the archdiocese, recent changes in the way the parish is run have been painful, for others, a challenge.
Some have chosen to drift away while others have decided to make the best of the situation. The number of people in the pews has clearly diminished, an ageing population being a strong factor.
When Fr Eddie Condra retired from parish ministry after 14 years of blessed spiritual guidance and development in St Mary’s Carterton, we found ourselves without a resident priest.
Now Fr Kevin Connor willingly drives from Trentham in Upper Hutt each Saturday to celebrate weekend Masses at St Mary’s and at Sacred Heart, Greytown.
We are extremely fortunate to have Sharon Penny as our lay pastoral leader. Sharon has lived in Carterton for many years and after her husband John died, she raised six children while teaching at local schools.
Sharon divides her time between Eastbourne and Carterton parishes, a demanding situation that she manages with enthusiasm, energy, patience and compassion.
An important part of her ministry has been to continue with Thursday and Friday mornings and Sunday evening liturgies instituted by Fr Eddie. A group gathers for readings, reflection, meditation and discussion. As with the liturgies we have when a priest is unavailable for weekend Masses, these gatherings give us opportunities to explore and deepen our spirituality.
The aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake has resulted in St Mary’s church being assessed as unsafe and in need of extensive restructuring while Sacred Heart now uses a smaller area for Mass.
Until decisions are made, St Mary’s celebrates Mass in the small prayer room in the presbytery, but this situation leaves the primary school without any connection with the sacredness of a church.
Realistically, the cost of repairs, insurance and maintenance is beyond the parish’s finances.
Also, because of the shortage of priests there is the uncertainty of what may happen to all parishes throughout the Wairarapa Pastoral Area. Is it possible for each to retain its own identity? The importance of community in each small parish is very strong and precious.
Using the little prayer room as a Mass centre is not ideal but tolerance and good humour overcome problems. There is a sense of relaxed and friendly participation by priest and parishioner and a greater awareness of those sitting near us.
Homilies sometimes become insightful discussions when people are free to share their views on the readings and what they mean to them personally.
The parish discussed the future of the church at a meeting on Sunday, October 14. A detailed assessment of what would be needed to restore the church would cost a great deal. And until a decision is made about the viability of retaining St Mary’s as a parish rather than merging with the wider area or even closure, it was decided to wait.
Long-term planning to make a sacred space available for the community as a whole was suggested.
Fr Kevin is happy to celebrate Masses in the church and in the prayer room.
Most people opted to return to the church while more than half liked the idea of having one Mass in the church and one in the prayer room. Now a working group will come together to organise the church for re-use and there is a need for some safety measures.