Making Tracks

Guidance on the Closure of Church Buildings and Dissolution of Parishes/Local Churches


This information is designed to assist faith communities who are making difficult decisions about their future, helping them to move forward positively.

The history of our Diocese spans over 150 years, and thanks to the vision of Bishops starting from Bishop Nevill, we have a legacy of Church buildings throughout Otago and Southland


As times have changed, both with technology and a decrease in church attendance in our increasingly secular society, we now have too many buildings which parishes are no longer able to maintain for a variety of reasons.

The decision to close and perhaps sell buildings along with amalgamating or dissolving parishes is a difficult and emotional one. It involves “making tracks”: having to leave the place where we are, but with a sense of moving onto something different. This can be hard, but ultimately liberating as we can look towards new ways of being communities of faith.

No matter what processes have taken place in parishes, hurt, anger and despair can feature, with the result that some may stop attending church altogether. In some settings (especially rural ones where faith communities have a long history of collaboration) there may emerge revitalised faith communities based on ecumenical lines, but with some sense of loss in terms of Anglican identify and heritage. This whole process needs sensitive handling so that people feel loved, cared for, and connected to on-going faith communities.

Beginning The Process

Please note: at any time a faith community can apply to the Diocesan Council to have their entry (name) on the First Schedule of Statute 3 “described in a way which more accurately reflects the form of governance adopted by that faith community” (Statute 3 clause 23). For example, a Parish may wish to ask to become a Local Church.


Dissolution of a faith community can happen it two ways:

Firstly, the Bishop can dissolve the Parish, Regional Deanery or Local church according to the criteria set out in Statute 3 Part 5 (pages 27-28). This is part of scenario where a faith community is no longer able to pay its way or meet its responsibilities and obligations. The Bishop may start by reviewing the faith community which may end up with its dissolution.

The second way is for a faith community to conclude that they are not able to continue to exist as a parish, regional deanery or local church. In this scenario, the first step is for a parish or regional deanery Vestry or local church committee to prayerfully have a frank discussion about the future of a building in the parish, or of the parish or local church itself.

Once the vestry has come to a decision, a parish or local church meeting should be called, with an external person as the Chair if possible. This could be anyone that the faith community, archdeacon or Bishop identifies as being helpful to the process.

At this meeting, the parish or local church wardens/ministry leaders will explain what decision has been reached by the vestry or church committee and why. Each person present is given the opportunity to respectfully share their thoughts and opinions. Minutes of the meeting should be kept. If viable options for closure or amalgamation/dissolution are proposed, then these will go back to vestry for further discussion.

If vestry decides to proceed with closure and/or amalgamation/ dissolution, the Bishop is to be informed of the request via a motion of vestry and a motion from a general meeting of the parish or local church.

This is the beginning of the journey. The Bishop may want to ensure a wider consultation has taken place following the process outlined in Statute 3, and the Diocesan Council will also be involved at this point. This is particularly the case if building/property sales are required as outlined in Statute 3 (see also a flowchart around the process for disposing of a building/land).

When the Bishop and Diocesan Council have given their approval, the faith community is then informed at Sunday service(s). The final action around this is for the dissolution to be ratified by Synod (see Statute 3, Part 5, Clause 100 (2))

In short:

  • Find space to have a frank and open discussion about the building and/or faith community.
  • Find the best person to chair/facilitate this and try and look at all the options.
  • Contact the Bishop with your decision/request (via a vestry/committee motion and general meeting motion).

Remembering and Moving On 

People will grieve and this has no specific timeline. The past and decisions made will always be part of the here and now: we must practice the fruit of gentleness and kindness with all as we allow heartfelt reflections to be voiced, understood and told again. Hurt can sometimes continue but we can meet this with caring, compassion and understanding.

  1. Make an opportunity for faith community members to come together to share their story. Each person who wishes to do so should be given time to express the meaning of the faith community, the place, and the significance it has played and continues to play in their faith formation. What are the concerns or worries that come with a significant part of their story being taken away? They must be allowed to express this meaning individually and in groups, recognising that the size of groups is important as some people are uncomfortable expressing themselves in larger ones.

    Leaders of this process should try not to be defensive about what is shared. The process of talking about what this means to people holds the key to understanding. Understanding brings healing and at least a sense of being listened to – a very important part of care.

    An external person to the faith community may be used to help facilitate this process if there are dynamics that make this challenging (contact your archdeacon or the Bishop for advice in the first instance).

    With permission, these stories should be recorded and a copy of the recording (including a video, if possible) given to the Diocesan Office for archiving as part of the history of the Diocese.

  2. There must also be a clear vision of “What happens next?”
    Ecclesiastes 3 tells us “For everything there is a season.” Church buildings are temporal things; the Church is the people of God. While a building or parish/church may cease to exist, the Church continues. How any faith community will continue must be determined before the building is closed or the parish dissolved. With the assistance of an identified person to help facilitate this, options need to be explored:
  • What are the nearest churches?
  • What is their distinctive ministry?
  • How can the ministry of our faith community continue?
  • Where will our people best fit in?
  • What alternatives are being developed if there is no immediate option to attend?
  • How can we continue to use our gifts in God’s service?

When we do our best to ensure an easy transition into another faith community or other arrangement, it makes it more likely that people will remain connected to the Church.

  1. We recommend that any involved in the parish/local church ministry continue the pastoral visitation process for those affected by this action for as long as reasonably needed. If there is no priest associated with the parish, discuss pastoral requirements with the archdeacon, or with the Bishop.
  2. Integration into new faith communities: What are the future options for continuing to pray, read the scriptures and live out Christ’s life in our communities? As people find new worship homes within the same parish, other Anglican parishes or in other ways, any involved in local ministry should do what they can to ensure that these are made very welcome and integrated into the life of a new faith community. If there are no clearly identified existing Anglican options, consider other faith groups that you may be able to collaborate with. The Diocesan Community Ministry Enabler is a good resource person to connect to around this as there may also be other options for staying connected in rural and remote settings.

In short:

  • Any process like this is hard: make sure you give space and time for people to reflect, remember and tell their stories.
  • Make time to talk and decide “What happens next?”
  • Ensure people are cared for pastorally throughout this time.
  • Identify future options for continuing to pray, read the scriptures and live out Christ’s life in your communities.

Practical Matters: Closure-Secularisation of a church building

Once the faith community is informed that the Bishop has approved the closing of a church building, the following steps take place:

  1. The vestry/committee provides the Bishop a plan for the building once secularised, following the process outlined in Statute 3.Options could include to sell to a third party, possibly including removal from the site; or demolish and dispose of the debris, leave the site clean and able to be developed in other ways (e.g. for social housing or some other ministry), find some other use for the building (possibly with another partner). Investigate if it is possible to erect an appropriate marker identifying your former presence there.
  2. Contact the Diocesan Office before anything is disposed of or removed from the building. We will ask that a complete contents inventory (terrier) is updated which should allow a complete pictorial and/or video record of the building to be made. We may be able to help with suggestions on re-homing some items. If it is all too difficult to do this locally, please talk to us so that other arrangements can be made.
  3. Contact the Bishop’s Office ( to schedule a date and time for a service of secularisation. The service is to be advertised parish-wide and faith community members invited and urged to attend. This is an opportunity for the faith community (past and present) to gather to pray, sing, and share memories and stories. During the service, the Bishop, or a designate, reads the Declaration of Secularisation sentence[1] and all gathered are dismissed with a final blessing. If you can, organise a time of fellowship following this service.
  4. Liturgical furniture and stained glass (altar, pulpit, font, lectern and bell, memorial windows, memorial plaques, Eucharistic vessels) are to be removed if possible and gifted to another faith community or parish or stored where practical for future use. (Please note: some may want to make any existing windows and other fixed chattels part of any potential sale. This may result in a loss of control over what happens to them, unless the building is under a Category 1 or 2 listing by Heritage NZ and this is noted on the LIM report).
  5. Other furniture and movables (pews, organ, multi-media equipment, chairs, kitchen equipment, heating system, etc.) may be offered for use in other worship spaces or church halls (where practical) or sold/given for charitable purposes.
  6. Prayer books and hymnals – if in usable condition – can be continued to be used by the faith community in another location or given to another faith community to use.
  7. Columbarium areas where ashes are interred should be removed in an appropriate manner. This can be a very sensitive process and one that needs to be handled carefully. Faith communities have often begun by presuming that such remains can stay, but there is no guarantee that they will be preserved by a new owner, or access given to the property for family members in the future.
  8. We recommend that a person be identified who can begin the process of trying to contact family members to ask they what their preference is for relocation of ashes or other human remains. Please talk to the Diocesan Office if this is hard to do. The process may require extensive advertising and sensitive negotiation with people who make contact about it. We recommend that a process includes:
    1. Identifying alternative locations for internment of ashes. This could include a church that remains in the area (or one that the faith community is merging with), an opportunity for inclusion in a new location for columbarium remains that the faith community identifies/purchases, or an option for people to have the remains of loved ones given back to them so they can relocate them elsewhere. We recommend engaging with a Local funeral director to assist with this process. Note that families may stipulate their own funeral director to help with this.
    2. Removing and relocating human remains with appropriate liturgical practice. This may involve prayers-karakia at the original columbarium and at any new identified site.
    3. Any costs involved with the above should ideally be met by the faith community. These may be repaid from any money realised from the sale of buildings and/or land. In some situations where this may not be realistic or even possible, we recommend consulting with the Diocesan Office. Family members may want an opportunity to make a donation towards expenses, but there should not be any expectation or requirements to do this.
    4. Historic graveyards: These are more complicated to deal with and the Diocesan Office must be consulted over these.
  1. Vestry record books must be deposited in Diocese of Dunedin approved archives. The three main archives are based at Invercargill City Library and Archives, The Hocken Library (Dunedin) and the North Otago Museum. (see for more information about what it is appropriate to deposit).

Please contact the Diocesan Office ( to discuss the range of material you want to deposit and for any other advice. Original material is not to be deposited in local museums unless a specific arrangement has been made to hold it there i.e. they have a memorandum of understanding with the Diocese of Dunedin. Other objects may be offered to them on condition that the Diocesan Office is consulted over this, and copies of any other documents may be given to them after similar consultation.

[1] In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. On the in the year of our Lord (…), this building was duly dedicated and opened for Divine Service and named the Church of (…) The Sentence of Dedication has been in effect until this present date. I, (replace with Bishop’s name), Bishop of Dunedin, do hereby revoke the said Sentence issued by (the Bishop at the time of dedication), and do remit this building, and all objects remaining in it, for any lawful and reputable use, according to the laws of this land.

In short:

  • Check out what you need to do around closing a building and selling or making it available for new ministries.
  • If closure takes place, a building needs to be secularised by the Bishop at an arranged worship service.
  • Make sure you think carefully about the contents of the building – how will you dispose of them? Is there anyone who gave items that you could give back? Can anything be passed onto another faith community to use? What about areas where ashes or human remains are interred? Where can our church records be archived so that our history is not lost?

Practical Matters: Dissolution of a Regional Deanery, Parish or Local Church

  1. Proceeds of sales

    a. If the parish or local church is to be dissolved, any proceeds of sale must take place within the following parameters passed at Synod 2021 (please note, this may be subject to change at future Synods):


MOTION NO.10:  Proceeds of Property Sales (2021)

That the proceeds of current and future Diocesan property sales are treated as follows:

  • The proceeds are invested in the DDTB Income Fund on behalf of the ministry unit (Parish, Regional Deanery, Local Church or other Diocesan Institution) concerned.
  • The DDTB Fund investment sits on the balance sheet of the said ministry unit.
  • The income from the fund on that investment is available to the same said ministry unit only for particular projects as approved by Diocesan Council.
  • Capital from the fund may be made available to the ministry unit only for particular projects as approved by Diocesan Council.
  • The Diocesan Office will make payments from the fund towards these projects on production of suitable invoices which have been approved by the wardens or other authorised officers of the ministry unit.


When the parish or local church no longer exists or is not merged with another parish or local church, the proceeds remain under the control of the Dunedin Diocesan Trust Board in a line that identifies the Parish or Church concerned. The Diocesan Council can reach decisions about how interest or capital may be accessed in the future, to provide for the ongoing mission and ministry of the Anglican Church in Otago and Southland.

These resources may or may not be tagged for the geographical area of the parish but may be bound by particular deeds that stipulate the purposes that these resources can be applied to. Any change to these deeds/purpose must comply with the process stipulated by the Canons of the General Synod / te Hinota Whanui of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – Te Hahi Mihinare ki Aotearoa ki Niu Tireni, ki Nga Moutere o Te Moana Nui a Kiwa

  1. Final Arrangements

    1. Contact the Bishop to arrange any final services for a church or parish if this has not already taken place as part of a secularisation service.
    2. Confirm with the Bishop and/or the Diocesan Community Enabler arrangements for the parish or church to continue in any other form e.g., a small house church, combine with another parish or church etc.
    3. Arrange for any other paperwork (financial records etc) to be transferred to the Diocesan Office.
    4. Check with the Registrar that the dissolution is on the agenda for the next Synod for ratification.

To finish with: the gift of Love…


13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.                                

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