High quality canvas tents from America have created a novel, temporary home for a Canterbury church left homeless by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
One tent seats up to 500 people, and the other up to 120, at the Living Waters Christian Centre in the Christchurch suburb of Halswell on the southern outskirts of the city.
Wooden floors, ducted heating and cooling and comfortable seating complete the Sunday morning worship experience, resilience-style.
Co-leader, Wesley Chambers, whose background is in building, says the tents are something of a novelty and “keep taking people by surprise.”
Maybe they expect sawdust but there is a look of surprise when they come in. It is not a religious looking building.”
Sunday morning attendance is 220 to 240, including children.
One of the children saw tents going up for the Canterbury A & P Show and said “look at all those churches.”
The church, part of the New Life Movement associated with the late Peter Morrow, grew out of a 1970s outreach and in about 1990 became a satellite church, called Halswell New Life.
In early 1999, they actually met in a tent elsewhere before moving to the Air Force at Wigram. Later they leased space in the Hoon Hay Workingmen’s Club.
Their space was damaged in the September 2010 earthquake so they moved to another part of the club. It was then damaged in the February 2011 quake so the church found themselves looking for a new home at a time when space was in short supply.
Vision of a future building
Back in 1996, Janet Chambers, co-leader of the church with husband, Wesley, had a vision where it was as though she was transported into the future to a site on the corner of Halswell and Dunbars Roads.
Wesley says the experience was totally unexpected and happened when the couple were at home on their day off on a Monday.
Wesley wrote and drew what Janet was seeing in the vision.
She walked through a conventional church building on the land. There were homes around it and the southern motorway, only built in recent years, was there too.
However, it was a greenbelt site with no plans for subdivision.
Approaches to buy the site were unsuccessful but the church stayed focused on Janet’s vision.
Several years later the church received a call from the Christchurch City Council to ask if they would like to buy part of the site.
Janet’s vision included water pouring out of a well at the base of the Port Hills, so the church had already changed its name to Living Waters Christian Centre.
In 2003, seven years to the day since the vision, the church signed the sale and purchase agreement for the land.
After another seven years came the devastating earthquakes so the, now, homeless church turned its sights back to its vacant land.
They put up a temporary marquee until they began meeting on Sunday afternoons in the Hoon Hay Presbyterian Church.
Living Waters had a connection with an American-based ministry who felt prompted to help. And a group of churches in Tucson, Arizona, also took up an offering.
The two gifts enabled the purchase of the tents – the larger for a church auditorium and the smaller (which is still bigger than the average house) for the Sunday School and youth work.
Both were made by the Miami Missionary Tent Co and are designed to be more durable than a party marquee.
Living Waters’ administrative assistant, Andrew Weston, says his sister was reading the Old Testament story of Moses and his portable tabernacle (worship tent) in the desert to her son who asked if it were his uncle’s church.
Wesley says people made comparisons to the tabernacle of Moses at the time but the church feels more of an affinity with the American tent revival meetings of the 1950s and 1960s.
The church moved into the tents in 2012. Power, internet and water come to a power shed on site.
The tents are on a shingle base about 30 cm deep. Ducting for heating and cooling runs through the wooden flooring, which is covered by carpet.
Warm in winter
Diesel central heating keep the tents warm in winter. An innovative cooling system is used in summer.
Outside are three portable buildings that house toilets, an office and a kitchen.
An architect has just been engaged to draw up the plans of what Janet saw for a permanent building.
Meanwhile, the church has learned that in the 1960s part of the site had been given to the Catholic Church by a local woman. The Catholic Church added more land to the site with a church and school in mind but changed its plans and never built them.
That woman’s granddaughter believed her grandmother gave the land “For the Glory of God,” a phrase traditionally put on church foundation stones.
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