Sunday, June 1, 2014

Error Prone Bureaucracy in the Church

Around 6am on April 1st I responded to a piece in the NZ Herald arguing against the requirement to bring all public buildings in the country to earthquake proof specification. An hour later this article had disappeared from my Herald App News. I guessed it was perhaps an April Fool Stunt.

Not so. Since being away for a few weeks I have now located the actual report, of some 100 or more pages. It argues that the immense expenditure needed to upgrade buildings all round the country is simply not justified by the risk.

Among a host of arguments, report author Ian Harrison at Tailrisk writes that the $3 billion cost of eq-proofing public buildings in Auckland would seem to be likely to save only one eq-death in 4000 years.  But about seven people would die of stress during the strengthening process. Of particular interest to me, he points out that churchgoers are tens of thousands of times more at risk riding a cycle than sitting in a sub eq-standard structure for an hour on Sunday mornings.

Having travelled through much of the country recently, I have seen many old churches which have been closed for strengthening or demolition. I have engaged with a few of the congregations in their agonies over the loss of their loved places of worship. I have seen the divisions that are splitting the membership about whether to repair or replace these buildings. And I have heard of some congregations which have taken the opportunity to just quietly close down altogether.

Of course, we need standards. Without doubt all new churches should be built to a better standard than those which are presently being summarily closed. But I think that the huge cost of strengthening or replacing many of these old structures should be measured against the realistic risk involved.  I believe Tailrisk is suggesting that, so far, Government has done the sums wrongly. I suspect the Methodist Church hasn't done any actual risk calculations at all.

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