A Methodist Chaplain in the City


The StreeTs ministry ran from mid 2016 to early 2022, covering two and a half years of the period that the Durham Street congregation was without a building of their own, and continued during the time that the face of the city changed due to Covid-19 and the various lockdowns.

Rob Ferguson was StreeTs minister from the start of the project in 2016 until October 2018, and Darryn Hickling from early 2019 to 2022. They reflect on the experience below:

“StreeTs Chaplaincy around Christchurch City was (without a hidden agenda) to ‘be’, to simply be around, be observant and be available to those encountered along the way. The opportunity to make connections with groups and organizations and interact with people from all walks of life in the community, was life enhancing.” Rev. Darryn Hickling

“It began with nothing.  No buildings, no place to gather, no programmes.

The job description was to make something out of nothing without trying to pre-judge what might happen. It was not about social services.  It was to be a reflective presence within the rebuilding inner city.  To be.  To make connections.  To reflect on what I saw and didn’t see.

A ministry without props.  I walked.  I listened.  I met all sorts of people in all sorts of places. Streeties.  The mayor.  Business people.  Strangers to the city.  Damaged locals who were disoriented.  Work people.  Baristas.  Artists.  Creatives.  City Council staff.

I reflected on how we struggle to live with strangers.  Yet the definition of a city is living with strangers.  I watched connections grow.  I sat on pavements, and in city offices.  I formed wonderful friendships with people far from the church.  It was an amazing experience.  I got to know the inner city in ways I had never known before, and the chance to reflect with the congregation in their borrowed hall, bringing them along for the ride.

I left reluctantly, but knowing I needed a rest.  It is a model of church being that I have spent hours reflecting on, and celebrating the courage of the Durham Street folk who decided to do this.  One of the most fulfilling periods of my ministry life.” Rev Rob Ferguson

Realising the Vision

After the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the Durham Street Methodist Parish faced challenges on all sides. Its church building was damaged beyond repair, its congregation worshipped in a space on the fringes of the city, and like many inner city churches it had seen its numbers attending decreasing for several years. One might call it a difficult situation. In the background was the Central South Island Synod strategic review looking at the future of Methodist congregations across Christchurch.

Part of the response was acceptance by the Synod that any approach needed to be grounded in an analysis of the situation and based on a theology appropriate to a city in change. So in partnership with the Parish Rev Dr. Mary Caygill was supported to undertake research about inner city ministry to provide a base for moving forward. From this came two outcomes. A strategic plan for the inner city Parish, and a concept of ministry out in the streets of the city. The “Streets” ministry drew some of its inspiration from the Ministry of Auckland’s “Splice” initiative led by John McDonald which over the past three years had operated in downtown Auckland.

So the concept of a Chaplain for the city was the dream. In fact what to call this ministry generated a great deal of discussion. Would this term encourage or discourage contact? Would those with whom the appointed person would interact understand it? 

It was a ministry not to just Methodists but rather a ministry in a wider interfaith context. It is a ministry imagined or envisaged as broad and inclusive.

In putting together the Job Description for StreeTs Ministry, some primary objectives were established. What was agreed was:

  • A ministry of the Christchurch Central Methodist Parish created for the purpose of engaging with the inner city community of Christchurch in innovative and creative ways.
  • An opportunity to explore new expressions of ministry and mission in the city.
  • To work in partnership with the congregation of the Christchurch Central Methodist Parish (Durham St Methodist Church) to assist them in their ongoing engagement with the varying communities of the inner city in which the parish is based.

Rob Ferguson and Darryn Hickling were able to bring ministry to a wide range of residents and workers as well as visitors in the city. They were able to fulfil the vision of establishing contact with many people in their day-to-day situations to be the church, present in the city.

You can read more information about the two ministers’ experiences on the StreeTs Facebook page and blog using the links below.

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