“Please don’t jump in the Balcony – it’s not safe!”
This was the impassioned plea that followed inevitably once the band started pumping out Hillsong’s hit song “The Stone’s Been Rolled Away“. It was the early 90’s, and I was at a series of evangelistic meetings being held at the Majestic Theatre in Christchurch, or as it’s been known to people who attended church there, Majestic House.
During the 2010/11 Christchurch earthquakes, the building suffered irreparable damage, and on Saturday 10/05/14, it was finally pulled down. Majestic House holds a special significance for me, and it feels only right to send off the building with a few thoughts on what I’ll remember about my church, and a quick history lesson for anyone interested.
The Majestic Theatre was built in the early 1900’s, and hosted many famous events, and shows – including a performance by The Beatles! Boasting one of the tallest stage flys in New Zealand, it held around 1,000 people at peak capacity. Due to financial mismanagement, the theatre eventually went bankrupt, and following on from a fire under the care of the subsequent owner, the building was purchased by the New Life church movement, who restored the theatre, with a number of modifications.
My earliest memories of Majestic House are from when I was child, and would receive an activity pack in the mornings for during the service (I always love the raisins). I remember sitting in the balcony (and sometimes on the stage because we were late), and watching Pastor Peter Morrow lurching up and down on his heels as he paced the round platform that had been added to the main stage. Even though I went to Cashmere New Life Church, I found myself at Majestic House for many different reasons as I grew up – productions by my school, my mother’s Bible College graduation, and even a visit by the 90’s American bodybuilding evangelists “The Power Team” (no, unfortunately that isn’t a joke). When I was a teenager though, the venue became a special place for me. I attended around eight Get Smart conferences at majestic House, and the place was packed to the point of overflowing as Sonic Flood’s “High and Lifted Up” rocked the house in 2001 – thankfully by then people knew not to jump in the balcony. Sometimes I would visit friends at youth group, or come to a combined event, and the fact was that I took for granted the fact that this building would always be there whenever I came back.
When I returned to Christchurch after several years away, I naturally gravitated to Majestic House again, and joined Majestic Church. Throughout my time at university, the building was a central part of my routine – playing in the worship team, organising youth events and church services saw me there at least three times a week. Even more significant, I met my wife there, and we thrived as part of the church community, eventually getting married in Majestic House, one of many weddings I attended there. I also have special memories of hosting a giant murder mystery game (Cluedo), turning the auditorium into a giant board game, and little things, like the sound of the stage door, or the blue lining of baptism pool.
These are just a few of the many memories I will keep with me of this iconic venue, but it wasn’t the venue that created these memories. Majestic House hosted, for a large part of its lifetime, a community of people who were dedicated to sharing the love of Christ with the world. Through food donations, a cafe, a bookstore, counselling, youth group meetings, worship services, and community engagement, Majestic House enabled people to bring dreams to life, to give hope to the hopeless and to join together in fellowship. This dream didn’t end with the demolition of the venue – Majestic Church is still living out these dreams today, just not on the corner of Manchester and Lichfield Streets.
Thank God that the Church is more than bricks and mortar – it’s a group of individuals coming together as a corporate expression of Christ’s love for the world – being His hands and feet on the earth. Even if you were to tear every church building in the world, the Gospel would continue to live and breathe through people. So thanks, Majestic House, for your service. Thanks for having a great marble foyer, a beautiful acoustic arrangement, and wonderfully kitsch carpet. I always thought I’d walk through those balcony doors again one day, into the atmosphere I loved so much, but it wasn’t to be.
So yesterday, Majestic House breathed it’s final sigh, took it’s final bow, and was torn down. But the memories I formed there weren’t of a pop group, or of great conferences and events – my memories are more than the sum of all these things. I look back on church as it should be – a community of people in support of one another, growing together in Christ and sharing His love with the world. It wasn’t perfect, but it was never meant to be. I will always remember Majestic House as my constant, my house of praise, my home.
May she rest in peace.
P.S. You can see more photos of the damaged Majestic House here.