In some cases, the divestment of property is hastening an inevitable sale. The East Boundary Road site of Leighmoor Uniting Church is one of 14 sites identified for divestment. The congregation at Leighmoor UC in Moorabbin East has been worshipping at Wickham Road for more than 15 years, but community services are still run from the East Boundary Road property, which has been earmarked for sale. For those with a history at the church, finally letting go is an emotional time.
Erica Fox and Dorothy Roberts highlight the impact the decision to sell property is having across generations. Both women are part of the Leighmoor congregation in East Boundary Road (EBR). Although they have worshipped at Wickham Road UC in Moorabbin for the past 10 years, the EBR property has remained integral to their sense of community, with programs and services operating from the premises.
Twenty-seven-year-old Erica says she is typical of many of her age – “semi-regular attendance as a child … followed by lots of Sunday morning sleep-ins as a teenager”.
“Both sides of my family have been heavily involved in the Uniting Church and the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches before union. My sister and I were baptised in our local UCA at EBR in 1990 and 1987 respectively.”
Erica returned to the church a few years ago when her grandmother moved to the area and needed someone to accompany her. She said the sense of community and care she has rediscovered at church has helped her through some difficult times in the last few years. She speaks fondly of the older ladies in particular.
“They had white hair when I was a child and are now in their early 80s, but they still find the time to give you a call and ask if you are okay. They worry if they think you are doing too much although some of them have more energy and stamina than I do.”
Although Erica admits that being one of the youngest adults in the church can be lonely at times, she said it has offered her the chance to develop relationships with wonderful mentors. She has been an active member of the church council, is the congregation’s presbytery representative and this year joined the presbytery’s property committee.
“In a way my committee involvement in the church – apart from attending on a Sunday – is just as important in developing my Christian understanding as listening to the sermons.”
This month has been particularly difficult for Erica as her grandparents also learned that their church at Glenroy was earmarked for sale.
“I have screamed and raged and cried for the loss of EBR and Glenroy.
“But in a way the hardest part was listening to my grandparents on the day they were told; hearing them say they never wanted to step foot in a Uniting Church again. They half threatened to become Baptists after their long service to their church – that was hard. Properties are one thing but where it impacts on congregations who have no other properties it is devastating.”
At 81 years of age, Dorothy Roberts thought she would see out her days of volunteering at the Leighmoor centre. Dorothy’s association with the East Boundary Road site dates back more than 60 years. Like many older church members, it has been an integral part of the milestones in her life as she has raised a family and seen older members pass away.
“I was at East Boundary Road for the whole life of that particular church. My three children were baptised and married in the church, my parents were buried from there too so I have a very close attachment to it.”
But it is the closure of the Mum’s Drop In Centre that has Dorothy most upset. For the past 20 years Dorothy, along with four or five other volunteers, has been helping young mothers from the local community.
“Every Wednesday morning we welcome 25 mums. We look after the children while they have time out in an adjacent room.
“We have a waiting list of mums on the books but can’t take anymore because some of them have more than one child and we are all volunteers and grandmas.”
Like many outreach programs, the Drop In Centre began when a community need was noticed.
“I was up at Monash one day visiting someone and a noticed a room full of mums and their babies and I said: ‘Have they got a mothers’ group here?’ They said: ‘No, it’s a group for post-natal depression’. They were inundated after the health centres changed so mothers needed an appointment to call in. They didn’t have anywhere to go and talk things out.
“We went around to the health centres and they would send us a mum who needed a bit of extra help. There’s a lot of mums in the area who haven’t got family here.”
Dorothy said that while the mums are with them, the volunteers always take time out to pray for them and their families. They let them know that if ever they need prayers, the women will pray for them.
“We don’t get inundated with prayer requests, but every so often we get a mum who will reach out to us.”
Dorothy asked if she could read a letter she recently received.
“‘Dear ladies, I am writing to you all to let you know how much we have appreciated your kindness and generosity over the time that we have been attending playgroup. You are a wonderful group of women and we will miss all your happy faces. We only hope that our generation take note of you all and give to the community as you have.’”
Dorothy acknowledges that the decision to sell properties and close programs has caused resentment and anger among the church community. But for her, the overwhelming feeling is one of sadness.
“It’s not a big outreach, in the scheme of things it’s probably nothing. But I’m just sad that it might have to fold up. It’s a fact and we have to deal with it. But it’s sad. You think ‘Oh well, we’ve been here for so long, what’s gone wrong, what have we done wrong?’”
Minister at Leighmoor UC, Rev Peter Whitaker knows that his congregation is grieving, but hopes they can look to the future with some optimism.
“It is easy and justifiable to critique the process that has brought the synod to this point, but ultimately we must look to the future,” Mr Whitaker said.
“The future for Leighmoor UC, a small growing congregation, stands on the cusp of growth or stagnation. This will depend largely on a proper and relatively expensive relocation of a discrete programme run for young mum’s and the inclusion of members and groups joining us from other churches in our neighbourhood that are being closed.
“With God’s help and handled well with generous support from presbytery and synod, Leighmoor stands to be a stronger church in the future. Not all is bad, though much is questionable.”