Church sales proceeding

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Two of the properties listed for divestment in the Uniting our future program were sold to their tenants late last month. Many more on the divestment list are expected to be sold this month. Ten residential properties are up for auction in the first two weeks, 22 larger sites will go under the hammer in a single venue auction at Leonda on the Yarra in Hawthorn on 11 December and several potential development sites are up for tender in a one-line process due for completion this month.

Geelong South and Freeman St Ringwood East were sold, each with special conditions.

The Uniting our future Project Control Group (PCG) hopes to produce a Church-wide update in mid-December and a further update in mid-January with further sales information.

It has not been an easy time for the Uniting Church. The PCG chaired by Property Board member Robert Costa AM has met with representatives from a number of congregations on the divestment list over the last few weeks to hear their grief, anger and concerns.

The Synod Standing Committee, on the recommendation of the Property Board and the PCG, reconsidered a number of properties, but determined to change only one decision – St Stephens Williamstown – based on further information relating to the mission activities of that congregation which were regarded as site specific.

The process continues to cause pain across the Church as is evidenced by the numbers of letters Crosslight is receiving on the subject.  However, as in any issue which causes division, there will also be those who quietly support the decision.

Three churches are being divested in Ballarat, which has led to considerable interest in the local Ballarat Courier. In an effort to correct what the Ballarat Central Uniting Church regarded as misinformation, Rev Catherine Tierney and the Church Council wrote a letter explaining that St Andrew’s (one of the churches for divestment) had not been used for four years and the congregation had decided to sell the church anyway.

“We are proud to be the Uniting Church,” the letter, published on 16 November said. “We hope to continue to be a faithful, loving and vibrant Christian presence in the heart of Ballarat on Lydiard St South, long into the future.”

SouthPort Uniting Church Parish Mission has offered a manse to the Uniting our future divestment as well as pledging $400,000 to the invitational appeal. Heatherlie Homes in Warrnambool is also donating $400,000.

The Relocations team is assisting the congregations and agencies work through the practical matters about leaving their properties in a state of vacant possession by settlement date. They have conducted 47 site visits in November.

The team consists of specialists in architecture, fit out, furniture and equipment, interior design, logistics and accounting. Experienced conservation photographers are diligently capturing every feature of the property, including plaques, fittings, the external face, stained glass and gardens.

The logistics people count and photograph every item that has to come out of the building. All pipe organs are noted and the team is in the process of arranging valuations.

John Emmett, mission development officer for Property Services, explained that their team, accompanied by a presbytery minister, is met by one to eight people at each site.

“We are met with the expectation that we will take back to the Uniting our future and PCG the feelings of those whose property is being divested,” he explained. “We hear the concerns and field the emotions of the people we meet. We talk about fittings and fixtures. What do they want to take with them?”

The Uniting Church regulations have clear procedures to assist congregations with closing and the Response Group is preparing resources to assist any congregation with liturgies and Bible studies. Please contact your presbytery if you are in need of assistance.

By Penny Mulvey

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