A buoyant property market has enabled the Uniting Church Victoria-Tasmania Synod to conclude its divestment program with a limited impact on existing congregations.
The 29 properties sold late last year represented just over half of the 51 originally identified for divestment in October 2013. Most of the properties sold were vacant churches, halls and land, manses and tennis courts. The sales represent about 1 per cent of the synod’s property portfolio.
In total six Uniting Church congregations were impacted. Three have entered licence agreements with new owners allowing existing activities to continue and three are closing.
An example of such an agreement has occurred at the Brighleigh Uniting Church, in East Brighton. The Melbourne Montessori School has co-existed on the site with the local congregation for many years and that positive relationship will continue for at least another decade after the school purchased the site.
“The school is thrilled to be able to continue our long and positive relationship with the Brighleigh congregation.
“We are excited about the opportunities for the children and congregation to work and interact together at Brighton,” principal Gay Wales said.
The Uniting our future relocation team is now tasked with supporting and assisting congregations to vacate their existing facilities and move into new venues over the coming months.
This will also mean a time of adaptation for those churches welcoming the congregations of the closed worship centres. Works to support incoming congregants are planned for properties at Charman Rd, Cheltenham; Wickham Rd, Leighmoor; and Burnley St, Richmond.
Congregations which have lost income from the closures are receiving funding to offset the impact on their bottom line for up to five years.
While the Church was able to limit the impact on congregations, General Secretary, Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, acknowledged the hurt felt within some congregations.
“For some this news will be greeted with a level of relief and hope, as a significant step in the Uniting our future process is completed, helping to secure long-term financial stability for the church,” he wrote in an open letter on 13 December.
“For others it has been confirmation of disappointing news. This disappointment and sorrow is shared by many people across the breadth of the Church.”
The divestment program was approved by the May 2013 Synod following the failure of the Acacia College development in Melbourne’s northern growth corridor.
The $56 million in net funds raised will be used to repay debt and restore fund reserves.
The Uniting our future project will continue to notify the wider church of the program as it continues.