As the relocation phase of the properties divested as part of the Uniting our future program continues, affected congregations are each contending with unique situations and have stories to tell.
Many congregations are taking the time to reflect on the life of the properties, most of which have been the spiritual centres of their community for many generations.
Most of the 29 divested properties will be settled and vacant possession will be taken by buyers in the next couple of months. While in most cases the divestments went to market buyers, there were a number of situations where properties were sold to those who had close relationships with the congregations.
In other examples, a few congregations whose properties were not divested elected to sell and merge with another congregation anyway.
Herald Street Uniting Church was ultimately not sold under Uniting our future but chose to sell and merge with Cheltenham Uniting Church.
This meant the sale process moved out of the ‘special circumstances’ declared at the May 2013 Synod into the normal property sales process of the Church.
Herald Street started out as a garage and the congregation elected to close the church doors on the same day as they celebrated its 50th anniversary on 19 January, 2014.
Port Phillip East Presbytery chairperson Rev Dr Paul Chalson carried out the decommissioning of the building and asked the 100-strong congregation to try to look on the day as a “new beginning”. He asked that church members put aside anger and sadness and be strengthened by the “good memories” of 50 years of worship.
The Moorabbin-Highett Uniting Church was divested in the Uniting our future program. The congregation has now moved to Wickham Road Uniting Church, Leighmoor Parish.
The Church was formerly dissolved on 29 December, 2013 at a service in which Rev Bruce Munro preached and a long-term member from each original congregation spoke of their experiences both before and after Union.
An acknowledgement service was held on 22 December, which was filled by the congregation and past members who had been part of its former youth groups. The church celebrated its 65 years on the site with an extensive photographic display of past and present members.
The Ringwood Uniting Church offered Freeman St Ringwood East (formerly home to St Stephen’s Ringwood East before the congregation amalgamated with Ringwood UCA) to Uniting our future on the proviso that first right of refusal was made to its neighbour, the social and community health provider, EACH.
EACH is a World Health Organisation approved health service provider. It services more than 30,000 clients a year in the Ringwood and greater Yarra Ranges area, catering for drug and alcohol and mental health clients, and refugee communities.
The sale agreement provides for the continuation of the congregation’s community living centre, currently located on the property. The centre will continue occupying the site for at least the next two-and-a-half years virtually rent-free.
As a result of Uniting our future, eight congregations are receiving agencies and/or congregations into their midst.
Of the 29 properties divested, seven involve congregations needing to move. Some of those had been considering such a move already. The impacted congregations are:
St Columbas Balwyn; North Balwyn; Moorabbin-Highett-Hemming; Moorabbin-Highett-Highett Rd; Leighmoor (Moorabbin East) at 31 Boundary Rd Bentleigh East; Geelong South; St Georges, St Kilda East; Brighleigh, Brighton East.
Four UnitingCare agencies have been impacted: Wesley Mission utilising space at Ivanhoe, likely to move to East Ivanhoe; Prahran Mission and Creative Ministries Network, moving from Cromwell Rd South Yarra to Armadale; and UnitingCare Geelong, moving from South Geelong to Grovedale UCA next year.
The agencies are all receiving relocation assistance from the Uniting our future team.
Crosslight will continue to bring stories of congregations and agencies impacted by the divestment program.