VicTas synod general secretary Rev Dr Mark Lawrence has reassured church members the synod is not undertaking another Uniting our future program following a report in The Age on Wednesday.
The report said the synod will offload up to 65 properties next year. The funds from the sales will be used to finance approximately 200 projects over the next five years. These include the redevelopment of the Wesley Uniting Church site on Lonsdale St and renovations and repairs to churches and manes.
Mission-focused projects to tackle homelessness, mental health and provide refugee accommodation are also part of the five-year plan.
Dr Lawrence clarified The Age story in a letter addressed to the whole of the church.
“The journalist is reporting on information contained in the Property Board report to the June 2016 Synod meeting, along with details of the Banyule Network’s Asset Strategy Program (ASP),” he said.
“As you know our property helps us undertake ministry and mission, either through its use or through a considered and strategic sales program to generate funds for the Church’s worship, witness and service.
“The four projects specifically mentioned in the article – East Ivanhoe (Banyule), Wesley Upper Lonsdale, 130 Little Collins Street and the South Melbourne Parish Mission – have all been reported in Crosslight. There is also a multitude of small scale projects which are necessary for the Church’s various ministry and mission activities.”
The purpose of the ASP is to support the mission objectives of congregations, presbyteries and agencies through the strategic use of the Church’s property portfolio.
“The ASP has been one of the important fundamental changes to how the Church has viewed its use of property over recent years,” Dr Lawrence said.
“It is a considered and planned approach to unlocking the value which exists in the Church’s property and is focussed around the missional objectives of congregations and presbyteries.
“It is very much a proactive approach which recognises the need for the Church to continue to reflect its missional capability currently and in the future.”
One of the properties mentioned in The Age article is the East Ivanhoe church at 321 Lower Heidelberg Road. No Uniting Church congregation has worshipped on the site for the past 20 years.
Dr Lawrence said there are several things to remember when it comes to selling property.
“In general terms, a Church building is only sold due to the closure of a congregation and with the approval of the congregation’s Church Council, Presbytery and the Property Board,” Dr Lawrence said.
“There is a documented process which is followed for such sales, which always includes extensive consultation.
“A similar process applies to other properties for which no continuing requirement is identified, e.g. manses.”