A UNITING Church parishioner in Ballarat will call on the premier to intervene in the fire sale of three iconic churches, which have been put on the market to help cover a multimillion-dollar debt.
Pleasant Street Uniting Church parishioner and former state government MP Joan Chambers will approach both Attorney-General Robert Clark and Premier Denis Napthine to assess if the sales would be legal.
Other angry Ballarat parishioners said yesterday they felt helpless and furious over the sale of St Andrew’s Church in Sturt Street along with the Barkly Street and Pleasant Street Uniting churches.
They will join 53 other properties up for sale across Victoria. They are being sold to raise $56 million to clear the debt left after the collapse of Acacia College in Melbourne and to raise fund reserves.
“We have a beautiful church and a beautiful congregation,” Mrs Chambers said. “The most awful thing is that these Christian people are quite oblivious to what they are doing to the people in the pews.”
Uniting Church synod general secretary Reverend Doctor Mark Lawrence said 14 church congregations would be impacted and some services would be relocated.
“While this divestment process is a very important decision for the future of the church, we understand it will cause upheaval and upset for some across our community,” he said.
“However, we will be working very closely with and supporting those affected by these divestments throughout the transition process and beyond.”
Mrs Chambers, however, blamed inefficient financial management.
“We in the pews pay for everything,”she said. “Everybody’s angry, furious and helpless.”
“The administration is mainly made up of ministers trying to do business deals. Ministers are anywhere but the church now.
“And who knows if these buildings are going to sell? Pleasant Street certainly has a heritage overlay.”
Mrs Chambers said her main concern was each congregation was supposed to make its own independent financial decisions, with funds only vested in the synod.
Fellow Pleasant Street parishioner Janet Dale said she was worried about the people who made up the congregation.
“I’m devastated at the ruthlessness of the Uniting Church. We’re still a viable congregation,” Mrs Dale said.
“The people are the most important thing. We’ve been worshipping there for over 150 years. Some of us have been there for over 80 years and we’ve kept the place in good order.
“Now we’re going to be forcibly removed from the building by the synod who have never put a penny into its maintenance.”
Mrs Dale said she also hoped the church interiors would not be ripped out until they were sold or, if they didn’t sell, weren’t desecrated.
Acacia College in Mernda, a low fee school for 520 students, closed last December, leaving the Uniting Church with a $36 million debt.
The state synod voted in May to raise $56 million.
St Andrew’s Uniting Church is one of the largest and most complete Norman style churches in Victoria. The foundation stone was laid by Reverend Henderson on December 1, 1862, and the new church opened on August 14, 1864. St Andrew’s hasn’t been used for Sunday services for several years but is still used for a weekday service, weddings and funerals.
The Pleasant Street Uniting Church was designed by the architect J.A. Doane and was opened in 1867. Services are still held at the church every Sunday.
The Barkly Street Uniting Church dates back to 1860 and was designed by Ballarat architect J.A. Doane in the early English Gothic style. The Barkly Street church and St Andrew’s in Sturt Street were placed on the inaugural Ballarat City Council Ballarat Treasure Register.