THREE of Ballarat’s Uniting Churches have been saved.
Many Ballarat parishioners breathed a sigh of relief yesterday morning when news filtered through from Melbourne that none of the three Uniting Churches up for auction had been sold and would not change hands in the foreseeable future.
St Andrew’s Uniting Church, at the corner of Sturt and Dawson streets, was the only church to actually go to auction but did not receive one buyer bid, passed in at a vendor bid of $2.5 million.
The other two properties, at Pleasant Street and Barkly Street, did not make it to auction, as the Uniting Church had already reached its auction target to clear its debt, well before they were listed.
The $56 million debt was caused by last year’s collapse of Acacia College in Melbourne.
In a statement at the conclusion of the auction, the Uniting Church said the properties that had not been sold would not go up for sale again.
Nine of the first 11 properties listed for sale were sold, with a further 10 failing to even be mentioned for auction.
Pleasant Street Uniting Church parishioner Joan Chambers, who has led the fight against the sales in Ballarat and recently approached the Attorney-General in a bid to save the three churches, said it was great news for the Ballarat community.
However, she remained cautious the fight was a long way from being settled.
“I think that overall, the people of Ballarat should be very pleased,” Ms Chambers said.
“They stopped the auction because they had raised enough money, but I don’t think it gets rid of the underlying problem.
“I feel very sorry for the ones that have gone. I hoped for (the Ballarat churches to be saved), but honestly didn’t think it would happen that easily.”
The church is believed to have sold up to 35 properties, including the nine that changed hands at yesterday’s auction.
Synod General Secretary Reverend Mark Lawrence acknowledged the sale of some of the properties had caused great angst among people, but said it was a necessary decision.
“The decision to end the auction early does not remove the pain and uncertainty this divestment program has caused the people of the Uniting Church,” Dr Lawrence said.
“Clearly, many people have been disrupted
by this and some congregations and agencies will still have to move as a result of successful sales. I want to thank the people of the Uniting Church for walking together through these very hard few months.”