Churches at Weston, Mount Vincent and Millfield are among those flagged for possible closure and sale as the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle seeks funds to meet redress for survivors of childhood abuse in the church.
Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart said the Diocese estimates its current redress obligation is around $4 million, but expects that figure to climb.
“In order to fund that redress we are needing to make use of our historic assets such as trust funds and the sale of property,” he said.
Bishop Stuart has initiated a period of intense consultation through which parishes are being asked to consider some specific long-term proposals.
Anglicans in the parish of Mount Vincent and Weston are being asked to consider focusing their work through the one church building at Kurri Kurri, while exploring the possible closure of St Mary’s Weston and Christ Church Mount Vincent and relocating the Weston Op Shop.
In the Cessnock parish, the Diocese has proposed consolidating services into St John’s Cessnock, and closing St Luke’s Millfield.
“Each time the Anglican Synod has discussed this responsibility in recent years it has shown overwhelming support to do the right thing,” Bishop Stuart said.
“It remained the number one priority of Anglicans when we met in five regional consultations.”
Bishop Stuart said the proposal for church sales focused on the redeployment of assets.
“Many of our church buildings were established when the population of our region lived and worked differently,” he said.
“We have some areas with many church buildings and Anglican ministry and other areas where we have insufficient resources.
“Anglicans in the region have affirmed the need to redeploy assets in order that the footprint of our ministry might better reflect population changes.”
Parishes across the Diocese are being invited to propose alternate strategies and make other recommendations.
The Anglican Parish of Mount Vincent and Weston is undertaking parish-wide and community consultation to develop an action plan as part of its response.
The parish comprises St Paul’s Kurri Kurri, St Mary’s Weston and Christ Church Mount Vincent; and its parishioners are united in their determination to keep all three churches open.
An initial meeting, attended by more than 50 people, formed several working groups to develop the document.
Letter box drops have been conducted and a petition is circulating.
“This has required a lot of work to be done by people who have never had to provide a justification of their existence before,” said Brian Bird, a parishioner at St Mary’s Weston, where people have worshipped for 111 years.
“These people love their churches and this was evident both at all the meetings and in their dedication to the task at hand.”
“This is an important community matter. It is the view of the Parish that these churches were built by the community for the community and should remain as part of the community.
“They have been serving the community, especially in the case of Christ Church Mount Vincent, for 175 years.”
Mr Bird said the working groups have sought advice concerning several major issues, such as cemeteries and memorial gardens, council zonings and the impact of the church on the wider community, in developing a forward-looking submission.
A first draft has been circulated to the parish for input from the people and will form the basis of the response to the Bishop.
Every parish in the Diocese is considering specific requests and each has until August 10 to make submissions to the Bishop and the Diocesan Council.