The concerns of the community regarding the potential closure of a number of local churches were heard loud and clear at a meeting at Christ Church Mount Vincent last Sunday.
More than 170 people attended the public meeting, which discussed the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle’s proposal to sell church properties to meet its redress obligations for survivors of childhood abuse in the church.
Christ Church Mount Vincent and St Mary’s Weston are among the churches flagged for sale in the proposal, which also suggests relocating the Weston Op Shop.
Meeting convener Barbara McPhee said the church was packed and there were some very passionate addresses from community members.
“The Parish of Mount Vincent has 175 years of history of worship, community support and involvement,” Ms McPhee said.
“It was pointed out that the communities, while in close proximity, have had diverse historical and social development.
“This is considered to be a great strength although the workload on the clergy and layworkers is heavy.
“There has been a dedicated effort by the parishioners to maintain the churches and services.
“Their closure and relocation of the Op Shop could affect their financial viability and ability to service the growing population.”
Weston resident Maree Thomson told the group she was incensed at the thought of possible closure of churches.
“In hard times the people go to the church,” she said.
“Selling because it is not profitable? Did we ever go to church because it was profitable?
“It is not just bricks and mortar, it is a place where people come together to support each other.”
Ms McPhee said several people raised questions about the church yard and columbarium.
“This issue has caused some distress, especially amongst more elderly parishioners because of family that they have buried there,” she said.
“It was stated that faith-based cemeteries, under the law are perpetual; unlike commercial cemeteries where leases may expire in 25 years.”
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent attended the meeting and agreed with residents that the selling-off of local churches is not an acceptable outcome.
“Churches are vital community hubs. The place a church holds in each community is very unique, many of them providing much more to local residents outside of the congregational services,” Cr Pynsent said.
“These include play centres, youth activities and second hand shops.
“The possibility of local churches being sold off has hit very close to home for many of us and is deeply personal for many of our residents who have relatives laid to rest in the cemeteries, columbarium and in the memorial gardens.
“These personal links and historical links with our churches is strong and is not something that can be easily replaced.”
The Anglican parishes of Cessnock and Branxton may also be affected by the proposal, with St Luke’s Millfield also flagged for sale.
Cr Pynsent raised the issue in a mayoral minute at Wednesday’s council meeting, which resolved that council will seek a meeting with Bishop of Newcastle, the Right Reverend Dr Peter Stuart, to discuss the matter.
Parishes have until August 10 to make submissions to the Bishop and the Diocesan Council.
READ MORE: Churches could be sold to meet redress