Land sale could pave way for new church building

St John's Anglican Church Camden. Picture: Jess Layt
St John's Anglican Church Camden. Picture: Jess Layt

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A lack of available funds to construct a new church building has prompted St Johns church leaders to consider selling part of the church grounds.

St John’s Anglican Church, built in the 1840s and located at the top of Menangle Street, is arguably Camden’s most historic building.

Reverend Tony Galea and church warden Steve Lardner told the Advertiser their congregation needed a new “contemporary worship centre” on the grounds to ease overcrowding at their most popular services.

Some funds from the proposed land sale would also be used to carry out essential maintenance on the historic church.

Repair works needed on the church building – listed on both the state and national heritage registers – have been estimated at more than $250,000.

Rev Galea said the church did not have the funds in reserve to repair the historic building, tend the lands along Menangle Road and maintain the rectory building while constructing an additional building.

In order to fulfill the needs of the growing population and “bring more people to Jesus”, he said selling the land might be the best option.

“It is still very early days at the moment,” Rev Galea said.

“We’re certainly not putting ‘for sale’ signs up in the yard, we’re just getting prepared for the possibility of selling.”

The proposed grounds for sale include more than 1.2 hectares of vacant land along Menangle Road, the rectory (currently being leased out for additional income) on the corner of Menangle Road and Forest Crescent, and the property at 43 Alpha Road, which backs onto the vacant land.

Mr Lardner said the Wollongong Diocese was the owner of the land and St Johns church leaders were merely “custodians”.

News about the proposed sale has already caused concern among some parishioners and Macarthur historians.

Dr Ian Willis is worried the sale of any St John’s church land would be detrimental to the community.

He said the church building was on the heritage list “for a reason” and was the “most historically important structure in Camden”.

“I’m extremely disappointed to see the church is considering selling the land,” he said.

“I would have preferred to see them appeal to their congregation to raise funds first before considering a sale.”

Dr Willis said he struggled to imagine any non-church use of the vacant land benefitting the community.

“If they want a more modern building they should construct it on the vacant land,” he said.

“Anything else would compromise the heritage value of the church.”

Mr Lardner said the church leaders had investigated the possibility of building on the vacant land and discovered it would cost “two to three times” more than building on land behind the church.

Rev Galea said the cost of maintaining the church building and rectory to heritage standards was more than donations from parishioners could be expected to cover.

He said it was important to him to provide church-goers with the best facilities possible and an opportunity for growth which would not be possible without an injection of funds from land sale.

“Our plan is to supplement the congregation’s donations with the money raised from selling church property which, incidentally, is no longer used by the church ministry and hasn’t been used for 170 years,” Rev Galea said.

“I wish we could keep these assets.

“I love Camden, I love the history of Camden, but things change, situations change.

“We want to grow with Camden.”

Mr Lardner said any potential sales were still in the distant future.

He said while they could not place restrictions on the use of the land if they were to sell it, the ministry would ask potential buyers their intentions for the site and make a moral call.

“We have to follow the Diocese’s processes and procedures before anything can happen,” Mr Lardner said.

“We’re not actually selling anything at this point.

“We don’t have any offers on the table, we’ve just started that process.”

Parishioners who wish to make a submission on the proposed land sale can write to the Diocese with their thoughts.