If the Camden community wants to keep St John’s Anglican Church grounds out of the hands of developers they must buy the land themselves.
That’s the message not from the parish council but from Macarthur identity Steve Wisbey.
The suggestion was made at Sunday’s public meeting held at the church, which allowed community members to question church staff on the much-publicised proposal to sell parts of the church precinct to fund the construction of a secondary worship centre along Broughton Street.
The church is investigating the sale of the colloquially-named ‘horse paddocks’ which connect the historic church building to the rectory along Menangle Street, the rectory itself, and a property on Alpha Road which adjoins to the grass slopes.
While the meeting, well attended by at least 150 interested locals, revealed any actual sale or development would still be some time in the future, Mr Wisbey’s suggestion the community should work together to secure the site made the crowd the most vocal.
The Upstairs At Fred’s owner said though he was not himself a parishioner, he understood the church’s need to grow and bring more young people to its congregation and if they alone could not fund the construction of a second building (estimated to cost at least $6 million) then the community must do it for them.
“Why are you all here today – because you care,” Mr Wisbey said at the meeting.
“I believe a lot of you sitting here today want that [vacant land] to remain a green space.
“What do we need to do as a community?
“This is a community that raises money, I personally have raised millions for this community.
“The church would find it very hard to raise $5 million – the Anglicans don’t even like raffles.
“They’ve got no hope in fundraising, but you know what? You and I do.
“We need to work with this church and work with the wardens and, as a community, need to buy that land so nobody can usurp what is our land.
“Let’s not be divided, let’s work together and let’s buy it for ourselves so no one can tell us what we can and can’t do with it.”
Mr Wisbey’s comments were met with a huge applause.
Several other speakers made reference to the business-owner’s call to band together as a community throughout the meeting and encouraged church staff to sit down with Mr Wisbey and explore the idea.
Mr Wisbey stressed that it was up to the community as a whole to save the church land.
“I cannot do this alone,” he said.
“Don’t think this is solely up to me – my voice is a conduit. Don't expect me to save you all.”
Church warden Steve Lardner was open to the idea of working with Mr Wisbey.
“We’d love to have a chat with Steve,” he said.
“If somebody [from the community] wants to come and buy it, that’s fantastic.
“Please, let’s have an uprising to do it. No one would be more pleased than me.”
Senior minister Reverend Tony Galea said there was very much a need to build another worship centre (despite several speakers commenting to the contrary) and if the community could play their part in making that happen, he welcomed it.
“We love Camden, we want the best for the Camden people,” he said.
“We wish we didn’t have to sell the land, but we’ve done our homework for the last 18-20 years, believe us.
“If we could come together as a community and a council to buy the land, then so be it.
“I pray to find a reconciliation between the community and the Kingdom of God for Jesus’ sake.
“I feel not to build would be a grave mistake.”
Rev Galea said he had a “responsibility to Jesus and the people of Camden” to build a new, better building.
A variety of other issues were also raised by community members at the meeting, including:
- the importance of maintaining the church precinct’s heritage value for future generations
- the loss of parking space if the horse paddock were to be sold
- the challenges in drawing younger people to traditional church services
- the abundance of community opposition to the proposed sale
- the level to which the parish council has explored other options that do not include a sale
Representatives of the church also:
- acknowledged the initial community and parish consultation regarding sale investigations was unsatisfactory and apologised for it
- informed the community Camden Council had approved a development application for a worship centre along Broughton Street which was still valid
- explained they would not have to pay 15 per cent of any sale profits to the Anglican Diocese, as is the norm, due to a prearranged deal
- explained approval to sell from the Diocese lasted three years
- cemented that no sale could go ahead unless funds were sufficient enough to construct, furnish and operate an additional worship centre for two years and the majority of the congregation voted in favour of a sale at said time