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Disunited Church

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By Meg Kennedy

The congregation of a local church should be celebrating its 160th anniversary but are instead, protesting the church’s abrupt sale.
The community of Pentland Hills Uniting Church in Myrniong has rallied to save the historic church from changing hands.
The church and hall closed their doors in December and are both currently up for sale – but according to the congregation, church users weren’t notified of the decision.
A statement from members of the Pentland Hills congregation read “The Uniting Church of Victoria has evicted the congregation, closing the church and our hall.”
“It is now selling the church with very little process or consultation with us,” read the statement.
The site is currently listed on a real estate website with a sale price of $450,000 to $495,000.
The webpage reads the property ‘is for sale in its current state of repair with vacant possession’.
The church building was deemed unsafe in December last year, following a Building Order by Moorabool Shire Council.
The congregation said it was “in the process of sourcing funding” to complete the repair works before the Uniting Church’s decision to sell.
According to guidelines from the Uniting Church website, members of the church are responsible for care and upkeep of the property; but decision to buy or sell properties, the Synod or congregation need to engage with the Property Trust.
The congregation said it has only been able to recover “a small amount of our goods and equipment from the two buildings.”
“It’s like losing a friend,” congregation member Emma Muir told the Moorabool News.
Ms Muir has spread awareness of the church’s sale in recent weeks, including an interview on ABC Radio Ballarat.
“We just feel that it’s all been taken out of our hands too quickly…it’s terribly sad that our little community is losing not only our church, but also our hall,” said Ms Muir.
“We haven’t had a chance to grieve or say goodbye.”
The church is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database as holding ‘local historical significance for its association with the religious development of community life’.
The adjoining hall is used to host a senior’s luncheon twice a month, as well as by the local Landcare group, playgroup, and for other community functions.
“We felt very in the dark about it, and we felt sad that we couldn’t celebrate the 160-years of the church…we’ve never really had a chance to acknowledge it at all,” said Ms Muir.
A spokesperson from Uniting Church told the Moorabool News in a statement that “the decision was made to sell Pentland Hills Uniting Church last December, after the Moorabool Shire and an expert structural engineer reported the building to be unsafe.”
“The estimated cost to properly restore the building for use is far beyond the financial capacity of the small congregation,” the spokesperson said.
“The congregation has been continually informed, and since December has been advised that selling the building is the only viable solution to comply with the Building Order and allow the building to function.”
The Uniting Church also confirmed there have been “some interested parties” who have shown an interest in restoring the building, which it said “would be the desired outcome by the Church.”
As for the future, Ms Muir said “there’s two parts” for the next step.
“Either we need to keep fighting…and possibly get some serious money to fund either legal action, or a structural engineer to know what we have to do [for the repairs],” she said.
“Or, we look at grieving and saying goodbye to the church, and think about where else we’re going to worship, where else we’re going to have our events, because we won’t have that church anymore.”
The Pentland Hills Uniting Church congregation is open to assistance from members of the public and can be contacted via email – pentlandhills1859@gmail.com.
Messages can be left on the church office phone number in Bacchus Marsh at 5367 2543.