Demand for answers on church sale proposal

PROMINENT Hunter-based Anglicans will meet in an effort to torpedo a confidential proposal by the diocese to sell more than half its Newcastle churches for commercial or residential development.

The Newcastle Herald revealed last week that the diocese was considering a secret plan to make nine of its 15 Newcastle and Newcastle West churches redundant as part of a future growth strategy.

Anglicans from affected parishes St Stephen's at Adamstown, the Church of Good Shepherd at Kotara South and St Peter's at Hamilton will gather on January 14 to plan a fighting strategy and demand answers from the diocese about its 15-year masterplan.

Former Charlestown MP Richard Face said there were fears other churches across the Hunter could be sold as well.

"I am appalled at the attitude of the diocese, they should have the decency to come out and speak to the parishes about this and tell us what they are doing," he said.

"The fact is they are treating the parishioners with contempt and heaven help the diocese in the longer term if this is the way they are going to go about doing things."

Bishop Peter Stuart said on Wednesday clergy and parish leaders had been consulted and there would be further discussion this year.

He said the church had no choice but to change and the diocese was investigating the best way to move forward.

A jump of more than 40 per cent in insurance premiums for church buildings was compounding financial difficulties for some parishes.

Other problems detailed in a report compiled by a Sydney-based design and architecture firm included falling congregation numbers, maintenance problems, lack of financial contributions, no on-site parking, fire risks and a disconnection with community.

Anglican churches at Adamstown, Birmingham Gardens, Carrington, Hamilton, Islington, Jesmond, Kotara South, Lambton and Mayfield could face the chop.

Mr Face said parishioners wanted to know the diocese's agenda.

"They have severely underestimated us and when you look at the handling of this, you can understand why people are losing faith in the whole thing," he said.

"It's an absolute disgrace and we are going to fight. We are not against change and we are not unreasonable, but we are against the way this has been handled and believe the basis for the report is flawed."

Bishop Stuart said the report contained only preliminary data that would be used for further discussion and was not the view of the diocese.

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