Congregants at an Anglican church on Tasmania’s west coast are preparing for a fight after it was included in a list of properties that may be sold to help pay redress to victims of child sexual abuse.
The St Martins Church, Shed and Rectory in Queenstown was one of 78 properties, including 55 churches, on the preliminary list, released by the Anglican Archdiocese on Monday.
Reverend Kevin Bailey, a former champion woodchopper who volunteers at the church and was named West Coast Citizen of the Year on Australia Day, said he felt sick when he realised it could be sold.
“Before I became a Christian, I would have fought hands and fist,” says Kevin Bailey. (The Advocate: Brodie Weeding)
“I’m really appalled and I’m gutted and I’m furious and I’m angry and I’m everything,” he told ABC Radio Hobart.
“Queenstown has lost so much, and now they want to take the presence of the Lord.”
Reverend Bailey said the church had a regular congregation of between 14 and 25 people and was kept financially viable by volunteers who often provided assistance to people in need.
“There’s been some people that just haven’t had homes, that had nowhere to go for friendship, and they’ve come to church and we’ve fed them and given them money for vouchers,” he said.
St Martin’s volunteer Shirley Scolyer said the parishioners were being “asked to pay for the sins of the father”.
“Our church is a very healthy community,” she said.
“We do meet quite often and it’s used by the community, so we’re not one of those churches that is just sitting there collecting cobwebs.”
Ms Scolyer said she understood the pain sexual abuse had caused within the church and community, as well as the call for the church to pay compensation to survivors, but felt it was unfair for the Queenstown church to be sold to fund it.
Reverend Bailey said the St Martin’s congregation would fight to retain their church.
“Before I became a Christian, I would have fought hands and fist,” he said.
“We need our church in Queenstown, and boy are we going to fight.”
Kevin Bailey, right, was named West Coast Citizen of the Year in January (ABC News: Rick Eaves)
Sale listing can be challenged
The archdiocese estimated its liability for redress to survivors of child sexual abuse to be about $8 million.
Right Reverend Richard Condie, the Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, said most of the reactions he had received had been positive.
“Church members saying, ‘We’re glad you’re doing something about [redress for sexual abuse]’,” he told ABC Radio Hobart.
“What we’re trying to do is, both at the same time, meet our redress obligations as well as continue the ministry of the People of God in Tasmania — yes without buildings, but we know that the buildings aren’t the heart of it.”
Dr Condie says the viability of the church is a consideration in the sales. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)
Bishop Condie said the listed churches were selected if they did not meet criteria, including having at least 30 households regularly involved, financial viability, weekly services and paid clergy.
“Where that wasn’t the case, where we looked at our churches and realised that they didn’t have a sustainable future … those are the ones that are on this initial list.”
Bishop Condie said the initial list would be debated at a Synod in June and congregations like that at St Martin’s in Queenstown would have a chance to challenge their listing.
“So they’ll be able to put a particular case why this church, for these particular reasons, might be retained and excluded from the final list,” he said.
Parishioners ‘privileged’ to help abuse survivors
Reverend John Stanley, senior associate minister for children and families in the Anglican parish of New Town and Lenah Valley Anglican churches, said while parishioners were shocked by the estimated redress bill, they felt privileged to be able to help survivors of child sexual abuse.
“Our parishioners are more concerned with the failure of the church and honestly on Sunday when we talked about it, they were pleased to be able to do something about it because it has been such a black mark on who we are,” he said.
Reverend Stanley said the rectory was currently rented out and the tenants would be given notice and helped to find new accommodation in a normal sale process.
‘This is reflecting change, not driving it’
Tasmanian is one of the most irreligious states in Australia, with 38 per cent of Tasmanians selecting “no religion” in the last census compared with the national average of 29 per cent.
But the state had a larger-than-average proportion of Anglicans at 20 per cent, down from 32 per cent in 2001.
Professor Douglas Ezzie, who edits the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, said only about five per cent of self-identified Anglicans would attend church on a weekly basis.
“Most Anglicans tend to be older — in the 60, 60-plus group — younger people are much less likely to be Anglican,” he said.
Bishop Condie estimated the number of active Anglican churchgoers in Tasmania to be about 3,500.
Professor Ezzy did not expect the sale of churches would have much effect on the trend of declining Anglican congregations.
“I think it’s more a reflection of it, rather than anything that would drive change,” he said.
Government wants clarification
The archdiocese will meet with the Government next week to discuss the future management of cemeteries attached to church properties.
Tasmanian Treasurer Peter Gutwein said he had asked for the meeting after hearing of community concern about the sales.
“I’ve had a number of constituents who’ve raised with me concerns about recent internments at cemeteries, families that have purchased plots for future internments and I think there are a range of matters that need to be clarified,” Mr Gutwein said