Protesters accuse Uniting Church of greedy tactics

More than 100 Sussex Inlet residents turned out to a rally on the main road, sending a loud and clear message to the Uniting Church on Saturday morning.

Protesters packed the street to demonstrate their fury at the institution’s bid to sell the community church

They are hopeful that through their resistance, and negotiations taking place between the church and elected representatives, they can continue using the facility that has been the lifeblood of the community.

Residents held signs, and cheered loudly when the Sussex Inlet pastor, rally organisers, Shoalhaven Councillors Patricia White and Jo Gash and South Coast MP Shelley Hancock delivered speeches in staunch opposition to the potential sale of the church.

Residents are infuriated at the price tag the Uniting Church has placed on the property.

The community has offered to buy the church for $100,000, an offer that has been declined – the institution wants at least $500,000.

“If an offer has been made, they should take it and run quite frankly, because they don’t know what the Sussex Inlet community is like,” Ms Hancock said.

“We’re not going to go away on it.

“They’re not seeing sense at the moment.”

To which members of the crowd quipped, “they’re seeing dollars.”

Since it was built, members of the church have taken it upon themselves to maintain the building and its grounds.

At a loss, the volunteers fear that if the sale goes through, their work will go to waste.

A rally organiser shared his view on how the locals have taken ownership over the church.

“When the floods and the fires came to town 10 years ago, who was there to help? The community church,” he said.

“Where was the Uniting Church? They weren’t here.

“For the last 10 years the Uniting Church has not sent a pastor to this church. 

“The Uniting Church has not contributed a cent to the development or upkeep of the church, this has all been done by the community.”

Residents admired the courage of Sussex Inlet Uniting Church pastor Peter Burge, who aired concerns about the sale of the church, and in his typical quirky manner, wore a black suit and started with a joke.

“You might be wondering why I’ve attired like thus,” he said.

“Well I thought this might be my funeral so I’ve come prepared.”

He paid homage to the local residents who built the church.

“I think of those precious people, Vera Teagle, a teenage girl that helped build the church with her dad and others,” he said.

“I think of her nailing the floorboards down, and think of her thinking what the Uniting Church would want to do with it one day.

“It’s just sickening, it’s wrong and immoral.”

The church has been a refuge for local resident Malcolm Boivan.

“I’m a pensioner and this community church has been quite a help, spiritually and mentally,” he said.

““Pastor Pete is just a marvellous man.

“It would be terrible to lose it, there are so many people who need help.”

Some residents fear the church will be sold to developers.

“That’s why I’m here, I don’t want to see it fall into the hands of developers,” Berrara resident and rally attendee Ralph Wragg said. 

Usually heard under the rafters of a church, “We shall not be moved,” resounded through town as protesters sang to end the rally.

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