Sydney Synod has been told funding for urban renewal is 'too urgent to wait' and should be given as much prominence as expanding to 'greenfields' areas of Sydney.
The second night of Synod saw a debate led by two western suburbs rectors, the Rev Raj Gupta of Toongabbie and the Rev Ray Galea of the Multicultural Bible Ministry at Rooty Hill.
Mr Gupta said the 'funding for urban renewal' committee found that 70% of the growth in new housing in Sydney is anticipated to be in so-called 'brownfields areas'. He said research had shown that churches in older areas which had undertaken building projects had experienced greater growth.
Mr Galea gave a real world example, saying his church had begun in 1991 with just over a dozen people and increased in size but growth later slowed, constrained by a lack of facilities.
The church benefitted from a grant from the Diocesan Endowment, which allowed construction of a new ministry centre.
"For years we hit a brick wall in our growth - prior to the building, then your gift from the endowment came like manna from heaven." Mr Galea said.
"Almost overnight we had an unmistakable footprint in the community and our people had a new-found confidence to invite family and friends to safe, comfortable facilities and we doubled in size."
"We initially met in the high school" Mr Galea told Synod. "Now the high school and other community groups hold concerts in our building."
The pair argued that while measures are already being taken to buy land and fund buildings in new areas of Sydney, older 'brownfields' areas do not receive the same help.
The FUR committee recommended a fund be established to make grants to parishes to enable the expansion of facilities.
This would be seeded with special appropriations of $2.5 million and $1 million from the Diocesan Endowment over the next two years.
As well, it said the existing “Land Levy” paid by all churches to buy land in new areas should be re-named the“Diocesan Development Levy”. It said this levy should increase from the current 2% to 3% in 2018, then to 3.5% in 2019, and then to 4% in 2020, with the excess over 2% going to a new “Expanding Churches for Expanding Communities” Fund.
Speaking against the motion, Bishop Michael Stead said while urban renewal was generally supported, the funding was not fund-raising but 'fund-raiding' which would cut into other ministries presently funded by the Diocesan Endowment.
He said projects like the Rooty Hill development were funded in better economic times, before the 2009 sharemarket fall.
"Urban redevelopment may be a worthy thing, but it is not more worthy than things we currently fund from the Diocesan Endowment like Moore College and Youthworks." Bishop Stead said.
Opposing an increase in the parish levy, Cherrybrook rector the Rev Gavin Poole, said "While the proposal will fund between 2 and 4 parishes a year it will take from 270 others, some of which are struggling."
A raft of amendments followed, which had the effect of stripping out immediate funding commitments – including an increased levy and endowment grant – and the issue of urban renewal was referred to Standing Committee for consideration.