Faye Woods and Graham Manson  at the Uniting Church in Glenroy.
Faye Woods and Graham Manson at the Uniting Church in Glenroy. Photo: Joe Armao
Rebellion is growing among the Uniting Church congregations whose buildings are listed for sale to pay off debts, with several investigating legal options to save them.
Eight congregations were named to lose their churches, among 56 properties being sold to raise $78 million to repay debts incurred over Acacia College, which closed last year, and to raise funds.
St Stephen's in Williamstown was saved after a member, retired County Court judge Ross Howie, launched an action in the Supreme Court alleging lack of natural justice, and head office backed down.
Now congregations in Glenroy, Bendigo and Ballarat are among those opting to fight back, according to church activist Bob Parry. He says they have written or will write to church leadership saying they want to be treated like Williamstown.
He has had legal advice, following the Supreme Court opinion, that congregations are beneficial owners of the property, although the church property trust is the legal owner. If congregations write to the property trust saying they do not want buildings to be sold, they are entitled to put a caveat on the buildings so that they cannot be sold.
Glenroy is among a number of properties due to be auctioned on December 11. Two church buildings, Geelong South and Ringwood East, were sold last week to tenants on the properties who may allow the churches to continue there.
Mr Parry, former chairman of the Mernda Uniting Church council, said he had spoken to members of several congregations whose buildings were on the market advising them to write to head office. ''No one wants to incur legal costs, but this is all being done at such an unnecessary rush,'' he said.
Victorian general secretary Mark Lawrence said $100 million of property was offered for sale, but as soon as the required $78 million was reached remaining properties would be withdrawn.
He said he had received only one email from the congregations cited, which did not seek to change the decision. But Glenroy has not yet discussed putting a caveat on their title.
In Ballarat, Lindsay Harley wrote on behalf of the members of the historic Barkley Street church expressing disgust at their treatment and calling it tantamount to theft. The members want to save the men's shed used for many ministries on the property.
Mr Harley said members of the 153-year-old church were in the middle of discussions with a head office relocation team about saving the men's shed on the property when the team got an emailed refusal from head office, even before it had heard the arguments.