12th Assembly 2009

Fewer problems with shared property

Disputes between Uniting Church congregations sharing premises are now less likely to end in bitterness.

This follows the church’s national Assembly authorising its Standing Committee, on the advice of the Assembly Legal Reference Committee, to amend regulations to establish provisions specifically relating to property sharing arrangements where two or more Uniting Church congregations or faith communities are sharing property.

The Assembly, meeting in Sydney from July 15 to 21, decided that where two or more Uniting Church groups use one property base, “a culturally sensitive and appropriate form of memorandum of understanding or covenant [not a tenancy agreement] will apply to that relationship”.

The memorandum will accord “access and usage rights and stewardship responsibilities, and an appropriate sharing of costs, and taking into account the ministry and mission needs of both congregations or faith communities, on the basis of joint custodial stewardship”.

It is expected this will resolve problems that have arisen in recent years with the rise in the number of ethnic worshipping groups meeting in Uniting Church buildings.

An example was given of a congregation which had met in a church building for 25 years which was ejected by another congregation which had met there for 40 years.

Another problematic situation is where a Uniting Church congregations rents out its premises to non-church groups while at the same time another Uniting Church group in the same locality is seeking premises.

In response to this, the Assembly agreed that “any Uniting Church congregation considering making their property available to a non-Uniting Church congregation, be required through their presbytery to first check if any Uniting Church congregations or faith communities are listed on the register seeking accommodation in their area.”

It was agreed also that preference “will be given to Uniting Church groups seeking a property when the term of an existing contract with the non-Uniting Church congregation concludes, except if in the opinion of the presbytery the non-Uniting group is actively exploring membership of the Uniting Church; or particular circumstances exist to continue the relationship”.

Where more than one Uniting Church congregation wants access to Uniting Church congregational property and a dispute arises, the Assembly decided “that:
(a) a resolution will be sought between the congregations through the relevant church councils,
(b) if there is no agreement, a decision can be made by the presbytery/s having oversight of the congregations, and
(c) if any party is dissatisfied with the decision of the presbytery/s an appeal may be made to a meeting of the Synod Standing Committee for a decision.”

The Assembly also called on “congregations, schools and agencies to proactively look for opportunities to encourage and resource new and emerging congregations and faith communities within all cultures and cultural groupings”.

It requested its Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry to ensure that the new considerations are taken up in the process of rewriting the “Property Policy for a Multicultural Church” and to present the new policy document to the November 2010 meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee.