Anglican parishes called on to assist court ‘war chest’

Reverend Brett Watterson.The Commonwealth Bank is demanding the Anglican Diocese of Bathurst repay its $25 million debt immediately, and to do so it must sell-off church buildings.
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However, Bishop Ian Palmer says the church will not go down without a fight and will do all it can to protect its churches.

“We believe there are other avenues to explore, but in order to defend ourselves we’re seeking support from the parishes,” he said.

Parishes will be asked to come up with a “target” amount of money to contribute to the diocese war chest, but if the parishes do not have access to liquid assets they may have to sell church property to raise the funds.

Bishop Palmer said if property was to be sold it would be up to the parishioners, but they would need to provide the target money.

“We are instructed that in order to repay this money immediately, we must sell off assets to meet this bill,” he said.

“What we are saying is that we are protecting these assets, for the good of the communities.

“But we will have to use some of those assets, a small proportion.”

Parkes St George’s Anglican Church minister, Reverend Brett Watterson said it will definitely make it difficult for parishes.

But he said Parkes was quite a strong parish and he was confident they would be able to ride it out.

“The matter is in the courts so it is not possible to say too much. I am hopeful we will find out more at a meeting in Orange this weekend (yesterday),” he said.

In legal proceedings, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia sent the Bathurst diocese a list of properties to be sold to recoup the money.

Church buildings were at the bottom of that list, Bishop Palmer said.

But he believed church rectories were just as important for the lifeblood of the church community and did not want to see them fall out of church hands.

The estimated cost of the court action, should it go to trial, is about $1 million.

It is not expected to go to trial this year.

The church is arguing the Anglican Development Fund, which no longer exists, borrowed the money from the bank and the church is therefore not responsible for actions undertaken by the defunct fund.

The Anglican Diocese of Bathurst includes Parkes and covers about a third of NSW, from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border, and consists of 34 parishes.

It stretches from Oberon, Cowra and West Wyalong in the south to Cobar and Bourke in the west, across the north-west to Coonamble and Coonabarabran, and in the east to Coolah, Mudgee and Rylstone.

“We don’t think that the demands the Commonwealth Bank have placed upon us are reasonable and in order to mount our defence we need support from the parishes,” Bishop Palmer said.

Bishop Palmer said last week he would be explaining the situation to all Anglicans in Orange over the weekend.

The Commonwealth Bank was contacted for comment but a spokesperson said the bank could not comment because the matter was before the court.

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