Reverend John Queripel

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The Sydney Presbytery of the Uniting Church will meet this Tuesday (June 24) at a Special Meeting of the Presbytery to determine whether they will proceed with or reverse the decision to dissolve the congregation at Bondi’s Chapel by the Sea.

The ministry was dissolved on May 26. Reverend John Queripel, who led the congregation, was stood aside and prohibited from speaking of the processes taking place at the Chapel, attending the Chapel, or meeting with any of the congregational members to discuss the takeover.

“The decision to dissolve the Chapel Congregation was a matter of good governance,” said Reverend Bill Crews, co-chair of the Sydney Presbytery of the Uniting Church.

“This decision was made following the submission of a Consultation Report to Sydney Presbytery. This Report was in effect a review of the current state of governance at Chapel by the Sea.”

“The Report identified risks brought about because of the Congregation’s incapacity to fulfil the purpose, function and responsibilities specified in Church Regulations.”

The claims made by Rev Crews and the Sydney Presbytery are disputed by a member of the local congregation of the Chapel who wished to remain nameless.

“The recommendation to dissolve the Congregation at the Chapel arose from processes and a report which were deeply flawed, being almost totally outside the regulations, by-laws, policies and procedures of the Uniting Church,” he said.

“This report followed a laudatory report which the Chapel and the minister received marked ‘final’ a short time ago in February. That report noted the effective management of the church’s property and business as well as strongly affirming the pastoral, spiritual and community work of the minister and congregation.”

Concern is growing in the community that the takeover will see a number of Church services, including Norman Andrews House, sold. Norman Andrews House has provided homelessness support services for over 20 years.

Waverley Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak presented a motion that council write to the Sydney Presbytery on behalf of its constituents to secure in writing an assurance from the Uniting Church Administration that it is not selling its 48% share in Norman Andrews House at last Tuesday’s council meeting (June 17).

Despite assurances from the Sydney Presbytery that Norman Andrews House is at no risk of being sold, there is some ambiguity surrounding its future.

Moves have already been made by the Church to maximise the profits of the Chapel’s property portfolio. The Gould Street Laundrette was given notice to leave after they refused to sign a lease which almost doubled their rent and included a demolition clause. It is closing down on June 27.

“As a community we have lost butcher shops, fruit shops, we have lost everything, those cohesive elements that binds the community together,” said concerned resident Haydn Keenan. “The unsexy elements get driven out by outrageous rent demands and we, the community, pay the price. This is 21st century corporate religion.”

But the Uniting Church has no issues identifying the Church’s property dealings as commercial ventures.

“The current rent for the Laundromat is less than market value. The Church has had a number of parties interested in taking over the lease of this shop over the past year,” Rev Crews said.

The congregation, supporters of the Chapel and Rev Queripel will be holding a silent vigil outside the special meeting this Tuesday.