Future of St Paul’s is in parishioners’ hands

St Paul’s Church at Nangus has been thrown a lifeline, with parishioners given three months to come up with a way to keep the village church sustainable.

The future of St Paul’s Anglican Church at Nangus has been placed in the hands of its congregation who have three months to come up with a plan to keep the church doors open.

Twenty-one people attended a meeting at the church on Sunday where Archdeacon of the Southwest region and Rector of Wagga Wagga Anglican Parish, Rev Dr Grant Bell, said the church is currently unsustainable. 

With the overwhelming feeling of parishioners being that they want to keep the village church open, it was put to the congregation to find a way within the next three months to keep their church sustainable or face the prospect of having it sold.

Sunday’s meeting was the second to be held regarding the future of St Paul’s Church after an initial meeting was held a little over 12 months ago.

Currently, fortnightly services at the church see one to two regular parishioners. The annual operational costs are around $11,300. With only $3,000 income coming in each year, the shortfall is currently coming out of Gundagai’s St John’s Parish coffers.

St John’s treasurer James Hamilton said there is also the issue of bringing St Paul’s up to a reasonable standard of compliance. An estimation undertaken in 2021, which included disabled access (ramp and car park) and a septic toilet system, came in at $64,000.

Rev Dr Bell said while the last thing he wants to see is the Nangus church closed, it cannot keep running at a loss. 

“The difficulty we face with any of these types of buildings is that when people stop coming to church, or you get one or two people at best, it gets to the stage where it becomes unsustainable,” Rev Dr Bell said.

“There are safety and access issues and the need to look at our toilet system. Do we keep this building? If so, do we spend that sort of money? Where does the money come from? And how are we going to have that $12,000 income coming in each year to keep this building open?

“We’ve been looking at those numbers for about 15 years now. It’s not sustainable to keep that going forever. In saying that, if there were people here who wanted to come to church on a regular basis, if there were people here who felt that that was a need for the community because that’s what it’s here for, we obviously wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s as simple as that.”

Rev Dr Bell said the issue has come to a crisis point where the church cannot keep bleeding money and not have an outcome of any sustainable measure.

“I’d love to have a vibrant community of people here who really loved this place and looked after this place and sustained it going forward. That would be really terrific,” he said. 

“But I’m reluctant to put any money into a building where nobody turns up. Why would anybody do that? If you had a business, you’re not going to run that business at a loss for 20 years and not come to a point where you have to have a conversation like this.”

Reverend Wendy Anderson, who serves St Paul’s on a fortnightly basis, implored those present at the meeting to make a commitment to support the church to ensure its future.

“I’ve been praying to God to show us a way to keep this church going. I love this church, I’ve cried many tears for the simple reason that I never, ever want to see any of God’s buildings close, but it is only a building. It is the people who make it,” she said.

“Only two people go to church at Nangus. What I’d like to know is, are you willing to contribute financially to keep this church open? Are you willing to attend church? I don’t want to see any of God’s buildings closed, I would like to see this church full.

“I’m asking you now to make a commitment. Work with me, work with Grant, work with James on how we can keep this going. If nothing is done in the next three months, it will close.”

Another issue of concern for parishioners is the possibility that there are historic graves within the churchyard. 

The meeting was told St John’s Parish Council has given the go-ahead for $30,500 to be spent on forensic deep ground scanning of the entire area. 

The deep ground scanning will commence on July 13, with results expected by the end of August.

If graves are located, the Parish Council will discuss sub-dividing the area off and handing it over to the local council to become part of the Nangus cemetery.

“Obviously we would want to respect any situation where there could be bodies buried here. We are not certain about any of that. If there are, we would make sure that this is part of the cemetery of Nangus, ensure there is a proper arm of the cemetery here,” Rev Dr Bell said.

“We want to do that and make sure that it happens. We’ve got to do that for your sake and for the sake of everyone who has been buried here and their families. Ethically we should do it to honour the people and their memories.” 

There was discussion about sub-dividing and selling the block of land next to St Paul’s to keep the church open, however Rev Dr Bell said, while the block may be sold in the future, it was not a long-term solution to keeping St Paul’s open.

“We’d just be putting it off for a few years. We’re not solving the problem,” he said.

“Selling the land will not solve the problem if people don’t turn up to church. If you want a church building, yes, we can sub-divide the land, but I’m not going to sub-divide it if there’s no one turning up to church here.” 

Attendees at the meeting spoke of having sentimental attachment to the church and special memories, with many families having worshipped at St Paul’s for generations. They spoke of ancestors who had put so much into the building, as just one of the reasons why the church was special to them.

In acknowledging what could be lost, they asked for the chance to support the church in the hope of turning things around for St Paul’s, in a commitment welcomed by Rev Dr Bell.

“I don’t particularly want to sell it if you guys can turn around and tell me that you can sustain it,” he said.

“If you get a group of people together, come up with a proper plan and you want to support this building in a proper way, I’m not one to close the doors. 

“I would love for everyone who wants this building to stay open and keep it open to come up with a plan about how you’re going to do that, how you’re going to pay that $11,300 as a minimum.

“If we had a community of people here who would make a decent contribution to the running of the place, the way we can service the place by having regular church services on a fortnightly basis; all those things are absolutely the right outcome, if it was going to happen. But we can’t just have two people come and a lot of promises at these meetings because it just doesn’t work that way.”

After the deep ground scanning results are returned in late August, another meeting will be held in three months’ time to discuss progress parishioners have made on ensuring the sustainability of St Paul’s into the future.

“You come back to me with a plan on how you’ll do that, and I would certainly want to see that happen,” Rev Dr Bell said. 

“I am encouraged by the number of people here today and encouraged by what you’ve had to say. If you go away and come back here in three months’ time and bring a plan to us, exactly what your plans are to make it sustainable into the future, we will certainly entertain that.

“It’s in your hands.”

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