There was a time when the annual flower show and industrial exhibition in aid of St James Church in Stockinbingal would provide a neat sum to ensure the beautiful old brick-and-stone building didn’t fall down around its foundations.
In 1916, for instance, the splendid sum of £70 was raised in a day through 200 entries from all over the district, which attracted large crowds “for a town of its size”.
Untiring in their efforts to achieve that satisfactory result, Mr and Mrs F M West would be mightily displeased that 106 years later the Stockinbingal Church of England is being cast out of the Anglican Church for good.
Despite an expected population resurgence in the village of Stockinbingal, there will be no church for the Anglican worshippers among them.
The Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, according to congregants, has decided to sell the historic 111-year-old building, stating that the congregation had diminished before the church services were discontinued three years ago.
James Coleborne, a concerned Anglican, said the diocese had also declared it had been a financial liability for many years.
“This is despite the local costs of upkeep being paid by a women’s guild,” Mr Coleborne said.
Built on land originally purchased by Thomas Quirk in 1902 and sold to the Church of England in 1906, St James Church opened on 15 March, 1911. It had cost £840 to build.
News articles of that time made much of the efforts of the community to ensure the building – when opened – carried no debt.
Before St James’ construction, Anglicans had worshipped in a small building – used by all denominations – in Grogan Road.
But Mr Coleborne insists the Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn Dr Mark Short respond to a letter he has written, asking him to confirm “to what purpose any proceeds from the proceeds from the hastily proposed sale of St James Church will be applied and advise if any funds will flow to benefit the now-neglected souls of Stockinbingal”.
In the meantime, the community has rallied, turning its attention to the new demographic to strengthen the existing population of worshippers, who will be heavily boosted in coming years – thanks to Inland Rail and expansion of the local abattoir – swelling from 374 to 1374 inhabitants or more.
Mr Coleborne said a group of committed Anglicans had agreed to pay all costs and maintenance, including insurance, and to arrange suitable clergy for services if the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn would in turn agree not to secularise, deconsecrate and sell St James Church for a period of three years.
“In addition, we identified an Anglican priest in Melbourne prepared to travel monthly for services,” he explained. ”We offered live music for hymns, use of Zoom to broaden the congregation, yet our proactive, multifaceted plan was clearly rejected by the Bishop-in-Council governing body.”
It’s left the villagers dumbfounded and questioning whether the Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn was now following a path similar to the Anglican Diocese of Tasmania.
In May 2018, the synod of the Diocese of Tasmania overwhelmingly approved a plan to sell 108 properties, including 76 churches, in part to fund its contribution to the National Redress Scheme for child sexual abuse, estimated to be about $8 million.
“A quarter of the proceeds from property sales go towards the redress, while the Anglican Church will quarantine the rest to benefit parishes that lose churches,” Mr Coleborne said.
Following the recent five-year, $340m Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, released in December 2017, a detailed report in The Canberra Times on 24 April, 2018, revealed 28 allegations in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn from 22 alleged perpetrators.
About half of the complaints were against ordained ministers, 11 per cent against youth workers, 14 per cent against welfare workers, with 4 per cent against school staff.
“This causes us to seriously ask whether the hasty decision by the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn to sell the St James Church in Stockinbingal is to provide urgent funding to meet the quarterly costs of the National Redress Scheme, the most recent of which was due on 31 July, 2022,” Mr Coleborne said.
The Anglican Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn was contacted for comment but none has been forthcoming.
The diocese has stated on its website, in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse, that it is “committed to responding justly and compassionately to those who have been abused by clergy and lay leaders in our diocese. We wish to respond in a way that prioritises the needs of those who have suffered abuse over the needs of the institution.”
Mr Coleborne said the Stockinbingal community would be relieved to know any individuals who may have suffered the traumatic effects of sexual abuse by the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn were receiving financial compensation and psychological counselling.
“But on the other hand, we will find it morally repugnant if our lovingly cared for, 111-year-old St James Church is to be sold and liquidated because of these despicable, evil acts against vulnerable children,” he said.
With the pews loaded and sold at $150 each, and the church now locked, Mr Coleborne has confirmed he is still waiting to hear back from Bishop Short.
“It’s upsetting and disappointing he hasn’t responded personally to my communications,” he said.