High hopes for big dollar restoration of landmark regional church

A dedicated congregation says St Andrews Uniting Church is an essential part of Strathalbyn’s fabric and they couldn’t walk away from the historic building or raising the more than $1 million needed to restore it.

Mar 27, 2024, updated Mar 27, 2024
The Strathalbyn Uniting Church is looking to raise another $1 million to restore the 1848 heritage building. Photo: Charlie Gilchrist/InDaily

The Strathalbyn Uniting Church is looking to raise another $1 million to restore the 1848 heritage building. Photo: Charlie Gilchrist/InDaily

Church secretary David Bunton said that when the initial $1.8 million quote came in to completely restore the heritage-listed church, the congregation contemplated handing the keys back to the synod in Adelaide.

But he said when they were told the building would likely be sold, the church community which will celebrate its 180th anniversary this year unanimously backed its restoration.

“I would say about a third of the members said the church is people, not buildings. We don’t need the building; we have a hall over there, and in winter, we worship in the hall – it’s very nice,” Bunton said.

“When the congregation heard that [it would be sold], it was unanimous; we cannot walk away. We cannot let it be sold. The town would never forgive us.

“The church has been here as a symbol of Christianity for 170 plus years, and we agreed that we would seek to lead a restoration project and a fundraising project with the community… because we just felt the community would be utterly disappointed if we walked away.”

So far, the congregation has raised slightly over $275,000 towards the restoration, with $65,000 spent on a structural survey, planning approvals and partially restoring the spire.

The church has also accepted a quote of $110,000 to repoint the masonry at the western end of the building and to fix the roof and gutters.

They are now looking to raise a further $1 million through donations to restore the roof and gutters, spire and masonry.

Church treasurer Joyleen Winter said that heritage requirements have made it more difficult because there are a limited number of heritage specialists and they have to wait until they are available, which increases the cost.

She said it also means that they have to retain the original elements of the church, including the box gutters, which they would prefer to replace with modern gutters.

According to the Alexandrina Council, St Andrews is one of the most photographed churches in the country and it is also used as the Strathalbyn Tourism Association’s logo.

“This clocktower particularly, and the church, is so important to the town. It’s a tourism asset and the shops benefit from the tourism from our logo,” said Bunton.

“But none of the financial benefit comes to this church because we’re not doing trading; we’re not doing business.”

So far the church has raised $275,000. Photo: Charlie Gilchrist/InDaily

Winter said that she is optimistic that they will persevere with the restoration.

“The church is part of the identity of the town and we value that in Strathalbyn very much so,” she said.

“It’s a place for the community to have events, which is bringing people in, and people, whether they are believers or not, or churchgoers or not, of any denomination, do have a sense of belonging – it’s a part of their community.”

Bunton added that more community members have been in the church in the past two years than ever before because of the increased number of events held there.

The fundraising includes a $40,000 bequest, $50,000 from events such as concerts, history tours, open gardens, garage and car boot sales, a total of $35,000 from state government grants, $7266 from various community organisations, and $2000 from the Alexandrina Council.

Bunton said that the restoration project has been entirely self-driven, but they are now asking the Uniting Church about accessing an emergency fund.

“The Uniting Church has got 200 churches across the state here. They’ve got about 40 churches in need of repairs, and so, there’s not a well of funds there,” he said.

“Each congregation has to be self-sufficient.”

In a statement provided to InDaily, the Uniting Church Synod of South Australia said “The Uniting Church in SA Property Trust Board members met with the Strathalbyn Uniting Church leaders in January this year to discuss a variety of options that could be considered in regards to the restoration work required by the church… It was our understanding that the meeting was both a helpful and positive discussion between all parties.”

“It should be noted that the Uniting Church in SA operates on a decentralised model of church ownership and stewardship. This means that congregations do not pay rent but they are responsible for their own building maintenance requirements,” it said.

“The Uniting Church Property Services team also has professionals available to assist congregations in project management and delivery of heritage restoration projects. This is an indirect saving to congregations who otherwise would need to employ a professional to undertake this work.

“With regard to any of our church buildings, the Uniting Church in SA is committed to providing safe places of worship and want these places to be fit for purpose. This can be difficult with historic buildings that may not meet current building standards or contemporary community expectations.”

The church will also soon set up a crowdfunding page and Bunton said they plan to meet with MPs and council to get advice on fundraising.

An interior view of St Andrews parish at Strathalbyn. Photo: Charlie Gilchrist/InDaily

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