Hillsong Australia Seeking to Turn Warehouse Into Church; Meets Hurdles

Hillsong, a Pentecostal megachurch in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, has circumvented the “unresponsive” city authorities and taken its application to a court seeking permission to convert a warehouse into a church.

Hillsong Church is now seeking the approval of the Land and Environment Court to spend $1 million converting a warehouse in Alexandria, an inner city suburb of Sydney, into an auditorium-style church for 1,100 people, as the application it filed with the city council in January brought no response, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The appeal is scheduled to be heard in September.

The megachurch, attended by over 20,000 people on any given weekend, needs more space and intends to transform part of Sydney Corporate Park on Doody Street into a “place of public worship,” open 7 a.m. to 10.30 p.m., seven days a week. Hillsong currently operates from a 21-acre site in a modern business park in the Hills District, and from a contemporary facility in Waterloo near the heart of Sydney’s central business district.

Hillsong, known for live praise and worship albums, has twice sought to find another location to take pressure off its large Waterloo congregation. Alexandria is around four kilometers from the central business district.

But the church’s plan to convert the Alexandria warehouse into a facility that would be used for church services, meetings, children’s activities, and Bible studies “could come up against a ban on places of public worship in industrial areas being proposed by the City,” the daily reported.

Warehouses in industrial areas have been used for auditorium-style church worship since the 1970s and non-Christian places of worships have also been established. But the City of Sydney wants to preserve industrial zones as “employment lands” and has proposed the ban in its draft local environment plan.

According to the City of Sydney’s official website, one of the submissions for the draft plan says that places of public worship should be encouraged in industrial areas. But “this [the ban proposal] is in line with state government direction and the actions of other local councils including Marrickville and Auburn,” the daily quoted a city spokeswoman as saying.

Not just Hillsong, but several denominations are unhappy about the proposal to ban places of worship in industrial areas. The ban is “inappropriate and unwarranted and … not justified on strategic planning grounds,” Peter Alward from the Salvation Army commented, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. John McMartin from the Australian Christian Churches group reasoned that the peak operating hours of churches were complementary to industrial areas.

But Hillsong and the authorities can resolve the issue. The council is primarily concerned about traffic and parking and “Hillsong Church believes there is still an opportunity to negotiate … to avoid unnecessary costs to both parties,” the church said in a statement.

“Hillsong Church is also actively involved in building the Sydney local community through Hillsong CityCare whose facilities and programs range from medical centres and emergency relief services, to drug and alcohol programs and personal development and recovery programs,” the church says on its website, making no mention of the church permission issue though.

Hillsong has churches also in London, Kiev, Cape Town, Stockholm, Paris, and Moscow. The church, which started meeting in New York in October 2010, started weekly services in the city in February this year.

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