Future Church @ St Clare's
After a long period of waiting, the frustration and exasperation of the past is slowly changing to anticipation and hopefulness for the future. For some time now, signs have been encouraging, and developments can be seen to be gathering further momentum.
For over two-and-a-half decades the Mass Centre at Smeaton Grange - formerly an old bowling club - was the venue for the celebration of Mass every Sunday morning at 9:30am. And there were a good number of people who were devoted to Mass in this converted and awkwardly configured building for just about the whole time.
The Mass Centre also served other needs besides the celebration of Mass, and was a meeting place for smaller church groups, as well as for other community groups over the years like the Beekeepers Association, Lifeline and Gamblers Anonymous.
There was once one interesting little anecdote in which Fr Michael was driving along Narellan Road one evening and noticed cars at the Mass Centre. Curious to know what was happening, he made an unscheduled stop. People present explained that they belong to the Beekeepers Association. It just so happened at the time that there was a serious and dangerous problem at St Paul's Church with unwanted bees.
Over the years, various attempts had been made to remove the bees but without long-term success. However, as a result of Fr Michael's unscheduled stop, a new and very capable contact was found - a Mr Eric Whitby - who after about four visits over a two-year period, finally removed the bees forever. Truly providential, especially since young children had been stung while sitting in church.
For over a decade, the Mass Centre had become increasingly inadequate and unable to accommodate the many people wanting to attend Mass. Even though 300 people could be seated, there were far more who might otherwise have been more regularly part of this community except for its very limited size.
There were other problems, too. There was insufficient space on the “sanctuary", in the sacristy, and in the foyer. The allocated space to the musicians was little more than two square metres. Things were tight and generally cluttered.
The public address system was mostly problematic. The placement of the seats made kneeling virtually impossible and seating through the consecration had become a necessary, long-term practice. Ventilation was often poor even with the help of air conditioners.
The building was in regular need of maintenance, especially where some parts of the ceiling seemed close to falling in. Vandalism, water theft, dumping of rubbish and security were all becoming growing issues.
Clergy and parishioners didn't require degrees from Harvard and Oxford to deduce that a new church in a different location was desperately needed.
So for the best part of the last 15 years, the challenge emerged as to how to make this possible. The sale of Smeaton Grange was the most common and the most creditable way to finance the new church but for two other matters requiring serious consideration - (a) the best way to maximise income from the sale, and (b) that proceeds from the sale should also serve other parish needs, particularly the costly restoration of St Paul's chapel which was built more than 150 years ago in 1859.
In March 2006, applications were made to Camden Council to have the Smeaton Grange property rezoned and subdivided. Application for sub-division was approved about two years later, and the rezoning is expected to be approved quite soon as a matter of course. Site works began in July 2009 The parish contributed almost $250,000 to the upgrade of Smeaton Grange Road in 2008.
While activity has been undertaken for the preparation and sale of the Smeaton Grange property, there has also been enormous work towards the building of a church. In 2007, three architect firms were invited to present concept plans for a new church after having been provided with a written brief.
These architect firms accepted the invitation and provided presentations to parishioners who were warmly encouraged to attend the three separate evenings. Around 50 expressed such interest and attended the three evenings.
In the end, an overwhelming decision was made in favour of Glanville Architects who have also designed the expansion of St Clare's school and the complete rebuilding of St Paul's school. Glanville Architects later merged with Thompson Adsett and are now known only by the latter name.
The St Clare's Mass-going community have had a long history of conviviality, and when the facilitation of this sociable practice was included in the draft design from Glanville Architects, feeling had swung noticeably in favour of these drawings.
However, concern was equally strong about the sanctuary, devotional chapels, modern communication facilities, air quality, public address, disabled facilities, and so on. Clergy, it should to be noted, had a special interest in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as well as the Reconciliation Chapel since both these chapels ought to be receiving considerable use.
At a meeting of Camden Council on Tuesday 26th August 2008, the application to build a church was unanimously approved. Following costly preparation work and a normal tendering process, construction was expected to begin within a year or two.
The impressive computer-generated images on this page help to explain why the decision for Glanville Architects received broad-based support. The selection of colours are preliminary and may vary from these images.
However, many unexpected challenges emerged following the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. As part of the development process, the site had been divided into three lots. Prospective buyers had expressed interest but unable to obtain finance from the bank. The first lot was not sold until 2013 and the final lot in 2015.
Also, when Oran Park was established the parish was reduced by about 20%. Many loyal and generous parishioners now belong to Australia's new parish, resulting in a significant loss of income that would otherwise have been devoted to the new church.
Also, with the general decline of Mass goers, there is now a re-evaluation of the size of the proposed new church. However, at least a solid financial plan is progressing quite well and construction on a new church is expected to begin in 2020 or 2021.