$25m hub for churches in Jurong hits snag

$25m hub for churches in Jurong hits snag
Piling works (right) have started for the new complex. Some congregations have pulled out of the project, citing a lack of funds.

THE Lutheran Church has hit a bump in the road in its bid to develop a $25 million multi-denomination hub in Jurong for small and medium-sized churches.

Some of the congregations which had initially pledged to jointly develop the complex have pulled out, citing a lack of funds.

It means the Lutheran Church, which told The Straits Times of its church hub plans last February, will now have to shoulder most of the development's cost.

Its bishop Terry Kee said the new arrangement puts more pressure on them to raise funds.

"It is a challenge for us financially, but we are pushing forward in view of the great need for religious space in Singapore, as the population and Christian community continue to grow."

There are more than 500 Protestant churches today and Christian worshippers have almost doubled from about 588,000 in 2000 to around 930,000 in 2010.

The site for the hub is currently leased by the Lutheran Church's Jurong Christian Church, with about 50 years left on the land lease.

The old two-storey Jurong Christian Church building was demolished on Jan 2. Piling works for the new five-storey complex started on Jan 26.

The hub is expected to be ready by September next year.

The Lutheran Church, which has so far raised $10 million for the project, will now act as the landlord. It will rent out the space to churches such as the Jurong Tamil Methodist Church, King of Glory Church and possibly New Life Baptist Church.

The only church contributing to the project's development cost is S-Word, a branch of the Evangelical Free Church.

It will pump $6.3 million into the development and occupy half a floor there for 30 years, with an option to renew.

Bishop Kee said the new building will have three service halls that can seat 400, 500 and 600 people.

The 60,000 sq ft hub will also have classrooms, a kindergarten, offices, multi-purpose halls, as well as a prayer chapel and garden on the rooftop.

Bishop Kee said the hub aims to address the space crunch faced by religious groups.

He has been meeting the authorities over the past four years to explore solutions to the lack of space for religious use.

Last December, the Ministry of National Development called a Request for Information to seek views and proposals on the idea of housing multiple groups of the same religion in multi-storey buildings.

The ministry said that these hubs will likely be located within or on the fringe of industrial areas.

Pastor T. Jeevanantham of Jurong Tamil Methodist Church said religious hubs make sense for small churches, which often struggle to find their own place.

"It's convenient to share the place with other churches as we are resource-tight and cannot pay large sums upfront for a new building," he said.

Unhappiness over loss of Sengkang bid

THE struggle to find space is something religious groups grapple with.

Take the case of the Taoist and Buddhist bidders who lost to columbarium operator Eternal Pure Land for a plot of land in Sengkang last July.

The Taoist Peng Hong Association is unhappy about losing to the business' controversial $5.2 million bid.

It had bid $4 million - a figure it thought would secure the space, said chairman Tan Aik Hock. There were plans to build a $7 million temple which would also provide free medical consultations.

The 800-member association now uses a cramped two-storey terrace house in Geylang Lorong 3.

It is busiest on the first and 15th day of each month. It resorts to erecting tents on the road outside its building to cater to the crowds. This can be an inconvenience to others, said Mr Tan.

The Sengkang site's third bidder, Xing Guang Maitreya Society, also wants its own permanent and legal worship space.

The house temple, which is based in a two-storey bungalow in Telok Kurau, had offered $1.8 million.

While house temples like Xing Guang's are illegal, they are very common. The Taoist Federation said there are as many as 2,000 such temples in Singapore.


This article was first published on Feb 23, 2015.
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