Thumbs-up for shared worship spaces

Thumbs-up for shared worship spaces
Singapore religious leaders participating in the tradition to bless the track and pray for the 2014 Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix, on 10 September 2014.

A PROPOSAL to build multi-storey, multi-user places of worship could benefit hundreds of religious organisations, by cutting down on costs and allowing small temples and churches to get a place of their own, said several leaders of the major religions.

Many of these small groups are currently renting places, such as hotel function rooms and spaces in remote industrial buildings, to house their activities. An estimated 2,000 Taoist temples are also operating out of homes.

But last December, the Ministry of National Development (MND) launched a Request for Information exercise seeking views and proposals from churches and Chinese temples on the possibility of building such hubs.

MND said then that the hubs would house multiple groups of the same religion in the same building. These hubs will likely be located within or at the fringe of industrial areas.

It will also have a master lessee, who will develop as well as rent or lease out the space. The religious groups will share common facilities such as carparks, prayer halls and classrooms.

So far, several of the major religions, which are providing feedback to the Government, are giving the idea the thumbs-up.

Churches might jump at this opportunity if it translates into cost savings, since many "do not have the financial muscle to develop a property on their own", said Reverend Dominic Yeo of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS).

He said more than 100 small and medium-sized churches in industrial areas could benefit from the move.

While the Government has been periodically releasing land parcels for places of worship, many small temples and churches find them too big for their needs and, hence, unaffordable.

The Taoist Federation told The Straits Times that it hopes for at least four Taoist hubs to be spread out evenly across the island.

These hubs could benefit approximately 160 Taoist temples, said the federation's chairman Tan Thiam Lye. This will give the shrines a central location to perform their rituals.

NCCS, the Taoist Federation and the Singapore Buddhist Federation said they also shared with the authorities their desire to have the hubs housed in neighbourhoods or near MRT stations and bus interchanges, rather than in isolated industrial estates.

The Singapore Buddhist Federation's Venerable Kwang Phing emphasised the need to ensure the hubs are convenient for worshippers to access.

Rev Yeo, who is the executive committee representative of NCCS, said this is important as many churches serve local communities by operating centres for childcare, elderly activity and tuition.

The non-profit religious organisations said they are against the idea of private developers running the show as it could worsen the issue of affordability. "Temples are not financially strong and we have different aims, concerns and philosophies compared to the private sector," said Ven Kwang Phing.

NCCS said it has proposed keeping the design of the hub as basic and modular as possible. This will help keep costs low. Churches can then hire interior designers to fit out the space according to their needs.

It added that the hubs must also take into account congregation growth. Sky gardens or void spaces can be built in anticipation of growth of between 20 and 40 per cent. This helps ensure that churches will not have to constantly move as they grow, said Rev Yeo.

NCCS also suggested the Government consider building a multi-storey carpark near these hubs, and to extend their land leases from the current 30 years to 60 or 90 years to keep rents affordable.

Pastor Joseph Jabemany of 140-member-strong Yishun Evangelical Church believes the concept is a practical one.

The church, which started from a flat in Yishun, has struggled to find a permanent place of worship since it was established in 1991. It currently conducts services from a unit at Midview City in Sin Ming.

"The church hub will allow us to have shared spaces such as bigger auditoriums where we can host evangelical meetings or weddings for our members. It is a good idea that can be fine-tuned over time," Pastor Joseph said.

This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
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