SINGAPORE - A $25 million church hub where worshippers from three Christian denominations - Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists - will be under one roof, is under way in a pilot project aimed at easing the space crunch faced by churches here.
The new five-storey building at 2 Tah Ching Road, which will sit on land currently leased by the Lutheran Church's Jurong Christian Church, will be partly rented out to the Providence Presbyterian Church and Jurong Tamil Methodist Church for 30 years.
There are about 50 years left on the land lease.
Work on the approximately 60,000 sq ft hub is expected to start early next year and be completed by end-2016.
The project, spearheaded by Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church in Singapore, was given the green light by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and other government agencies last month.
The National Council of Churches of Singapore, of which Bishop Kee is president, has been meeting with the authorities over the past three years to explore solutions to address the issue of lack of space for religious use.
"We've been sharing with the authorities on the church hub concept. There's also a possibility that the authorities may look at having multiple churches housed in the same building elsewhere, run by either a lead church or a private developer, in the future," said Bishop Kee.
He said there are plans to eventually house five churches in the Jurong hub.
To cater to worshippers from these churches, the hub will have at least five chapels of varying sizes.
Bishop Kee believes sharing facilities is one of several possible ways to address the challenges of land scarcity and soaring property prices and rentals that have driven some churches to seek locations in hotel function rooms, cinemas and even remote industrial estates.
Plans for the hub come amid the growth of the Christian community here.
In tandem with Singapore's population growth, the number of Christian worshippers has almost doubled from about 588,000 in 2000 to around 930,000 in 2010.
There are more than 500 Protestant churches and 29 Catholic parishes today.
While there are some churches that have shared facilities for years, such as the Yishun Christian Church, which is co-owned by the Lutheran Church and Anglican Church, the concept of a landlord managing a church building and renting it out to different churches is a new one.
In the case of the Jurong hub, the Lutheran Church's long-term tenants will pay the 30-year rental upfront, which will help finance the building's construction and the design of exclusive spaces, among other things.
A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority said it is "open to such proposals" like the Jurong hub, as co-location optimises land. "Nonetheless, careful assessment of the local context is needed to ensure that disamenities such as traffic and parking problems are mitigated," she said, adding that the proposal is the first of its kind.
The Lutheran Church said it has submitted proposals on how it plans to manage vehicular and human traffic. It has, for instance, committed to building 148 parking spaces across three basement levels and staggering church service timings.
Reverend Philip Abraham, the pastor-in-charge of the Jurong Tamil Methodist Church, said his 83-strong congregation has moved more than five times over its 37-year history.
He said finding accessible and affordable locations has been challenging.
As such, being able to finally have a permanent space for worship in the Jurong hub will be a blessing for the church.
"We will save much more on rent here than if we are located in a commercial building," said Rev Philip.
"Finally, we have a place we can call home."
Number of Christian worshippers in Singapore
In 2000: 588,000
In 2010: 930,000
Number of Protestant churches
Number of Catholic parishes
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