ANGLICAN Bishop Richard Hurford says he has a strong empathy with Holy Trinity parishioners upset by the sale of the iconic Bluestone Hall in Anson Street.
He said the reality of property sell-offs across the diocese were starting to impact on the community.
“I completely understand how they must feel and I feel that pain with them,” Bishop Hurford said.
“It matters to us that people are upset, because we in the diocese are a family, and like any family we feel pain and hurt for others.”
Bishop Hurford said the $38 million debt incurred by the Orange and Dubbo Anglican Grammar Schools and All Saints College at Bathurst were the subject of a tight financial management plan, with schools able to pay off their debt over the next 20 years.
However, in hindsight he said the growth of the Orange Anglican Grammar School could have been staged more slowly at a time when the drought was having a bigger-than-anticipated impact on the financial management of the Dubbo and Bathurst schools.
“This is a difficult time and while some parishioners are just quietly feeling the pain, other are putting up their dukes,” he said.
However Bishop Hurford is confident the plan put in place in 2011 to sell church properties, and voted for unanimously by the Synod, will see the diocese shore up its financial future in the years ahead.
“I know not all parishioners agree with what is happening but the reality is that it was voted for unanimously by the Synod, which is made up of representatives from each parish,” he said.
Bishop Hurford said $5 million had been raised, through contributions from individual parishes, to pay an $8 million debt identified late last year as having to be paid off by September 1 .
However, when it was realised the full amount could not be covered, the urgent sale of properties went ahead under advice from an Independent Oversight Committee made up of financial experts from across Australia.
These experts work on a pro bono basis to try to pull the diocese out of its debt woes.
Bishop Hurford said the three church schools in the Bathurst diocese all had different financial statuses with varying debt, but would not reveal the individual debt status of the schools.
“When you look at a school like All Saints, for example, it covers a diverse socio economic situation,” he said.
“It’s not a wealthy school.”
Bishop Hurford said Dubbos’s Macquarie Anglican Grammar School brought its own set of problems to the mix.
“We could never have anticipated that the drought would go on so long and end up impacting on the school in the way it did,” he said.
Bishop Hurford said there was no question of selling off any of the schools, however, surplus property, including a residence on land initially purchased by the Orange Anglican Grammar School, is on the list of church properties identified to be sold.
Orange Anglican Grammar School started in the Holy Trinity Church hall in 2007 with seven students in kindergarten and has enjoyed rapid growth, with 310 students to Year 9 enrolled this year.
Macquarie Anglican Grammar School goes from kindergarten to Year 12 and has 415 students.