BY TOM KITSON
A SMALL but historic church in the heart of Northbridge has struck a number of roadblocks in its plans for future development.
St John’s Lutheran Church is the biggest Lutheran church in the state; however, it is struggling to fund and facilitate a plan to replace the current church hall with a new multi-story building for the St John’s congregation itself, as well as servicing the wider Lutheran community of WA.
The potential outcomes of the project include church plantings and support for struggling congregations, youth ministry development, seniors housing, outreach to Central TAFE (located across the road from the church) and other groups, subsidised services to disadvantaged people, a full-time District President and an investment fund for income generation.
Despite years of fundraising, donations, prayers and hard work, the church currently cannot move any further with planned redevelopments.
Searching for tenants
Suitable tenants have not been found for the proposed building, which the East Perth Redevelopment Authority needs in order to approve the reconstruction of the site.
Despite being granted numerous extensions to deadlines and fundraising diligently, the church hasn’t been able to generate enough commitment to the project.
Congregation Chairperson, musician and long-time member Jon Offsanker said the project has stalled and all they can do is hope for tenants to commit.
He said the global financial crisis was a major blow to the project in 2008, when the search for tenants began.
“Perth’s vacancy rate was at about one per cent,” he said.
“If you wanted to rent a property at that time, you wouldn’t be able to find one.”
Now the risk of beginning construction is very high – if tenants don’t commit the project will have to be paid off by St John’s alone.
The church originally looked to the nearby Art Gallery for tenants, as well as Central TAFE and others.
Now that the vacancy rate is back up, there is more hope for St John’s.
Miners may be key to development
“We are hoping the next mining boom may help,” Mr Offsanker said.
“There is the possibility that BHP or other companies may be interested, with BHP’s global headquarters now located in Perth.”
The church receives its funding mostly from weekly offerings at its services and donations from members, so money is hard to come by.
Mr Offsanker said: “$5000 per week is needed to run the church alone.
“That means each man, woman and child attending on Sundays needs to give $30 – a very big ask.”
The church runs three services over the weekend in English, as well as three Sunday afternoon services in Mandarin, Slovak and German.
There are only about 250 regular attendees over the three English services.
In January this year, the official district fundraising target was $2.3 million, with only $1.3m raised. The official property security target was $3.5m, with the $3.2m raised just falling short.
St John’s is the only Lutheran church in WA with two pastors, and Mr Offsanker said this and other factors can make other churches jealous.
Embattled community survived arson attacks
“There is a fair element of St John’s versus the rest of the world,” he said.
“St John’s is asked to give the biggest contribution to the district budget because other congregations are struggling.
“It’s difficult to ask more of people in the community who have already contributed from their own short supply.”
The project has received strong backing from the congregation and the wider Lutheran community in WA.
“I can see untold blessings flowing to us, our community, our District, and into our mission endeavours, through this courageous step of faith – faith for the future,” St John’s Pastor Greg Pfeiffer said.
“Within the next 15 years, the whole WA Lutheran community will gain ongoing income to fund extensive and bold local mission initiatives that reach more Western Australians with the gospel of Jesus,” said Bunbury Pastor Adrian Kitson.
Mr Offsanker said the firm belief of the church is that “this is God’s project”.
He said to have the building would enable greater avenues for ministry, through a focal point the likes of which the church in WA has never had.
“The project still needs to be supported because the possibilities are huge for our church,” Mr Offsanker said.
“We thank God for everyone involved and all their gifts they bring to the table.”
The church was founded in 1901 as the first Lutheran Church in Western Australia and became a pioneer of the state’s Lutheran community.
In the 1980s the old church hall was burnt down by arsonists, one of St John’s many significant past struggles.
The unwavering legacy of St John’s is summed up in its mission statement: “To bring the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ to all people.”