Pyengana residents fighting for the ‘heart of the community’

Communities across the East Coast are concerned about the fate of their churches.

Many Pyengana residents have attended St Michaels and All Angels Church their whole lives, and can trace back up to four generations in its cemetery.

Pyengana residents Vaughan and Tammy Oldham, Michael, Carol, and Lauren LeFevre, and Gerald Nicklason said in light of the Anglican Church’s national redress scheme, they were fearful they would soon no longer have access to the church or its cemetery.

Mr Oldham has attended for 62 years.

“Personally I have been christened, received confirmation, attended Sunday school, and continued to attend to worship [there] my whole life,” he said.

“Within our small community our church has been, and still is, a meeting place for locals, people who have lived here and moved away, and at times people from overseas.

“With our active cemetery, where generations of our beloved families rest, I feel extremely unhappy that this proposed sale can even be considered.”

The community rallied a number of years ago to refurbish the church, said Lauren LeFevre.

“It was an amazing community effort. It was incredible to watch and see it all happen,” she said.

The $30,000 refurbishment included recladding, reroofing, rewiring, and the installation of new windows.

The funds were raised largely by the community.

Carol LeFevre said was shocked St Michaels and All Angels Church made the list.

“There’s no grounds, really. There are graves right around the church, and it’s only a small building, so I was really quite shocked to see that it was on the list,” she said.

“I can’t see who you would sell it to. I think the only people that can really own this church are the local people, whose families are buried around it.”

Michael LeFevre said the history of Pyengana rests in the church’s cemetery.

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“There are, as well as many ex-locals resting in this cemetery, return soldiers, both men and women, who were lucky enough to make it home after fighting for their country,” Michael LeFevre said.

“Some lads from the Pyengana area did not make it home alive. They fought and paid the ultimate price.”

Mr Nicklason said realistically the options for the church were for it to be purchased by the council or the community.

“I’m in favour of the community. If the church belongs to the people of Pyengana, the town is forever,” he said.

“Surely we can continue to maintain the church and oversea any problems that might come along.”

Mr LeFevre said as the community had repaired, maintained, and cared for the church and cemetery for almost 100 years, he wanted the church to stay in Pyengana’s hands.

“Meaning that in the future, locals in this area can be assured they can be buried alongside family and loved ones when their time comes. The head of the Anglican Dioceses, and also the people of Pyengana, must work together to make sure the cemetery and church can belong to the people of Pyengana,” he said. 

Break O’Day Council mayor Mick Tucker said a community meeting held on July 8 was extremely well attended.

The meeting aimed to garner community support in retaining the region’s churches.

“It was mind-blowing for Pyengana, to roll up there on a Sunday and find more than 160 people waiting there,” he said. "That was absolutely fantastic.”

Alongside St Michaels and All Angels church, the future of St Georges Church at Mathinna was also discussed.

Councillor Tucker said discussions took place about whether the community or the council should buy the church at Pyengana.

“The reality is that it would probably have to be a last resort, but, the council is very much in support of the community saving the church,” he said.

“We will work with the community and we will do everything we can to assist and help guide, if necessary, a direction to give us an outcome that satisfies everybody.”

Speakers at the meeting included McIntyre MLC Tania Rattray, Labor Lyons MP Jen Butler, and Friends of St Paul's Springfield chairman Robert Smith.

Cr Tucker said that churches in small communities aren’t just for religion.

“People in a small country town like Pyengana, they’ve lost their school, they’ve lost their Catholic church. This church is one of the few things they have left,” he said.

“It’s a place of gathering, a place of social inclusion, and it’s not necessarily about religion. 

“It’s part of the social fabric that makes a community strong and proud. We’re not going to stand by and watch that be destroyed.”

Cr Tucker said he was fully supportive of redress, but was “totally disgusted” at the Anglican Church’s actions.

“This is about punishing the people in small communities for the crimes that were committed by some of the clergy of the church,” he said.

“It’s still an active church. We’ve had new burials here in just the past two months.

“I’m extremely concerned for the health and wellbeing of some people in the community.”

Anglican Bishop of Tasmania Richard Condie said while the Synod voted in favour of the redress proposal, he wanted to reassure the community that the consultation process was not over.

“Parishes now have a period in which they can make a submission to exempt a property from sale,” he said.

Of the proceeds from the property sales 25 per cent will go to redress, with 25 per cent going toward the New Ministry Development Fund and 50 per cent to be retained in trust for future use of parishes.