Church is up for sale

JON HOUZET and ROB KNOWLES

RUMOURS that a historical Anglican church in Beach Road will be turned into a pub are untrue, according to a local Anglican priest.

The St Nicholas by the Ferry Church is up for sale for R1-million, but there have been no offers yet, and no interest expressed into turning it into a pub, said Robin Murray, Rector of St Paul’s and Archdeacon of Albany in the Diocese of Grahamstown.

The Anglican church stopped using St Nicholas as a place of worship many years ago – “before I came here in 2003”, said Murray – and the trusts board of the diocese has decided to sell it along with other unused properties to get rid of overheads.

But it means the current tenant, the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk (NHK), will have to vacate, as they cannot afford to purchase the property, although they were given first option.

The small NHK congregation has been allowed to use the building for a nominal rental of R250 a month for the past six years.

NHK minister Professor John Gericke was informed of the decision to sell the building in a letter dated January 10, and that the price was “not subject to negotiation”.

The congregation will be allowed to continue using the church until it is sold, after which they have three months’ notice to vacate.

After the building is sold it will be deconsecrated, said Murray – something he confessed he had never done before. The “voetstoots” sale does not include the organ or any furniture or religious artifacts.

NO PUB HERE: Colin Maclachlan (left), a member of the Grahamstown Anglican diocese’s property committee, and local Anglican priest Robin Murray have dismissed rumours the historical St Nicholas by the Ferry Church, which is up for sale, will be turned into a pub Picture: JON HOUZET

In response to Murray’s letter, NHK elder JP Mare wrote: “As much as we would like to buy the church, we unfortunately cannot afford it.”

He expressed gratitude for the NHK being able to continue using the building until it is sold and confirmed they would abide by all the lease agreements.

Gericke, however, expressed disappointment his 50-member flock will eventually have to vacate the premises. Because his church is only paying a nominal rental, he said he had arranged for maintenance to be carried out on the building, including fixing the roof, installing flushing toilets to replace the long-drop, and tending the gardens.

“It is a pity this church needs to be sold,” said Gericke. “We are quite prepared to continue maintaining the building, and would consider a small rental increase. But, if the church is sold, it will be deconsecrated, and could be used for anything.

“We are obviously quite upset at the prospect of having to find somewhere else to worship. This is, after all, a beautiful church building with a lot of historical significance.”

Parishioners also expressed dismay and rumours began circulating that a potential buyer wanted to convert the prime riverfront property into a pub.

“I don’t know where that rumour came from,” said Murray. “But who would pay R1-million for a property to turn it into a pub?”

He was confident in the asking price as the property was in a prime location and the high-ceilinged building could be converted into double-storey accommodation.

But he admitted the age of the building – it was built in 1939 – could pose heritage restrictions for what buyers might want to do with the property.

According to the National Heritage Resources Act, no person may alter or demolish any structure or part of a structure which is older than 60 years without a permit issued by the relevant provincial heritage resources authority.

The original St Nicholas by the Ferry was a wood and iron structure built in 1899. The church received its name for being built next to the ferry that used to operate on the Kowie River before there was a bridge. When the current building was built, the original structure was moved to become St Barnabas in Nemato.

Colin Maclachlan, a member of the Grahamstown diocese’s property committee, said the church had not looked into any heritage restrictions regarding the property.

“Whoever buys it must go through all the channels,” he said.

He estimated it would cost about R50 000 to restore the church to a “sellable condition”.

“But we don’t want to spend money on something that might be altered or demolished.”

Murray said he understood the NHK was “a poor church”, but “our church is cash-strapped too. The whole diocese of Grahamstown is.”

“If we can divest ourselves of these assets and spread capital we will be able to spread God’s word.”

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