Advice on maintaining an old church

There are a lot of historic churches throughout NSW and Canberra, reflecting the cultural significance of churches in previous generations, many of which are listed as heritage items either locally or on the State Heritage Register. In recognition of the apprehension that caring for these old buildings can create, Hector Abrahams Architects are running a series of workshops on behalf of the Uniting Church to assist congregations with understanding, managing and maintaining the heritage-listed church properties.

Across NSW and the ACT, there are nearly 250 Uniting church properties, including churches, halls, minister’s residences and cemeteries, which are included on local and State government heritage lists. Church councils are responsible for the care and upkeep of these buildings, but heritage listing can add another level of complexity to looking after church property.

“While the object of heritage listing is to protect what is significant or meaningful about a building for future generations, but it doesn’t mean that change is impossible,” Hector says when describing the aim of the workshops. “We want congregations to understand cultural heritage and building maintenance in the context of their ministry.” 

The free half-day Maintenance, Management & Ministry workshops cover local heritage approval processes and best-practice heritage management principles. Participants learn about observing their own buildings—to note what might need maintenance or repair—and how to plan for future maintenance works. According to Hector, “Church buildings are often very robust, to the point they can withstand a certain amount of neglect, but by taking care of regular maintenance, congregations can avoid costly repairs, and plan appropriately for big-ticket items, like replacing a roof.”

The workshops guide participants through the creation of a prioritized maintenance plan for their church’s circumstances. They also offer networking opportunities where congregations can learn from the experiences of one another. Workshops have already been successfully held in Canberra and Grafton, with others planned for Orange and Sydney during March.

Hector Abrahams Architects have worked and are working with various Uniting Churches, helping them with maintenance plans, conservation works, conservation management plans and land usage. We thought this was a great opportunity to show some of the buildings we have been involved with over the past six years.

The workshops have been made possible through the “Heritage Near Me” incentives program run by the NSW Office for the Environment and Heritage.

Photos © Hector Abrahams Architects. Main image is of the Ryde Wesley Uniting Church