Sunday 14 December 2014

Shared spaces for worship may be answer to a prayer

By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 12 Dec 2014

THE Government is looking at housing small places of worship of the same religion in multi-storey developments, so that they can share facilities under one roof.

This will allow small churches or Chinese temples that do not require large land sites to come together in an affordable way.

In a blog post yesterday, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said his ministry is exploring the idea of housing multiple groups of the same religion in multi-storey buildings that will likely be located within or at the fringe of industrial areas.

Mr Khaw noted that while the Government has released land sites for places of worship, many small temples and churches find them too big for their needs and hence, unaffordable.

He said the proposed new concept stemmed from extensive consultations with faith groups that sought alternative solutions and are "prepared to co-share facilities and to go high-rise".

The proposed new facilities will have a master lessee who will develop as well as rent or lease out the spaces. The religious groups will share common facilities such as carparks, prayer halls and classrooms.

The Ministry of National Development (MND) called a Request for Information yesterday to seek views and proposals from churches and Chinese temples on the concept.

Religious groups such as the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) and the Taoist Federation of Singapore have met the authorities over the past three years to explore solutions to address a space crunch brought about by soaring property prices and rentals.

For instance, churches have resorted to seeking out hotel function rooms, cinemas and remote industrial areas.

Housing multiple religious groups in one compound is not new. In January, the authorities gave the green light to build a $25 million church hub to house three Christian groups in a five-storey building in Jurong.

However, an MND spokesman said that the proposed new facility will be the first to house smaller churches or Chinese temples in a multi-storey setting.

It could provide flexibility in terms of the number of same faith groups that can be housed together, depending on their needs, she added.

Religious leaders said they welcome the Government's initiative. Some churches and temples have clustered together on their own, but these are usually ad-hoc, they said.

Reverend Philip Abraham, the pastor in charge of Jurong Tamil Methodist Church, said it will be useful to have more of such complexes in land-scarce Singapore: "It's one clear way to meet the needs of small congregations where construction costs can be shared."

Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said the association plans to survey its 130 temples and societies here to find out how many desire to be co-located. He added, however, that the site's location is also important as worshippers in residential estates need to be catered to.

Six religious groups under one roof
Small faith organisations have been coming together in hubs for years
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2014

CLUTCHING Bibles, pastors from the Tabernacle of Holiness Church pray for members on the sixth storey of a building in Geylang.

A few floors down, BW Monastery's devotees seeking blessings kneel at the foot of a golden statue of Buddha.

Meanwhile, a rousing chorus of praise fills the air during a service at Grace Jubilee Centre on the fourth level.

It is a Sunday at Citiraya Centre on Geylang Lorong 27 and the building, which houses two Christian churches, three Buddhist groups and a Taoist centre, is bustling.

Even as the authorities are exploring the idea of multi-storey hubs for related religious groups to ease the space crunch, as announced by the Ministry of National Development (MND) last week, small faith organisations have been coming together for years.

In most cases, the sharing is done among groups of the same faith. For instance, a five-storey church hub, housing three Christian denominations, will be completed in Jurong by the end of 2016.

There is also the United Temple on Toa Payoh Lorong 7, which houses five temples for the Hokkien, Hainanese, Teochew and Cantonese communities.

But Citiraya is "unique and rare", said BW Monastery's general secretary Lim Tiong Boon.

And it works. Sharing a home is a boon as it encourages awareness and appreciation of other beliefs, he said, which is especially useful in a multi-religious society like Singapore.

Occupants said they decided to go for the freehold Citiraya development as it is close to Aljunied MRT station, and is an affordable option for small congregations.

Each group occupies its own floor, which takes up about 3,000 sq ft, big enough for a hall, office space and a pantry.

Facilities that are shared include a carpark with 16 spaces and a lift. Each group pays maintenance fees and has a representative who is part of the building's Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST).

Tabernacle of Holiness church elder Sunny Jacob, 51, said sharing the premises is not an issue. "It's like an HDB setting - each of us has our own unit, there's no potential for conflict."

Grace Jubilee Centre's member Andrew Goh, 27, said worshippers often greet one another with a smile in the lift.

"The arrangement requires religious groups to be more open-minded and willing to share. After a while, the groups will grow to be comfortable with each other," said the engineer.

Peak periods for the different groups also take place at different times of the year. So activities, usually hosted in an open space on the ground floor and at the carpark, rarely overlap.

Friction is rare, said the occupants. And when a conflict does occur, it is usually over parking. Members rushing for services or classes sometimes jostle for the centre's limited parking spots.

But in such situations, the MCST will step in to smooth tensions. "It's about give and take, and respecting each other's needs," said BW Monastery's Mr Lim.

* Thumbs-up for shared worship spaces
Feedback hails cost savings, which will benefit smaller religious groups
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 11 May 2015

A PROPOSAL to build multi-storey, multi-user places of worship could benefit hundreds of religious organisations, by cutting down on costs and allowing small temples and churches to get a place of their own, said several leaders of the major religions.

Many of these small groups are currently renting places, such as hotel function rooms and spaces in remote industrial buildings, to house their activities.

An estimated 2,000 Taoist temples are also operating out of homes.

But last December, the Ministry of National Development (MND) launched a Request for Information exercise seeking views and proposals from churches and Chinese temples on the possibility of building such hubs.

MND said then that the hubs would house multiple groups of the same religion in the same building. These hubs will likely be located within or at the fringe of industrial areas.

It will also have a master lessee, who will develop as well as rent or lease out the space. The religious groups will share common facilities such as carparks, prayer halls and classrooms.

So far, several of the major religions, which are providing feedback to the Government, are giving the idea the thumbs-up.

Churches might jump at this opportunity if it translates into cost savings, since many "do not have the financial muscle to develop a property on their own", said Reverend Dominic Yeo of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS).

He said more than 100 small and medium-sized churches in industrial areas could benefit from the move.

While the Government has been periodically releasing land parcels for places of worship, many small temples and churches find them too big for their needs and, hence, unaffordable.

The Taoist Federation told The Straits Times that it hopes for at least four Taoist hubs to be spread out evenly across the island.

These hubs could benefit approximately 160 Taoist temples, said the federation's chairman Tan Thiam Lye. This will give the shrines a central location to perform their rituals.

NCCS, the Taoist Federation and the Singapore Buddhist Federation said they also shared with the authorities their desire to have the hubs housed in neighbourhoods or near MRT stations and bus interchanges, rather than in isolated industrial estates.

The Singapore Buddhist Federation's Venerable Kwang Phing emphasised the need to ensure the hubs are convenient for worshippers to access.

Rev Yeo, who is the executive committee representative of NCCS, said this is important as many churches serve local communities by operating centres for childcare, elderly activity and tuition.

The non-profit religious organisations said they are against the idea of private developers running the show as it could worsen the issue of affordability.

"Temples are not financially strong and we have different aims, concerns and philosophies compared to the private sector," said Ven Kwang Phing.

NCCS said it has proposed keeping the design of the hub as basic and modular as possible. This will help keep costs low. Churches can then hire interior designers to fit out the space according to their needs.

It added that the hubs must also take into account congregation growth. Sky gardens or void spaces can be built in anticipation of growth of between 20 and 40 per cent. This helps ensure that churches will not have to constantly move as they grow, said Rev Yeo.

NCCS also suggested the Government consider building a multi-storey carpark near these hubs, and to extend their land leases from the current 30 years to 60 or 90 years to keep rents affordable.

Pastor Joseph Jabemany of 140-member-strong Yishun Evangelical Church believes the concept is a practical one.

The church, which started from a flat in Yishun, has struggled to find a permanent place of worship since it was established in 1991. It currently conducts services from a unit at Midview City in Sin Ming.

"The church hub will allow us to have shared spaces such as bigger auditoriums where we can host evangelical meetings or weddings for our members. It is a good idea that can be fine-tuned over time," Pastor Joseph said.

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