Brethren determined to build mega-church

The Age, Australia/June 10, 2009

Wealthy religious sect the Exclusive Brethren is expected to appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in a bid to build its new Melbourne headquarters - including a 2000-seat mega-church - in the north-eastern suburbs.

The Brethren have been buying property in Diamond Creek, where church leader John Gadsen lives, for several years and have already established five small churches there.

Neighbours of Exclusive Brethren church members in Henry Arthur Court, Everleigh Drive and Zig Zag Road told The Age their houses often have security, filled-in windows disguised by shutters and dozens of cars parked outside.

Nillumbik Shire Council last week narrowly rejected the secretive sect's proposal to build a mega-church on a large tract of land on Diamond Creek Road, which would replace its current main hall in Glenroy.

It is believed the Brethren have further plans to eventually relocate the central campus of its Glenvale school for children to two old farmhouses on the Diamond Creek site.

A statement by the sect said it was disappointed by the council's decision and was considering an appeal.

Brethren spokesman, Richard Garrett, said the proposed centre would mostly be used for Bible teachings, prayer meetings and gospel preaching.

"Our congregation are active members of the local community; we employ, work and live alongside people from many walks of life and look forward to continuing to live harmoniously with everybody in the Diamond Valley area," he said.

Derek and Eileen Lowe, who live three doors down from the prayer hall site, lodged one of 54 objections by residents to the proposal.

"You get frightened thinking it's going to be one of the cultish compounds and I wouldn't want to be next door to that," Mrs Lowe said. "They have their meetings at 6am in the morning, they have 24-hour security with iron gates, security guards and sensor lights, so it's going to be lit up like the Eiffel Tower."

However, the Brethren's statement said lighting would be switched on only when the building is in use and the fence would be hidden behind a landscaped garden.

Real estate agents in the area reported that parts of Diamond Creek were developing reputations as Brethren enclaves.

"I sold a house a couple of weeks back and several of the people who rang up and inquired asked which end of the street it was because they didn't want to be close to the Brethren," an agent, who did not want to be named, said.

Nillumbik councillors and planning officers had originally endorsed the mega-church proposal at a planning committee meeting last month.

However, Cr Belinda Clarkson changed her mind when it came to the final vote on Thursday, leading to its rejection on the basis that the church would hold too many people to be safe during a bushfire.

The planning dispute mirrors an ongoing case in NSW, in which residents of Lisarow on the Central Coast have objected to the Exclusive Brethren's plans for a 650-seat church.

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