Hillsong plans Brisbane housewarming before vote cast

The Brisbane Times, Australia/April 21, 2009

The Hillsong juggernaut has planned a victory party on May 1 to celebrate its arrival in Brisbane despite its takeover of a Pentecostal church south of the city not yet receiving the green light from congregants.

Registered members of the Garden City Christian Church in Mount Gravatt will on Sunday vote on whether to officially appoint evangelists and Hillsong founders Brian and Bobbie Houston as senior pastors in a move that would see the church renamed the Hillsong Brisbane Campus.

Despite claiming their pending footprint into Queensland was merely a partnership with the existing church, an information document circulated at Garden City at a service on April 5 has left little doubt about the Houstons' intentions to change the face of the congregation.

"We intend, as indicated earlier, to operate as Hillsong Brisbane Campus," the document noted.

Anticipating the approval of the takeover by members will be a mere formality, Hillsong heavies have planned a large housewarming party at the church on May 1 - the day after the three-day Australian Christian Churches (ACC) national conference winds up at the Gold Coast Convention Centre.

ACC, of which Mr Houston is the head, is the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God denomination.

"They're going to have a gathering at the church to celebrate their win," said a Mt Gravatt church congregrant, who asked that her name not be published.

The congregant fears the nature of the Mt Gravatt church, which has more than 1000 members, will continue to go backwards under the stewardship of the Hillsong franchise.

"It used to be a really humble church and it's totally changed over the years," she said.

"They do really, really frivolous things. Once they did skydiving to raise money for missions.

"If people want to support the church they will - you don't have to have big names."

She said her family intended to end their long-time association with the church when Hillsong took over.

Hillsong has indicated it would allow the church's acting pastor Steve Dixon to remain for a transitional period and that members would not lose control over church assets under the so-called partnership.

But one former Hillsong congregant has warned that the "controlling cult" made fundraising and recruitment its highest priorities, with church members holding few rights.

"They're coming off all kind and pastoral when in fact it is simply a company takeover," said Tanya Levin, author of the 2007 book People in Glass Houses, about her experiences under Hillsong.

"It will be interesting to to see how much of their former church as they know it survives.

"Because the Assemblies of God have got a history of going in, taking over and pretty quickly throwing out everybody that the previous church actually thought were important."

Hillsong's headquarters, the "Hills" campus, is in the Sydney suburb of Baulkham Hills but it also has two other campuses in the city. It conducts services around Sydney and has established international extensions in the UK, the Ukraine, South Africa and Sweden.

Ms Levin said the move into Brisbane was the latest example of the Houstons' desire to spread their influence.

"They're really explicit about wanting other areas in the world," she said.

"They want Africa, particularly, as well as India."

The church has established a growing presence within political circles in recent years, with then-Prime Minister John Howard opening its Baulkham Hills complex in 2002 and the likes of Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Helen Coonan and Bob Carr having attended Hillsong events and conventions.

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