Six churches under one roof in Jurong

From left: Reverend Chung Tze Lu, building committee chairman Thomas Tan, Reverend Anthony Loh and Bishop Terry Kee from the Jurong Christian Church (Lutheran) outside the new church hub, which houses six Protestant churches of different denomination
From left: Reverend Chung Tze Lu, building committee chairman Thomas Tan, Reverend Anthony Loh and Bishop Terry Kee from the Jurong Christian Church (Lutheran) outside the new church hub, which houses six Protestant churches of different denominations.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

Designed and built from scratch in pilot project, hub helps smaller groups cope with land scarcity

The newly built Jurong Christian Church at the junction of Tah Ching Road and Corporation Drive is not your typical church building.

Instead of just one church, the building situated in a public housing area houses six Protestant churches of different denominations.

In January last year, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said it would lease land for "multi- user places of worship" for the first time, to house multiple groups of the same religion in the same multi- storey building.

While there are existing buildings that house more than one church, these are usually leased from private landlords. The Jurong church hub is one of a few designed and built from scratch to house multiple church groups.

The pilot project was spearheaded by the Lutheran Church in Singapore to help address land scarcity faced by small and medium-sized religious groups in Singapore.

Partially opened last month, the new church building has a gross floor area of 64,436 sq ft. Its amenities include three sanctuaries, three multi-purpose halls and a rooftop chapel.

The Jurong Christian Church (Lutheran), or JCC (Lutheran), owns the plot of land under a 99-year lease.

It bought the land in 1967 and used to have a two-storey red brick building there.

The church is one of three long-term occupants of the new hub and contributed about $12.5 million to the $24.5 million effort.

The others are the Renewal Christian Church and New Life Baptist Church, which are contributing about $6 million each. The three occupants have permanent sanctuaries, offices and activity space at their disposal.

The Lutheran Church's Bishop Terry Kee said: "We have been blessed with the land, so we wanted to share our space."

Its three short-term tenants paying monthly rents are Jurong Tamil Methodist Church, Bible Mission Church and Hearts Alive.

The hub will be officially opened by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on March 4.

The authorities allowed the Jurong church hub to raise its plot ratio from 1.6 to 1.79 "in view of their interest to see if the hub concept would work", said Bishop Kee. The ratio represents the density of building in an area of land.

The hub was also given an increased allowance for its height, and it is as high as a 10-storey Housing Board block of flats.

Building committee chairman Thomas Tan said the height was needed to ensure that the sanctuaries have enough head room to provide worshippers with the sense of a "service hall as well as inner peace".

JCC (Lutheran) originally purchased the land from Jurong Town Corporation.

In 2007 or so, the church roof began to leak and the Building and Construction Authority advised the church to reinforce some of its columns and beams should it continue to use the building. But this would cost $1 million and would not improve or expand the existing space for its 500 congregants.

Bishop Kee, who participated in the National Council of Churches of Singapore's (NCCS) panel to give feedback to the MND on religious hubs, then thought of using the Jurong grounds as a test bed for the hub concept instead of just rebuilding for JCC (Lutheran) alone.

He said he empathises with small and medium-sized churches that struggle with steep rents and unconducive environments.

Churches and temples have the option to purchase sites set aside by the Government, but these are usually too big and too expensive for smaller groups.

Many churches rent ballrooms in hotels or are housed in cramped industrial estate spaces. There are more than 100 small and medium- sized churches in industrial areas. The NCCS represents more than 250 churches in Singapore, but not all of the churches in industrial estates are registered with it.

Reverend Lai Soon Loy, the pastor in charge of the 40-year-old and 200-member New Life Baptist Church, said the members have been "nomads" for all of the church's history. Its last official address was an industrial building in Jalan Pemimpin.

He said: "The new building is an actual formal church space and the worship atmosphere will be much better. It's quite exciting to be part of this pilot project."

To address concerns over "disamenities" such as noise from congregants and traffic pollution, the team will roll out several measures, including arranging for services to start at different times.

Bishop Kee said: "We hope to manage the disamenities well so that the authorities will support similar plans and churches will be encouraged to share their facilities in future."

On doctrinal differences among the various denominations worshipping under one roof, Bishop Kee said: "As long as their belief is within the Christian faith, we will be able to find common ground to work together. Essentially, we are doing things in the spirit of unity to serve the community in love."

Asked if there are concerns of "church hopping", Bishop Kee said: "It could be a bit stressful for pastors but a bit of competition will keep us on our toes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline 'Six churches under one roof in Jurong'. Print Edition | Subscribe