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Melbourne controversy, festival hall bought by hillsong church, scott morrison religion

From Religion No More to Faith Healing: Hillsong Church sold Melbourne's Festival Hall

Buying the cherished building by evangelical church causes backlash, with some musicians vowing to boycott venue, which will remain open to external performances

Melbourne's beloved music venue, Festival Hall, was acquired by evangelical Christian church Hillsong.

Hillsong church members serving in Sydney in 2007. The church purchased Melbourne's Festival Hall, a cornerstone of the city's event scene for over a century
Hillsong church members serving in Sydney in 2007. The church purchased Melbourne's Festival Hall, a cornerstone of the city's event scene for over a century

Hosting world-famous artists like the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, and most recently Lorde and Ed Sheeran, the concert hall has been on sale for over three years.

Senior pastor Brian Houston revealed after Sunday's virtual church services that he had bought the property under a separate commercial company, "Cultural Venues."

"Since early 2019, we've been dreaming about Festival Hall ... By God's grace we've been able to buy [it] and it's going to become Hillsong Melbourne's venue," he said.

Title records reveal the deal was struck on October 16, buying the venue for $23,375,000.

Although Houston didn't go into great depth, the venue also seems to be available to performers and other artists playing outside, with Hillsong being the "anchor occupant" hosting church services every Sunday.

Hillsong church members serving in Sydney in 2007. The church purchased Melbourne's Festival Hall, a cornerstone
Panic! at the Disco performed at Festival Hall in 2017

"We'll be running it as a cultural space, it'll hit the cultural," he said.

The massive single-story venue has long been a staple of Melbourne 's event scene. Founded in 1915, fire destroyed it in the 1950s and restored in time for the 1956 Olympic Games. It also hosted acts including Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Often a main venue for metal bands like Slayer and Faith No More.

Hillsong is known for taking on Christianity's secular rock'n'roll, drawing a large youth fan, including Justin Bieber. Yet the company has shot in recent years.

Houston 's father and Church member Frank Houston were convicted of sexually abussing nine people, and in 2015 the royal commission revealed Brian had refused to report his father's harassment to police.

Brian Houston has also claimed publicly that while the church embraces gays, Hillsong is "not a church that affirms a gay lifestyle," and publicly gays can not hold active leadership positions.

Festival Hall's current management has also prompted several musicians to boycott the venue, including Amity Affliction 's metal party.

Panic! at the Disco performed at Festival Hall in 2017
An artist's impression of how Festival Hall could look after its purchase by the church

"I don't want Amity shows to give Hillsong some money, so see Festival Hall later," tweeted lead singer Joel Birch.

Houston addressed his service's potential backlash.

"Not everyone's going to enjoy it, I'm going to warn you ...... but I think the Lord likes it, and I'm sure you love it, so thank God," he stated.

Houston points out in his service that the funds used to buy the Hall was put aside before the Covid-19 pandemic and could not be used to support the church congregation during the disaster.

"I just wanted you to know we don't splurge out during a pandemic. It's something we've been preparing and prepared for.

He noted that Hillsong plans to substantially renovate the heritage-listed structure, including structure several floors to accommodate other events such as ministry for children.

In 2018, the relative small stadium 's fate was threatened as it failed to contend with big stadiums. Developers suggested tearing down the hall in 2018, replacing it with two large apartment buildings. This was quashed as heritage-listed building later that year.

Current owner Stadiums PYT LTD has since tried to sell the landmark.

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