On its YouTube channel yesterday, Hillsong Church announced its purchase of Festival Hall, an iconic music venue in West Melbourne, Australia. The 105-year-old building, which seats more than 5,000, will be renovated and then used for church services and community events. According to Hillsong, the beloved venue also will, to some degree, “continue to be Festival Hall.”
Hillsong: ‘God’s grace’ Made Purchase Possible
During Sunday’s online worship, senior pastor Brian Houston called Festival Hall an “amazing venue” that will “become the city location for Hillsong Melbourne.” The property, on the market for three years, had almost been converted into apartment buildings. After another party withdrew a bid, Hillsong was able to finalize the purchase on October 16 “by God’s grace,” Houston says.
Tim and Nicola Douglass, pastors at Hillsong Melbourne, say they’re excited to finally “have a home” after seven years of seeking a permanent site. Landing Festival Hall “was a long shot,” says Tim Douglass. “Now, we’re sitting in a miracle. God can make a way even through impossible circumstances.”
Festival Hall, in the heart of Melbourne and with easy transportation access, will continue to serve city residents, adds Douglass. “We just get to be the church that purchases it and continues to serve, but also gets to see it be the house of God on Sundays.”
For the renovation, Houston says, they’ll likely build an addition for children’s ministry and more. Although Hillsong will become the “anchor tenant” of Festival Hall, he adds, “We’re going to continue running it as a community venue.”
Hillsong, a worship-music powerhouse, bought the property as part of its new Community Venues commercial entity. Much planning was involved, Houston says, adding that funds were set aside before COVID-19 struck. Buying the hall is “something that has been planned and that was prepared for,” he says.
Criticism Is Expected, Says Pastor Brian Houston
The purchase price of $23.3 million raised some eyebrows, with critics saying the church shouldn’t be tax-exempt if it can afford such a big purchase. “Not everyone’s going to like [the move], I’ll tell you now,” says Houston. “But I believe the Lord loves it, and I sure love it, and you love it, so thank God.”
Some Melbourne musicians aren’t happy with the new ownership. “I don’t want any Amity shows giving any money to Hillsong, so see ya later then Festival Hall,” tweets singer Joel Birch.
Another commenter writes, “Same way you don’t see musicians crashing religious buildings, do you mind keeping one of the few (and getting fewer) music venues we have in Melbourne open for us?”
Festival Hall, which had to be rebuilt after a 1955 fire, has hosted Olympic events and big-name musical acts from The Beatles and Bob Dylan to Midnight Oil and Rage Against the Machine.
“Hillsong, the ultra-conservative megachurch that includes Chris Pratt and Justin Bieber among its followers, has bought Melbourne’s Festival Hall,” tweets self-described “pop-culture addict” Albert Santos. “Hasn’t Melbourne suffered enough?” He adds, “I can think of literally nothing less rock and roll than one of the most iconic rock venues in Melbourne being bought by the [Prime Minister’s] super-Christian mates from the Hills District.”