Megachurch buys Golders Green racetrack after mosque plan blocked | London


An international mega-church whose founder was accused of covering up child sexual abuse has bought a famous former theater in north London after a campaign to prevent its conversion into an Islamic center.

Hillsong, who until the start of the year had pop star Justin Bieber among its members, plans to hold Sunday services at the site. The church operates in 30 countries and has 12 branches in the UK.

Golders Green Racecourse, where Marlene Dietrich, Laurence Olivier, Vera Lynn and Status Quo performed, has been owned since 2017 by Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami (Center for Islamic Enlightening).

He paid £ 5.25million for the Grade II listed building and planned to use it for lectures, seminars, youth activities, English lessons, after-school clubs and prayers.

But some locals objected, saying it would lead to traffic jams. A minority went further, suggesting that a Muslim presence in the neighborhood could be dangerous and was not desirable.

In July this year, Barnet’s board postponed a decision on Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami’s proposal. Lawyers for the Islamic group had written to the council denouncing religious discrimination.

Hillsong said he aimed to be “a positive influence” in the region. “We recognize the importance of the building to the community and look forward to playing our part in contributing to the work of churches and local charities through our outreach program,” a spokesperson told Jewish News .

Alan Jacobs, of the Golders Green Residents Environment Group, which led the campaign against the mosque plan, said the organization was delighted there was a resolution for the future of the racetrack.

“For the vast majority of local residents, it was never about the user but about the use,” he said. Hillsong would use the building as a church on Sundays, while the Islamic Center had requested to be open from 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.

The Hippodrome, which closed as a theater in 1968, housed the BBC concert orchestra until 2004. It was then used by an evangelical Christian group before being bought by Markaz El Tathgheef El Eslami.

The proposal to convert it into an Islamic center has divided the local community, which has a strong Jewish presence. An objection filed with the council said, “This will force the Jewish population to flee and make this beautiful neighborhood too crowded with loads of burqas and veils.

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith of the Reformed congregation of Golders Green Alyth said such comments were “threatening and misleading.”

A letter from an interfaith forum, signed in November 2017 by representatives of the Anglican, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches, Quakers, Methodists, Rabbis, Imams and Sikhs, said they “deplored and condemned to the unanimously the hostile and sometimes racist response to the new Islamic regime. opening of the center ”.

Hillsong Australian founder Brian Houston, 67, was accused in August of covering up sexual abuse allegedly committed by his late father, Frank Houston, in the 1970s. He has denied the allegations.

Houston, a friend of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, resigned from Hillsong’s board in September but remains a “global senior pastor”.

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