Breakaway B.C. churches appeal to Supreme Court of Canada

Published January 17, 2011

The bishop of the diocese of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, said he was “saddened” by the news that breakaway members of four Anglican churches opposed to same-sex blessings have taken their battle over church property to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The group, which belongs to the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), filed an application for leave to appeal to the high court on Jan. 14. Last November, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a 2009 Supreme Court of B.C. ruling that the diocese should retain possession of four Vancouver-area church properties.

Bishop Ingham called the decision “costly and divisive,” and said it would “consume even more of the time, energy and money that should be used for the mission of the Church.” He said the “dispute” has caused the diocese to cut back on its ministry to patients of St. Paul’s and Vancouver hospitals, and its support for ministries involving churches in the north and overseas, with its partners in the Anglican Communion.

Cheryl Chang, special counsel to ANiC said that the decision to award the properties to the diocese “serves to defeat the religious purpose and results in the trust property being empty or underused.” Awarding the properties to the ANiC congregations “would mean that the original purpose of Anglican ministry would continue to be fulfilled in those church properties.” She added that the diocese “is in the process of closing and selling churches.”

In a statement, however, the diocese said it “wishes to move ahead with the resumption of Anglican Church of Canada worship as soon as possible” in the four churches still occupied by ANiC members. Bishop Ingham said he invited the trustees from each of the disaffected parishes to meet with him early this month to discuss an orderly transition, but that they declined to do so.

While he is not asking individual members of the affected congregations to leave, Bishop Ingham said it is his “duty to replace the clergy who have abandoned their ministry” in the Anglican Church of Canada. He also said the diocese is home both “to Christians of traditionalist conscience as well as Christians whose ethics now embrace those who were once rejected,” and that “no one is required to act against their conscience.” No one, he added, “need to choose between their faith and the buildings they love.”

Bishop Ingham urged the breakaway trustees and leaders of these congregations to meet with him and plan an orderly transition “so we can move past this debilitating conflict.”

The diocese said prior agreements that allowed disaffected clergy to stay in the church buildings have now expired. In order for them to continue to occupy the buildings, they must bring an application for a stay of proceedings.
The diocese said it would file its response to the leave of appeal within 30 days. The earliest that the appeal would be heard by a panel of the Supreme Court of Canada would be this fall, the diocese said.

In his 2009 decision, Justice Stephen Kelleher of the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled that the diocese should retain possession of all four properties of St. John’s (Shaughnessy), St. Matthew’s (Abbotsford), Good Shepherd (Vancouver), and St. Matthias & St. Luke’s (Vancouver). He also ruled that a $2.2 million bequest from a parishioner in the Good Shepherd parish should be held in trust for the building fund of the ANiC congregation.


Keep on reading

Skip to content